There can be no doubt that abstract art has been a dominant movement in this country for the past twenty years, or that, of its many varieties, the kind known as abstract expressionism has been the most influential. This movement will be discussed more fully in the next chapter, but two of its pioneers-- Arshile Gorky and Hans Hofmann--belong in these pages, as well as one of its leading figures, Willem de Kooning, who has never bound himself to a purely abstract form of expression. Indeed abstraction has become so much a part of the modern artist's vocabulary that many of our painters make use of its techniques and devices even when they are dealing with a concrete imagery.
Although the dividing line between invented forms and forms derived from nature has become increasingly shadowy, there is, nevertheless, a real difference, which goes deeper than the mere look of the picture. Total abstraction speaks a language which is either purely aesthetic or purely introspective. The moment that imagery enters, associations are established which relate the artist's experience to the forces of nature and to the experiences of other men. The danger, from the abstract artist's point of view, is that such associations may dilute the qualities he seeks--whether they are formal beauty or the intensity of self-examination. It was Gorky's difficult achievement to find a precarious point of balance between these elements. In nature he found patterns of procreation, growth, and decay, and these set up complex memory associations which he permitted to mix freely in pictures quite consciously designed aesthetically. The Betrothal, II, his biographer Ethel Schwabacher points out, is concerned with the interpretation of a sexual cycle, as the shape and union of forms suggests, but it also seems to have acquired some of its character from