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Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is an artistic style that emerged during the mid-20th century. It is considered to be the first truly American art movement, where the artist’s individual expression was prioritized above all else.

Its unique form of expression was characterized by abstract forms, improvisation, and dynamic brushwork. It was a revolution in art that rejected traditional painting techniques and embraced freedom and spontaneity.

It was an expression of the artist’s inner emotions and ideas, and was used to create works that challenged the viewer to interpret the message of the painting. Abstract Expressionism was a movement that redefined the way art was viewed and created, and it continues to influence artists to this day.

What is Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism is an artistic movement that emerged in the late 1940’s and spanned until the mid-1960’s. The movement’s founders were American artists who used their own unique techniques and approaches to create abstract art.

The movement was a first in many ways – it was the first truly American art movement, it was the first movement that used abstract expressionism as its primary form of artistic expression, and it was the first art movement to reject traditional artistic techniques.

Abstract Expressionism can be described as an art form that is primarily non-figurative and does not depict any recognizable images. Artists who create this type of art do not use realistic representations of objects or people in their work. Instead, they use colors, brush strokes, and lines to express emotion.

History of the Movement

The Abstract Expressionist movement emerged from a group of artists who met and exhibited together at the Contemporary Artists gallery in New York in the late 1940’s.

The artists who met at this gallery included Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and others. These artists were exploring new techniques and using their own unique styles to create abstract art.

The artists were inspired by the times they were living in – they were coming out of World War II and the Great Depression, and they were trying to find new ways to express themselves.

The artists who made up the Abstract Expressionist movement were interested in exploring art with a spiritual and psychological basis. They believed that the world around them was full of energy and that art should be a reflection of this energy.

Characteristics of Abstract Expressionism

  • Abstract – Abstract Expressionists rejected the figurative and representational art that had been prominent up until that time, and created works that were non-figurative and non-objective.
  • No subject matter – The movement was known for not having any specific subject matter. Instead, it focused on the creative process of painting.
  • Use of organic and spontaneous materials – Unlike most other art forms, Abstract Expressionists did not outline or sketch out their paintings in any way before beginning to paint.
  • Large scale – Due to the spontaneous nature of the paintings, Abstract Expressionists were not concerned with creating detailed works. Instead, they focused on the overall large scale effect of their paintings.

This was in part due to the fact that the artists wanted to portray the creation process as spontaneous and free-flowing. They used materials that were organic such as dripping, dripping, splashing, and pouring paint.

Key Figures in the Movement

As mentioned above, there were many different artists who made up the Abstract Expressionist movement. These include:

  • Willem de Kooning – de Kooning made significant contributions to the development of Abstract Expressionism. His style of working with materials such as breaking, scraping, and applying paint across the canvas enabled him to create a bold and expressive style of painting. He is known for his series of “Women” paintings.
  • Arshile Gorky – was an artist who used a technique known as “painting as though blind”. He would put his canvases in a dark room, paint on them, and then remove them from the room once they were dry. This created a dark, mysterious effect in his paintings.
  • Robert Motherwell – was a leading figure of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He is best known for his “Elegies to the Spanish Republic” series of works.
  • Franz Kline – Kline was a highly influential artist of the movement who created works characterized by vigorous and bold lines. He is best known for his black and white paintings.

Impact of Abstract Expressionism on the Art World

The Abstract Expressionist movement was influential in many ways. It was the first American art movement to gain international recognition. It was also the first movement that elevated abstract art to the same level as figurative art.

The Abstract Expressionist movement pushed the boundaries of convention, and forced people to rethink their definitions of art. While it may not have been widely accepted in the beginning, it is now considered to be a mainstream art movement that continues to influence artists.

Art historians often mark Abstract Expressionism as the beginning of modern art. This is because it was the first art movement to break away from traditional techniques, and it brought about a new way of thinking about art and the creative process.

Examples of Abstract Expressionism

  • “White Painting” – This painting is an example of an abstract painting. It does not contain any specific subject matter, but rather is a representation of the artist’s emotions and ideas.
  • “Two Parrots” – This painting is also an example of an abstract work. It does not depict any specific subject matter or images.
  • “Blue” – This painting is considered to be one of the most famous examples of Abstract Expressionism. It is a non-figurative work created by Mark Rothko.

How Abstract Expressionism is Still Relevant Today

While the Abstract Expressionist movement has its origins in the mid-20th century, it continues to be widely relevant today. Even though most of the artists who made up the movement are no longer living, their paintings and creative ideas continue to inspire modern day artists.

The aesthetic and boldness of Abstract Expressionist paintings have been adopted by many different artists throughout the years. While today’s artists are not creating works that are completely non-figurative, they are using the creative energy of the Abstract Expressionists and applying it to their own creative work.

The movement sparked a revolution in art, and it continues to inspire artists to create and express themselves in new ways.

Abstract Expressionism in Popular Culture

While Abstract Expressionism is not a specific art movement that is associated with a particular style, it does have some pop culture references.

  • The Blues Brothers – This 1980’s comedy film features a scene that takes place at a museum and features one of the characters destroying a painting. This painting is a depiction of “Blue”, a famous painting by Mark Rothko.
  • The Simpsons – A recurring episode in the series features the character Moe Szyslak as an artist who creates paintings that are representative of his feelings. These paintings are non-figurative and fit the definition of Abstract Expressionism.


While the Abstract Expressionist movement occurred in the mid-20th century, it is still relevant today and continues to inspire artists to create new works.

This movement was the first truly American art movement, where the artist’s individual expression was prioritized above all else. It was a revolution in art that rejected traditional painting techniques and embraced freedom and spontaneity.

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