American Narrative of Abstract Expressionism

American Abstract ExpressionismThe American art in the period after World War II went through a period of confusion and uncertainty. The social and political calamities generated by the war deeply affected the young European and American artists.

Artists urgently seeking a new approach to solve what seemed to be a theme of crisis in the arts.

“The situation was so bad that I felt compelled to try any absurd thing to appear ahead”, said Adolph Gottlieb, an American abstract expressionist painter, sculptor and printmaker. He, like his colleagues, was approaching an aesthetic that repudiated the hegemony of the intellect and that allowed the artist a free and subjective expression. Another painter Robert Motherwell also said: “We needed a sensory experience: intense, immediate, direct, subtle, unified, warm, vivid, and rhythmic”.

The New American Art

In the 1930s, many famous European painters moved to the United States among them were Max Ernst, Hans Hofmann, Fernand Léger, André Masson, and Piet Mondrian. These artists settled in New York and influenced many young American painters. In 1943, the meeting of older European masters and younger American painters produced the most significant move of the US modern painting – the Abstract Expressionism.

American abstract expressionist painting by Hans Hofmann


The American artists found themselves in a sudden surprise surrounded by a complex variety of innovations and experiences from European modernist movements.

Abstract expressionism was the first explicitly an American movement to attain global influence and also which put New York at the epicentre in the world of art.

The movement got its name by combining the emotional intensity of German Expressionism with anti-figurative aesthetic of abstract European schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. The term “Abstract expressionism” was first used to designate the American movement in 1946 by the critic Robert Coates.

The best known painters of abstract expressionism are Arshile Gorky , Jackson Pollock , Philip Guston , Willem de Kooning , Clyfford Still and Wassily Kandinsky.

The Art of Politics

Abstract expressionism was, in a way, quite consistent with the US policy of post-war and Cold War.  The US government invested in abstract expressionism in order to export an American art to the world.

The movement flourished in New York since 1940 and ended exerting strong influence over Europe in the 1950s and 60s. The designation for Abstract Expressionism began to advance starting 1951.

The European Abstract Expressionism

Europe has developed an abstract expressionism that had intellectual concerns. The artistic expression was less radical than in America, its drama is more directly related to mood expressed in France by existentialism.

3-d Abstract Expressionist form
                                                                    3D Abstract Expressionist form

The paintings contain a morbid climate with an introspective character than the expressionism of their American counterparts.

Instead of the heavy load of revolt visible in the works of the School of New York, European artists were more identified with meditations on the human condition. It was an expression more dominated by melancholy and stillness of the expansive revolt of the Americans.

The most typical painter of this style was a German by the name of Wols, alias Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze. Besides him, equally important was the German Hans Hartung , the French Jean Fautrier and Jean Dubuffet, the Italians Antonio Burri and Lucio Fontana and the Catalan Antoni Tàpies, among others.

New Abstract Art Influences

New abstract tendencies emerged, such as op art and minimalism that although use abstract expressionism as a springboard. It was a stylization of abstraction, and in fact denied the expressionist principles, making a pure abstraction. It was a formalist art that was used over visual effects than the idea of capturing a subjective expression of the artist.



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