Abstract Expressionism, a post-World War II art movement, is known for its spontaneous and non-representational style. However, like any artistic movement, it was influenced by those that came before it. In this blog article, we will explore the major art movement that influenced and paved the way for the emergence of Abstract Expressionism.
From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, various art movements were born, each contributing to the development of new artistic ideas and techniques. One movement, in particular, played a significant role in shaping the path towards Abstract Expressionism: Surrealism.
Surrealism: Embracing the Subconscious Mind
Surrealism, which emerged in the 1920s, sought to explore the irrational and subconscious mind through art. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s theories on dreams and the unconscious, Surrealist artists aimed to tap into the hidden depths of the human psyche. They used dreamlike imagery, unexpected juxtapositions, and automatic techniques to create artworks that challenged traditional notions of reality.
The influence of Surrealism on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on the subconscious and spontaneous creation. Abstract Expressionist artists, like the Surrealists, sought to access their innermost thoughts and emotions, allowing them to flow freely onto the canvas. They embraced the concept of automatism, which involved creating art without conscious control, allowing the subconscious to guide their artistic decisions.
Surrealist Techniques in Abstract Expressionism
One of the key techniques borrowed from Surrealism by Abstract Expressionists was automatic drawing. This technique involved making spontaneous and unplanned marks on the canvas, allowing the artist’s hand to move freely without conscious thought. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Joan Miró used this method to tap into their subconscious and create abstract compositions rich in symbolism and personal expression.
Surrealism also influenced the use of dreamlike imagery in Abstract Expressionism. Just as Surrealist artists incorporated elements from dreams and the subconscious into their works, Abstract Expressionists sought to evoke a sense of mystery and psychological depth through their abstract compositions. By embracing the irrational and the unexpected, they were able to create artworks that went beyond a mere representation of the visible world.
Expressionism: Conveying Emotional Experience
Expressionism, a movement that arose in the early 20th century, focused on conveying subjective emotions and experiences through art. Expressionist artists used bold colors, distorted forms, and exaggerated brushstrokes to express inner turmoil and raw emotions. Their works often reflected the anxieties and alienation of the modern world, rejecting the traditional emphasis on realistic representation.
The influence of Expressionism on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on emotional expression and the rejection of traditional aesthetics. Like Expressionist artists, Abstract Expressionists sought to convey their innermost emotions and experiences through their art. They rejected the notion that art should faithfully represent the external world and instead focused on creating works that were deeply personal and subjective.
The Emotional Impact of Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionist works are characterized by their powerful emotional impact on the viewer. The bold brushstrokes, vibrant colors, and energetic compositions all contribute to an intense visual experience that evokes a range of emotions. This emphasis on emotional expression, borrowed from Expressionism, allows the viewer to connect with the artist’s inner world and experience the artwork on a deeply personal level.
Another aspect of Expressionism that influenced Abstract Expressionism was the rejection of traditional aesthetics. Expressionist artists sought to convey their emotions and experiences through non-representational and distorted forms, often breaking away from the confines of realistic depiction. Similarly, Abstract Expressionist artists embraced abstraction as a means of expressing their innermost thoughts and emotions, rejecting the need for recognizable imagery.
Cubism: Breaking Down Reality
Cubism, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, revolutionized the way artists approached representation. This movement, which emerged in the early 20th century, broke down objects into geometric shapes and fragmented perspectives. By challenging the traditional notion of a single viewpoint, Cubist artists explored multiple perspectives simultaneously, emphasizing the two-dimensional nature of the canvas. This innovative approach to representation paved the way for the non-representational tendencies of Abstract Expressionism.
The influence of Cubism on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the fragmentation of forms and the exploration of multiple perspectives. While Cubist artists deconstructed objects into geometric shapes, Abstract Expressionists broke away from recognizable forms altogether and embraced pure abstraction. However, both movements challenged the traditional notion of representation and pushed the boundaries of what art could be.
Breaking Away from Representation
Abstract Expressionism, like Cubism, sought to break away from the confines of realistic representation. While Cubist artists fragmented objects into geometric shapes, Abstract Expressionist artists took this idea even further by eliminating recognizable forms altogether. They focused on the expressive potential of color, line, and gesture, aiming to create artworks that were purely abstract and devoid of any representational elements.
Just as Cubist artists explored multiple perspectives simultaneously, Abstract Expressionists also embraced a sense of spatial ambiguity in their works. They created compositions that allowed for multiple interpretations and invited the viewer to engage with the artwork on an individual level. By challenging the traditional notion of a fixed viewpoint, both movements expanded the possibilities of artistic expression.
Dadaism: Embracing Chaos and Rebellion
Dadaism, born out of the disillusionment caused by World War I, rejected conventional aesthetics and embraced chaos and absurdity. Dada artists sought to challenge the established order and traditional art forms by creating works that were intentionally nonsensical and provocative. This spirit of rebellion and the rejection of traditional norms had a lasting impact on the development of Abstract Expressionism.
The influence of Dadaism on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on spontaneity, rebellion, and the rejection of artistic conventions. Dada artists sought to shock and provoke the viewer, often using unconventional materials and techniques. Similarly, Abstract Expressionist artists embraced the idea of art as a form of rebellion and self-expression, breaking away from traditional artistic norms and embracing a more spontaneous and intuitive approach.
Embracing the Absurd
Abstract Expressionism, like Dadaism, embraced the absurd and the nonsensical. While Dada artists used absurdity as a means of challenging the established order, Abstract Expressionists embraced it as a way to tap into the irrational and the subconscious. They sought to create artworks that defied logic and reason, allowing for a more intuitive and emotional response from the viewer.
The spirit of rebellion that characterized Dadaism also influenced Abstract Expressionism. Dada artists rejected traditional aesthetics and sought to challenge artistic conventions, paving the way for Abstract Expressionist artists to break free from artistic norms and embrace their individuality. This rejection of the established order and the embrace of artistic freedom became fundamental principles of Abstract Expressionism.
Fauvism: Liberating Color
Fauvism, emerging in the early 20th century, was characterized by its bold and vibrant use of color. Fauvist artists liberated color from its representational role and used it expressively, often employing non-naturalistic hues. This freedom in color choice and application influenced Abstract Expressionist painters who also sought to use color to convey emotions and create a powerful visual impact.
The influence of Fauvism on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on color as a means of expression and the rejection of naturalistic color representation. Fauvist artists sought to use color in a purely subjective manner, allowing it to evoke emotions and create a visual impact independent of realistic depiction. Similarly, Abstract Expressionist artists embraced color as a powerful tool for conveying emotions and creating a direct visual experience.
The Power of Color in Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionist artists, like the Fauvists, recognized the emotional and expressive potential of color. They used bold and vibrant hues to create intense visual experiences that went beyond mere representation. By liberating color from its representational role, they were able to tap into the viewer’s emotions and create a direct and powerful connection.
While Fauvist artists often used non-naturalistic colors, Abstract Expressionists took this exploration of color even further. They pushed the boundaries of color application, using it in unconventional and experimental ways. Artists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman created large fields of color that enveloped the viewer, inviting them to engage with the artwork on a sensory level. This emphasis on color as a powerful means of expression became a defining characteristic of Abstract Expressionism.
The Influence of Primitive Art
Abstract Expressionism was also heavily influenced by primitive art, particularly the art of indigenous cultures. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning drew inspiration from the raw and expressive qualities of tribal art. They admired the directness, spontaneity, and connection to the primal that these artworks embodied. This influence can be seen in the gestural and energetic brushwork characteristic of many Abstract Expressionist works.
The Raw Energy of Primitive Art
Primitive art, with its raw and unrefined qualities, had a profound impact on Abstract Expressionism. Artists sought to capture the primal energy and directness of tribal art, infusing their own works with a sense of spontaneity and expression. They admired the immediacy and uninhibited nature of primitive art, seeing it as a means of connecting with the innermost depths of human experience.
Abstract Expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock embraced the physicality of the artistic process, using gestural brushwork and energetic movements to create their works. This approach, influenced by the raw energy of primitive art, allowed them to tap into their own primal instincts and create artworks that were powerful and emotionally charged.
The Influence of Tribal Symbols and Imagery
Abstract Expressionist artists also drew inspiration from the symbols and imagery found in tribal art. They saw these symbols as a means of tapping into universal human experiences and emotions. By incorporating elements from tribal art into their own works, they aimed to create a sense of connection and resonance with the viewer.
For example, Willem de Kooning’s paintings often feature bold, abstracted figures that draw upon the primitive art of masks and totems. These figures, with their simplified forms and powerful presence, evoke a sense of mystery and primal energy. By incorporating these tribal-inspired elements, de Kooning sought to create artworks that resonated with the viewer on a deep, primal level.
Action Painting: The Physicality of Art
Action Painting, a term coined by critic Harold Rosenberg, refers to the technique employed by many Abstract Expressionist artists. This approach involved using the physical act of painting as a means of expression, emphasizing the process rather than the final result. Artists like Jackson Pollock would drip, pour, and fling paint onto the canvas, creating dynamic and spontaneous compositions that captured the energy of the moment.
The influence of Action Painting on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on the physicality of art-making and the spontaneous nature of the creative process. Action Painters sought to capture the energy and movement of the artistic act itself, allowing the physical gestures and actions to become a form of expression.
The Physical Gesture as Expression
Action Painting placed a strong emphasis on the physical gestures and movements of the artist. Artists like Jackson Pollock used their entire bodies to create their artworks, moving around the canvas in a dance-like manner. The physical act of painting became a performance, with the resulting artwork capturing the energy and vitality of the creative process.
By emphasizing the physicality of art-making, Abstract Expressionist artists sought to convey a sense of immediacy and presence in their works. The gestures and movements captured on the canvas became a form of expression in themselves, allowing the viewer to witness the artist’s energy and passion in real-time.
Color Field Painting: Exploring the Power of Color
Color Field Painting, a branch of Abstract Expressionism, focused on large areas of flat color to create a contemplative and immersive experience for the viewer. Artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman used color as the primary vehicle of expression, aiming to evoke emotional responses and engage the viewer’s senses. This approach was influenced by the earlier use of color in Fauvism and the exploration of color’s expressive qualities.
The influence of Color Field Painting on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on color as a powerful means of expression and the use of large, flat areas of color to create a visual impact. Color Field painters sought to create an immersive experience for the viewer, inviting them to engage with the artwork on a sensory level.
The Emotional Power of Color
Color played a central role in Color Field Painting, with artists using it to evoke emotional responses and create a sense of atmosphere. Artists like Mark Rothko created large, monochromatic canvases that enveloped the viewer, allowing them to be fully immersed in the emotional world of the artwork.
Color Field painters often used color in a simplified and minimalistic way, focusing on the pure visual impact rather than representational elements. By reducing the image to its most essential elements – color and form – they aimed to create a direct and emotional connection with the viewer.
Gestural Abstraction: Capturing Energetic Movement
Gestural Abstraction, also known as Abstract Expressionist painting, encompasses the dynamic and expressive brushwork characteristic of many Abstract Expressionist artists. This approach aimed to capture the artist’s inner emotions and energy through gestural and spontaneous marks. The influence of Surrealism and the automatic techniques used by Surrealist artists can be seen in the gestural abstraction of artists like Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.
The influence of Gestural Abstraction on Abstract Expressionism can be seen in the emphasis on the artist’s inner emotions and the use of gestural brushwork to convey energy and movement. By allowing their emotions to guide their brushstrokes, Abstract Expressionist artists aimed to create works that were deeply personal and expressive.
Surrealist Techniques in Gestural Abstraction
Gestural Abstraction borrowed several techniques from Surrealism, particularly the emphasis on automatism and the use of spontaneous marks. Artists like Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning used gestural brushwork to create dynamic compositions that captured the energy of the artistic act.
By allowing their subconscious to guide their brushstrokes, Abstract Expressionist artists aimed to tap into their inner emotions and create works that were deeply personal and expressive. The influence of Surrealism can be seen in the spontaneous and gestural marks that characterize many Abstract Expressionist works.
The Legacy of Abstract Expressionism
The impact of Abstract Expressionism on the art world cannot be understated. It not only paved the way for subsequent art movements but also shaped the direction of modern art. Its influence can be seen in the works of later artists such as the Color Field painters, Minimalists, and even the Pop Art movement. Abstract Expressionism’s emphasis on individual expression, emotional intensity, and the physical act of creating art continues to resonate with artists and viewers alike.
Abstract Expressionism revolutionized the way art was perceived and created. It challenged traditional notions of representation and pushed the boundaries of artistic expression. The movement’s focus on individuality and personal expression paved the way for subsequent art movements that embraced a more subjective and emotional approach.
Artists such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Jackson Pollock, who were central figures in the Abstract Expressionist movement, continue to be celebrated for their contributions to the art world. Their works, characterized by their emotional intensity and powerful visual impact, have left an indelible mark on the history of art.
Abstract Expressionism’s influence can also be seen in the works of later artists who were inspired by its principles. The Color Field painters, for example, continued to explore the power of color and its emotional impact, building upon the foundation laid by Abstract Expressionism. Minimalist artists, on the other hand, embraced the simplicity and purity of form, drawing upon the reductionist tendencies of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Even the Pop Art movement, which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, was influenced by Abstract Expressionism. Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein embraced the boldness and visual impact of Abstract Expressionism while incorporating elements from popular culture. They took the principles of individual expression and artistic freedom championed by Abstract Expressionism and applied them to the world of consumerism and mass media.
In conclusion, Abstract Expressionism was influenced by a variety of art movements that came before it. Surrealism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, Fauvism, primitive art, and others all played a significant role in shaping the ideas and techniques of Abstract Expressionist artists. These movements collectively laid the foundation for the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, which, in turn, left an indelible mark on the art world and continues to inspire artists to this day.
By understanding the influences and historical context of Abstract Expressionism, we gain a deeper appreciation for its significance and the artistic dialogue it continues to foster. Exploring these connections allows us to see how art movements are interconnected, evolving, and building upon one another, ultimately pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.