What Is The Cultural Significance Of Abstract Expressionism Art?

What Is The Cultural Significance Of Abstract Expressionism Art?

One of the art movements that really change the way art was produced was Abstract Expressionism. The artist in this art movement changed how art was expressed and viewed.

The cultural significance of abstract expressionism art is it was a forerunner for the cultural changes that took place in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.   The Abstract Expressionism movement started after World War II in the 1940s and continued into the 1950s. The world saw great cultural shifts in the 1950s and the 1960s.

No 61, by Mark Rothko (1953)
No 61, by Mark Rothko (1953)

Abstract Expressionism Art

The Abstract Expressionism art movement started after World War 11 in New York City in the 1940s. It was the first major American art movement that also put New York City on the map as a major world art center.

The Abstract Expressionism movement was not just an art movement that influenced art in America. It signified a huge cultural shift that was about to take place in both America and Europe.

In the 1940s, when Abstract Expressionism started, few galleries were willing to show the work of what at the time was considered an American avant-garde group of artists. By the 1950s, Abstract Expressionism became the dominant art trend.

Number 7 by Jackson Pollock (1952)
Number 7 by Jackson Pollock (1952)

The major American Abstract Expressionism artists included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko. Other artists that also influenced this art movement were Joan Mitchell, Clyfford Still, Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Bradley Walker Tomlin, William Baziotes, Ad Reinhart, Richard Pouesette-Dart, Elaine de Kooning, and Jack Tworkov. Most of these artists lived, worked, and exhibited in New York City.

The term Abstract Expressionism is not a very accurate term or description to describe these many artists’ work. This is because the abstract expressionism movement comprises many different painting styles in both technique, quality, and artistic expression.

Here are some very broad characteristics that helped define the Abstract Expressionism movement:

  • Abstraction – The artist would use various degrees of abstraction. The forms were depicted unrealistically, or forms were that were nonobjective in nature.
  • Free, spontaneous, and emotional – The artists emphasized free, spontaneous, and artistic expression that was personal and emotional.
  • Freedom in technique – There was a lot of freedom in the kinds of artistic techniques the artists used.
  • Emphasis on Paint – The art emphasis was on the physical characteristics of the paint used for their artistic expression, such as sensuousness, dynamism, violence, mystery, etc.
  • A Force of Creative Unconsciousness – The paint application was both unstudied and intuitive, almost like a psychic improvisation. It was about being able to express the force of the creative unconscious in their art.
  • Abandonment of Structured Composition – The Abstract Expressionism artists abandoned the structured artistic composition of the day but instead produced unstructured art.
  • Large canvases – Their paintings usually always filled vast canvases to give the ultimate visual effect and artistic power.
Chief by Franz Kline (1950)
Chief by Franz Kline (1950

Abstract Expressionism was not just one kind of approach to art. Within Abstract Expressionism, there were also three different approaches to art.

Here are the three different Abstract Expressionism art approaches:

  • Action Painting – Action painting is the loose but rapid handling of paint either by brush strokes, dripping, or spilling the paint onto the canvas. Jackson Pollock used action painting to drip or spill complex paints on the canvas. Willem de Kooning used vigorous brushstrokes to build up color and texture on the canvas.
  • Abstract Expressionism Middle Ground Approach– Abstract Expressionism artistic middle ground of art also had various styles from more lyrical, delicate imagery and fluid shapes. Some of the artists more in this middle ground were Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, and Adolph Gottlieb.
  • Least Emotional Expressive Approach – The third approach was one that had less of an emotional approach. The main artists in this were Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhart. Their paintings used vast areas or fields with flat color and then thin, diaphanous painting to achieve a quiet, subtle and meditative effect.

As all three of these kinds of painting approaches are considered Abstract Expressionism, this is why sometimes it can be confusing as even within the Abstract Expressionism movement there are also different kinds of painting styles.

No 13, white, red on yellow by Mark Rothko (1958)
No 13, white, red on yellow by Mark Rothko (1958)

Modern Culture and Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism art was a prelude to the culture of the world-changing forever. This change was taking place rapidly in the United States during both the 1950s and 1960s. The Abstract Expressionism artists in New York City were the artistic frontrunners that showed us that art and the world were going to change forever; there was no going back, and the change would continue to happen at a rapid pace.

Here are some of the significant changes, cultural shifts, and events that took place in the United States and the world in the 1950s and 1960s:

The 1950sThe 1960s
Baby Boom (77 million baby boomers born)The U.S. Cuban Missle Crisis and Bay of Pigs Invasion
Economic Boom in the United StatesIn the U.S, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
People moved away from the city to the suburbs The Vietnam War, The War Protests, and Vietnam War Drafts.
The Civil Rights Movement startedThe continued fight for Civil Rights
The Cold War StartedRiots and protests throughout the United States
Television became popular1963 Equal Pay Act for Women. More women started working outside the home.
Music Changed With Elvis Presley and others Hippies Culture Grew including the Summer of Love (1967)
Korean War – North Korea broke off from South Korea Beatles music became popular
First Business Computer Developed (UNIVAC) The iconic Woodstock Summer Festival (1969)
Alaska and Hawaii become part of the United States A lot of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll
Major Culture and Events in the 1950s and 1960s

As you can see, the 1950s and 60s brought many significant events and cultural changes in the United States. Many of these cultural changes are still evident, even today.

Anyone who’s lived through the 1960s may tell you that it was a very wild time. Many things were going on, such as the hippie movement, recreational drugs and riots, and protests.

I see the “wild and untamed” abstract expressionism art movement as a prelude to many cultural events and changes in the United States. Jackson Pollock’s artwork was wild and emotional, almost like a drug-filled art fest; it certainly was art that was not normal for its day.

During the 1950s and 1960s, children were going in the direction of life opposite of their parents. Women were starting to go out of the home to work. Mass demonstrations were taking place on the streets about civil rights and the Vietnam war. Hippies were living together in communes; recreational drugs as LSD were popular.

This changed did not just affect the larger cities’ culture as New York City, but it also affected the suburbs and smaller cities and towns. The change was dramatic that was taking place throughout all of America and Europe.

The abstract expressionist artists changed how art was viewed and how art was produced. The world culture changed forever in the 1950s and, in particular, the 1960s. In short, the Abstract Expressionism artists showed us that art and the world were now going to change forever.

Who is the American Artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)?

Jackson Pollock is considered by some to be one of the most brilliant American abstract artists that ever lived. Others consider his work of art as tossing around cans of paint by an artistic madman. One thing for certain is that Jackson Pollock is an important American abstract artist.

You can learn more by reading the blog Who is the American Artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)? by clicking here.

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Andy Warhol is a Pop Artist; he is one of the Pop Art Movement’s major figures. Andy Warhol’s artwork explored the relationship between what is known as the mass popular cultures of his day and art. He used many iconic American objects in his art and also painted many celebrities.

You can read more by reading our blog What Type Of Artist Is Andy Warhol? by clicking here.