The abstract expressionist movement shook the art world. It began in the early
1940’s and shifted the world’s attention to New York City, where artists like Jackson
Pollock and Mark Rothko were shattering publicly held notions of what was considered
art. It’s authentic period of vibrancy and newness lasted from the early 1940’s to the mid
The social and political context in which the abstract expressionist movement
came about was highly influential to the artists of that time, and a familiarity with that
context is deeply informative to the viewer. WWII had just ended and American soldiers
were returning home from overseas, along with a huge influx of artists and intellectuals
from Europe who had been driven from their homes. This allowed America to step into
the spotlight as a hub for the artists of the world at the same time as it emerged as a
global superpower. There was still segregation between blacks and whites in public
places. Later in the movement America entered into the cold war with Russia and the
McCarthy trials were in the forefront of American minds. Individualism in abstract
expressionism is reflective of a newly individualistic nation, the recent birth of America
as a superpower and a period of economic freedom (for many).
The breakthrough came when artists decided to paint-- just to paint. They were
doing away with the idea of painting as a window into another world, or a narrative, or a
representation of reality. Rather they embraced the action of painting, paint for paint’s
sake, and didn’t try to make the canvas look like anything but canvas.
If there is one overarching theme in abstract expressionism, it is originality. Each
artist had his or her own distinct style/philosophy/persona. The banner title of abstract
expressionism came to encompass a multitude of styles, but the common factors were the
search for the truly original, the non-figurative, and...