ArtSmart Roundtable: Why Abstract Expressionism Matters

An Abstract Expressionist painting by Franz Kline – photo by xbettyx

Abstract Expressionism does matter. Whether you find the abstract forms engaging or feel like you’re looking a something a 5 year old could do, it is important to know what made Abstract Expressionism the American art movement of the twentieth century.

To understand all of this, we must start in Paris!  The City of Lights was really the City of Art for as long as anyone could remember – it had the glorious salons and the Beaux Arts educations, then the Impressionists changed the artistic landscape in the 1870s  and waves of the avant-garde followed for decades.  It was the place to go for artists to learn, exchange ideas and make a name for themselves…until World War II.

The Degenerate Art Exhibit put on by the Nazis in Berlin – photo by The History Blog

The Nazi’s persecution of “degenerate” artists was frightening and unprecedented.  As more and more of Europe fell under Hitler’s rule, artists of the time faced a tough decision – flee their countries for safer locations (which wasn’t as easy as it sounds) or fall in line and change their artistic style.  Paris was no longer an innovative artistic center…it was a place no one wanted to be.

Suddenly, with an influx on the best and brightest from Europe, New York City became the new center of the art world.  New York already was the place to be for American artists, but there had always been the understanding that if one truly wanted to train as an artist, they needed to spend some time in Europe.  But with Europe recovering from the tragedies of World War II, that was no longer that case.  And it is in New York during the late 1940s that a new American art style emerged called Abstract Expressionism.

A close-up of one of Pollock’s famous “drip” paintings – photo by Pezzillo Time

All of a sudden American artists proved that they were on par with their European counterparts.  Abstract Expressionism’s cover boy – Jackson Pollock – was a born and bred American whose “drip” painting technique came to visually define the style.  This was a style that would dominate the country and represent America abroad.  For first time America had an innovative art style truly worthy of exportation.

And this is why Abstract Expressionism matters.  It was the movement that showed American artists could stand on their own, be innovative, and create art that reflected themselves and their time. So even if you don’t understand why they say Abstract Expressionism is all about emotion – because no splotches of colored paint ever look like any emotion you can think of – you know why this movement is so important…and why museums will never tire of showing Abstract Expressionist paintings.

This post is a part of the very awesome and exciting ArtSmart Roundtable!

This month’s topic: American Art!

On the last Monday of each month, other arts-oriented travel bloggers and myself will all post articles on the same topic.  Though considering our very different backgrounds and interests, each of this post will uniquely reflect our individual tastes as art-lovers.  Check out the links below to read the rest of this month’s ArtSmart Roundtable contributions:

About the author

Ashley Gardini

Ashley Gardini is an art history educator and freelance cultural writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She's fascinated with the avant-garde, anything by Olafur Eliasson and art tourism. In addition to NOXP, you can find her at Art Nerd San Francisco and the St. Gardini Society.

Follow Ashley on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.


3 pings

  1. The Orange Backpack

    There are many reasons why you could say abstract impression is important, yours incIuded, but I think one of the most ambitious things about AE is that it almost totally if not completely left figurativism behind without so much as a goodbye note. Where Cezanne experimented and Picasso played AE just pushed right past. It was just raw. Good post! I wish there were more art/culture meets travel blogs like yours.
    The Orange Backpack recently posted..An expat Thanksgiving…at the bar

  2. 50+ and on the Run

    Oh, I’m so glad I “stumbledupon” this site! I’ll definitely be checking back. If you’re even in South Texas, check out the collection at the San Antonio Museum of Art (btw: free admissions and free tours Tuesday evenings!)
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..Now That’s Inspiration

  3. ehalvey

    I love Abstract Expressionism because it’s art for the sake of art where the process overrides the result. I have a Pollock-esque painting in our living room which was so fun to make.

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