Abstract Expressionism Reading – Erin Lorentzen

The reading Abstract Expressionism covers the the rejection of Modernist canons and the representational style to the reasons the postwar artists were making drastic changes. During the period following World War I, World War II, and still anticipating the Cold War, society was experiencing a sense of “dual consciousness of abundance and anxiety.” Society as a whole was booming, “the golden age” had prospered. But the contradictory unsettling feelings in many Americans from WWI and WWII, were prevalent in society and Abstraction Expression played on the abundance and anxiety. With the building attention to Abstract Expressionism, good and bad, the New York School became the “triumph of American painting,” taking Paris out of the spotlight of modern art.

Abstract Expressionist Artists responded to the postwar anxieties of America. In order to do this, they felt it was essential to reject the representational styles of the previous art movements. Here they thought that by removing the person, all people, whom culture saw as the bad in the world they could evoke straight feelings. Pollock was one of the leading artists of this movement. Through the rejection, Pollock and artists alike strove for art that was a self expression, but a self expression that had it’s own contradictions in “order and chaos, reason and passion, modernism and primitivism” (pg. 131). Pollock’s paintings were the epitome of this concept applying himself, his dual feelings, all through the rejection of popular culture and mass politics. In 1950, Pollock exhibited “Autumn Rhythm, which is iconic to his unsettled feelings, his self expression, observed through his splashes and lines of paint (‘drip’ compositions, pg.119).

Another point the reading wanted to portray was that not all representation was lost. Sexism, racism, and judgement against others was prevalent in the 50’s and 60’s. The sexism based off the idea that the woman’s place was at home and now women had places in the workforce from the war time when women went to work. With the booming economy, a lot of women decided they wanted to continue working and held positions in the work force. William de Kooning’s “Woman” started with an abstract woman speaking on the sexism and female sexuality, lacking the woman in the workplace. Other artists also used Abstract Expressionism to twist representation and eventually fell into the full anti-representational canons.

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