Abstract Expressionism- Annelysse Eggold

During the 1940’s,as the winds of war swirled with titanic force and then receded, there was an evolution of art towards a non-objectiveness that concentrated on personal expression and social alienation.  This art spoke of the subterranean insecurities, loneliness and cold war tensions beneath the façade of America’s “golden age.”  Here was an art form denounced and hypocritically denigrated as a “joke in bad taste…great string spider webs,” while all around was the evolving spider-web of cultural entrapment in materialism, mass consumerism, conformity, corporate syndication and the arachnid-like military-industrial complex.  The postwar avant-garde of Willem de Kooning, Gorky, Rothko, Still, Pollock and others initiated a revolutionary aesthetic that mirrored the angst of the nuclear age and suggested individualistic paths of freedom from fear.  While none in post-war America would have disagreed on the need for this freedom, it necessitated the alienated genius of the abstract expressionists to unmask the fear of freedom, masquerading as the smiling housewife in a mythological Father Knows Best and devouring its own intellectual and artistic vanguard in a McCarthyism driven frenzy of fear and collective unconsciousness.  Erich Fromm, in his seminal work, The Fear of Freedom (1942), perhaps unknowingly prophesies and envisions the artistic vanguard: “To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour.  This hope isz not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities.  Least of all it is passive as far as the growth and liberation of one’s person are concerned.”  Here is a valuable perspective in understanding the art and artists of Abstract Expressionism…”this hope (this art) is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action”(italics mine).

Erika Doss indicates importantly that the Abstract Expressionists  “did not completely abandon religious and political overtones.”  On the contrary, these artists were acutely aware of the turmoil of their age, of the disassociation of man from his roots in the earth and the wisdom of his authentic self.  Pollock’s drip paintings “appropriated the rituals of the Navajo sand painting, a transient art in which the sick are cured through pictorial images made on the ground.”   Pollock underwent Jungian analysis for several years and was aware of the unconscious power of the archetypes of the collective unconscious that are inextricably woven into our personal psychological, spiritual and physical harmony.  Most unfortunately, many of the Abstract Expressionists personally experienced, almost in a shamanistic way, the subterranean suffering of their age… alcoholism, suicide, depression, divorce and alienation from family, friends and culture.  Daring, driven and often desolate, they wordlessly reached out to a generation that could not understand that the image in the art… was their own.

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