Abstract Expressionism-Summary (Jillian Fox)

The article “Abstract Expressionism” discusses the artistic style that flourished and dominated the postwar era (after World War 2). There was a shift to an artistic style that focused more on personal expression and social alienation. Jackson Pollack was a representative painter of this Abstract Expressionism style.

The Abstract Expressionism movement was not specific to painting; there was a great variety of expressive works during this time. The movement began with the idea that the styles of previous generations, such as the realism during the Great Depression, were no longer conducive to this postwar era.  This shift in artistic styles embodied the changing circumstances of postwar America dealing with the New Deal reforms and the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union. Jackson Pollack summed it up well when he noted that “each age finds its own technique.”

During this postwar era, the American economy was flourishing due to mass consumerism and the defense industry. These circumstances encouraged artists to develop a new form of aesthetic. These freer forms of artistic styles reflected the feelings of each individual artist and were much more expressive of each individual self. Postwar America was in a state of intense anxiety and these artists evoked that feeling of unease in their works. Pollack, for example, attempted to liberate himself through his works from the conformity of the affluent postwar middle-class society. These Abstract Expressionist were drawn to elements of the unconscious and their works often reflected conflicting feelings within human beings. For example, Pollack was more interested in performing acts or rituals, through which he found self-healing.

Abstract Expressionism embodied this idea of “individualistic modes of liberation” (Doss). This style also challenged consumerism and authority and offered a different mode of creative personal expression. However, the supposed neutrality of abstractionism did seem to contradict its notion of ‘free’ expression and being open to anyone. African American and female Abstract expressionist painters were largely forgotten. This art was still clearly subject to the sexism and racism that was prevalent in this postwar period.

Abstract Expressionism is clearly shaped by the historical events that surrounded it. If those events and circumstances had not existed, the avant-garde style would not have either. The pressures and anxieties surrounding the expanding military-industrial complex and the conformity of a rising middle-class was what these artists wanted to confront and challenge through Abstract Expressionism.