Abstract Expressionism was an American post-war 2 art movement that developed mainly in New York. The most renowned artists were located in New York and though the movement was broad and the many works of art very different, certain characteristics are observable in the development of the movement. These similarities lie in the artists’ ideas and concerns that were generally related to the human psyche and the troubling current events that shaped it. The timing of the movement is hence very significant because both the World War and the Great Depression were events that shaped the perspective of the New York abstract artists of that time.
The movement managed to transform New York City into the center of the western art world; an honor that was before bestowed on the French capital. Abstract expressionism is therefore a significantly important art movement that helped shape and direct western civilization into a different course of thought and perspective. Despite the generality and diversity that characterized it certain ideas and sources influenced its structure and development and impacted the artists that are now linked with it.
The term Abstract Expressionism was first used by Alfred Barr in the United States to refer to the works of Wassily Kandinsky. Alfred Barr is now known to be the founding director of the Museum of Contemporary Art and he drafted a chart about the movement of abstract expressionism that very well illustrates its development, key figures and main ideas. It is therefore referred to by some critics as a scientific diagram. Abstract Expressionism has thus its roots in the 1930’s. The main events of that time were the end of the world war and the Great Depression.
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also very dominant as a theme in the art works that were thus inspired by the turbulent and problematic political and social events of that time. The images of the Holocaust became also apparent within the emerging modern art works. These artists were, despite the many different styles that they adopted, were all interested in the state of the human psyche. They were generally concerned with the rationality and vulnerability of the human being and it is for this reason that they sought to focus on big themes as the ones that have been mentioned so far.
Many of these artists had escaped World War 2 and their experience with the event first hand inspired them to seek understanding the deeper level of the human psyche which is exactly why they were so interested in the unconscious side of the human perspective. This includes things that people are not aware of, dreams and oppressed desires. These were, among others, the main ideas that continued to inspire the emerging modern artists. Morally heavy themes and tragically grand ideas were therefore significantly present as themes within abstract expressionism.
The artists were also concerned with other ideas and theories. William DeKooning for instance managed to present the theme of the woman in a very interesting and thought-provocative manner. He is one of the strongest voices of abstract expressionism and deserves special notice in this discussion of the art movement that he helped develop with his works and ideas. He came to New York to escape the war and soon evolved to become one of the most influential abstract artists of that time and his name is still associated with great art works.
His works were very cubic and this is mainly illustrated through the usage of the concept of the collage. DeKooning presented the subject of the female in a very interesting and unusual manner. It was innovative and new and broke away from the established art conventions that were previously adhered to by other artists. This is also an aspect of abstract expressionism. It seeks to break away from the familiar and the formal to the unknown and the challenging. The two paintings entitled Woman, 1 and Woman and Bicycle illustrate this further.
Woman, 1 was made in 1950-1952 while Woman and Bicycle was finished in the period of 1952-1953. Both works present the woman in an unfavorable way that depicts her fierceness, mystery as well as her ambiguity. DeKooning was indeed very concerned with the subject of feminism and its power as the two paintings demonstrate. His questions regarding the female power and the themes of attraction and revulsion between the sexes are quite clearly noticeable in the two images. His style is especially interesting to focus on because it was a very gestural and bold style that sums up one of the approaches to abstract expressionism.
The gestural approach is the first approach to abstract expressionism. The DeKooning painting entitled Asheville from 1948 is the best example to give to illustrate this approach further. The themes of immediacy and spontaneity through the colors are very visible to the eye of the viewer which is an important aspect of the approach. There is also ambiguity because the figures and colors blend in a manner that makes it hard to establish whether or not they are representational of anything.
The gestural approach was also very interested in the human psyche and showed strong influence by the surrealist movement. Improvisation and a focus on inner source development are also one of the main features that distinguish it from the second approach to abstract expressionism which is the color field. Mark Rothko is one of the main figures of the color field approach. Though the artists within this field have different styles of representation they all share certain characteristics. They are also like those from the gestural approach, interested in the human psyche and influenced by surrealism.
But while the gestural artists like DeKooning put an emphasis on the dynamic and energetic gesture hose from the color field are more reflective. These artists were interested in primitive myths and primitive cultures and the psychological ideas of Carl Jung heavily influenced their artistic representation of the human soul and human psyche. Jung emphasized the exploration of the world of dreams and myths and these are recurrent themes in the color field approach within abstract expressionism. William Baziotes also used objects to tap into the unconscious and explore the realm of dreams.
This metaphysical searching for how the world functions and this attempt by the abstract artists to understand the functioning of the human mind and make sense of the physical reality is another idea that constantly occurs in the various art works. Abstract expressionism can thus be summed up as a school of art that emerged in New York in the post World War 2 era especially and is characterized by the view that art is nonrepresentational and mainly improvisational. This is very obvious in the painting of Asheville that has already been referred to before.
The movement is sometimes simply referred to as the New York School or Action Painting and was first associated with the works Kandinsky. To sum up, the ideas that mainly influenced the artists of this movement is resistance of formality and established art conventions both in relevance to style as well as subject and content. This resistance of the cohesive style is especially significant in DeKooning’s violent and un-representational depiction of the figure or object. The level of abstraction also differs from artist to another.
The more abstract the more the artist tied to convey his emotional perspective. This was their way o expressing their thoughts to the events and social concerns dominant at that time. The differences between the artistic works are, as has been noted, various. What they all seem to share however is a common moral awareness and alienation from the current society they lived in: the United States. Despite this fact abstract expressionism is referred to as an American style because it grew in the U. S and became the first art movement that brought attention to the American visual art.
Sources Used: Lecture Abstract Expressionism Chapter 17 Lecture Abstract Expressionism Chapter 17 Part 1 2. What is the relationship between Conceptual Art and Minimalism? Conceptual art is a form of art that focuses more on the idea than on the aesthetic aspect of art. One of the major figures of the movement, Sol LeWitt, described it in the following words: “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.
The idea becomes a machine that makes the art” This means that any person can construct the works of art that the conceptual artists made if he just follows the basic instructions and methodology used by the artist himself. Nothing illustrates this more than a look at the works of Joseph Kosuth especially his works entitled Art as Idea as Idea. He simply took pictures of pages from the dictionary and presented them as artistic works which they will be understood as such if the whole concept behind this movement is better understood. Conceptual art has also close ties with the minimalist movement.
LeWitt’s quotation is used in this discussion to highlight the key differences between traditional art and conceptual art. The latter is more idea- based with a complete defiance to the aesthetic laws. It asserts complete neglection of this aspect and this is without doubt its main characteristic. A conceptual artist focuses more on the intellectual side of the work than on the presentation of it. The roots of this movement are to be found in Dada and the idea behind this movement is certainly provocative. It however left a significant influence on the development of other artistic movements like performance and digital art.
To sum up, conceptual art is more concerned with the idea behind the work than the product or shape it takes which is probably why not many people will appreciate it. It takes at the least a certain acquaintance with the movement to grasp the works and therefore appreciate them more. The minimalists also asserted the aspect of concept over form in their works. This was done through the use of certain techniques that took the attention away from the object presentation to the message behind the object formation. The minimalists however differed from the conceptualists because they did not carry this complete defiance of presentation that far.
Conceptualists were aware of this and made certain to completely avoid incorporating any personal attachment to the subject within their works. The emphasis was on the subject and not on their opinion of it. This is why aesthetics were avoided. They simply distracted the viewer from the message behind the work of art. Minimal art emerged in the 1950’s and continued throughout the sixties and seventies. Minimal art is the same as conceptual art in that it is also very simple and removes signs of personal expression.
Its presentation of the content and form is basic and as has been said can be done by any other person if the instructions of composition are available. This might make conceptual and minimalist art look uncomplicated and unsophisticated but it should be kept into consideration that the subject and concept of the work is of primary importance. The artist achieved artistic recognition not through the complexity of the work he presented but through the idea he managed to attract attention to in the most simple and basic manner possible. Conceptual work typically includes photographs, image text or just text.
Whatever is portrayed is presented in the least aesthetically attractive manner possible to not distract the attention away from the main concept. This is very obvious in the work of Kosuth especially in his well known example called One and Three Chairs (1965) which combines a real chair, a photograph of a chair and a dictionary of chair. The movement’s focus on ideas influenced many artists and writers but was at the core influenced by overseas literature, especially writings from prominent French intellectuals like Foucault or Jacques Derrida.
Minimal art like conceptual art managed to leave an immense impact and influenced many writers and artists. Both movements are also similar in how they both put emphasis on the impersonal and lack of personal expression. Minimal art is a very successful art movement and used certain ideas to enhance its main characteristics. The idea of the serial or multiplicity of objects that is observable in both Sol LeWitt’s works as a conceptualist as well as in the minimalist works of Eva Hasse. The notion of the serial connotes lack of uniqueness which is thus observable in all the conceptualist and minimalist works.
This complete rejection of individuality and personal incorporation of sentiment or any kind of attachment within these movements are what make it appear to some people as cold and detached whereas it is very much concerned with the issues and subjects that shape the daily life of the average human being. Multiplicity and repetition is a key element in conceptualism and minimalism. The work of Sol LeWitt especially his project No. 1 from 1966 is based on putting several objects that look alike together.
This connotes the idea that it could have been done by anyone since t is simply a combination of similar looking simple objects. The conceptual detachment from aesthetics is further carried away by some artists. Lawrence Weiner for instance took a picture of a floor sprayed and called it Two Minutes of Spray Paint directly upon the Floor. This is amusing in a way but on the other hand quite creative and is used as an example in this discussion to further illustrate the concept of neglection of aesthetics. Eva Hasse is a minimalist artist who was good friends with LeWitt.
She also focused on repeated forms and multiplicity but in contrast to the other minimalists used material as plastic that made her work change over time. Whether conceptual or minimal both movements share thus certain characteristics that bring them close. The only difference is that conceptualists took it further by completely neglecting the form and focusing fully on the message and concept of the work which made their work appear trivial at times as the example of Lawrence Weiner’s spray picture and Kosuth’s Idea as Idea as Idea illustrate.
Kosuth and others like him were thus interested in how meaning was generated and this is why he wanted to question the whole idea of art and criticize its foundation. He and Weiner and Hasse and LeWitt attempted to deconstruct the generally accepted approach towards art and focus rather on the message and concept. This deconstruction of view is part of a larger structure of which language is a major component. This is where minimalism and conceptualism derived their main ideas from. They were simply inspired by the literary writings of French intellectuals like Foucault and Derrida.
Derrida especially helped shape the course of both movements with his deconstruction idea that inspired people to apply to other domains like painting and photography. In the post-modernist discourse this simply means that the deconstruction concept is interpreted as the lack of presence of any narration or judgmental voice, not just in literature but in all the domains of art. The artists who were influenced by deconstruction soon claimed that art was not to be judged according to one standard which put them thus in opposition to Plat’s attempts to define art as either good or bad.
Deconstructionists defied this notion by saying that there is no single interpretation of art which means that the whole idea o art is questionable. This is thus what inspired conceptualists and minimalists towards the lack of incorporation of aesthetic representation within their works. To sum up, Derrida’s idea played a major importance in the discourse of modern art especially in the minimalist and conceptualist movements. The fact that both came to the conclusion that there is no single interpretation of art made them decide that there is no standard according to which to define art as either good or bad.
The fluidity of meaning and lack of absolute opinion makes interpretation a very liberated process and hence allows for the development of the question that is centered around finding out what art exactly constitutes. This is why the artists adopted conceptualism and minimalism. They were simply trying to come up with many meanings regarding the interpretation of objects and that could only be achieved if the process f interpreting it was a liberated one not based on any generally recognized fact or established convention.
The individual is the only decider in the process and the ambiguity that surrounds everything requires therefore the complete focus on the message rather than the development of distractive elements as form or aesthetics. From the Lecture: Chapter 22 The Post Minimal Post Modern 70’s, Part 1 3. Choose five important sculptors post WWII to present and write an essay that looks at one piece by each of them. The development of art after World war two went through fast stages of evolvement that therefore distinguish it from eras as the Renaissance which took about two hundred years.
With post-modernism changes happened fast and this is partially the result of the many diverse approaches adopted thanks to the broadness of interpretation that has characterized modern art since its rise. It is also the result of the many voices that sprang up and soon became leading figures in the development of post-modernism art with their different and innovative perspectives. Post-modernism is therefore characterized by growth both in the number of artists as well as in the concepts and ideas that it encompassed.
This is not just limited to painting but includes also sculptors as will be demonstrated through the various artists and their works. John Ahearne is a sculptor who developed a consistent style throughout his career. This is illustrated in his paintings Jay with Bike in 1985 and The Twins in 2004. Both show a similar style focused on depicting the African-American part of society which was a controversial element of his works regarding the fact that he is Caucasian. His works are very detailed and attempt to illustrate the elements that make up his Bronx neighborhood.
This idea is an example of innovation in post-modernism. Jeff Koons is another prominent sculptor who resorted to figurative expression. This was inspired by the impacts media had on the society of that time. Media was very ironic and overwhelmingly popular oriented and Jeff Koons is known to take the elements of popular culture and presents them in a cynical and comical manner which has made some people react negatively o his works. He has been accused of lack of taste and his work entitled Michael Jackson and Bubbles might explain this more.
It is a ceramic work from 1988 that depicts the artist with a monkey in a manner that makes him look like the animal especially since their clothing is similar. Despite the subjects he picked Jeff considered himself an artist who created very ordinary work. Whatever his classification it remains undeniable that he managed to address ideas and concepts of concern among the masses and despite the lack of appreciation of his style he still managed to appeal to the public’s main popular features. Katharina Fritsch is a German sculptor known for sculptures that present familiar objects with a manner of unfamiliar sensibility .
Fritsch is still alive which makes her very contemporary. She began to show her work in the 1980’s. She is also known for liking to experiment with the notion of perception which is thus why she likes to transform familiar objects into less familiar but still recognizable forms. For instance, the PUDEL (1995) shows a poodle that is black. Fritsch is thus concerned with the presentation of art in an unfamiliar manner because of her interest in the notion of reality. This shows a certain influence of Derrida’s deconstruction theory.
The notion of perception is just individual based and not universal and this is exactly the reason behind her exploration with reality representation and perception. Louise Bourgeois is another post-modernist sculptor. She is known for a fascination with ambiguity and this is illustrated through her use of different materials. She is also very surrealist despite her contemporary status. Her work Untitled, 1989, pink marble is an example of this. Her work can be associated with surrealism and feminism and she is known for being mainly influenced with these movements.
Martin Puryear is an American sculptor who incorporates his fascination with natural forms with his highly intellectual background to present art that is hard to pin down as a presentation of one movement or one ideology. He is a very well known artist who has received recognition for his work among critics and modern art lovers. Lever#1 1988-89. Red Cedar shows his great interest in natural forms. This is because he opted for the use of wood and natural elements. The work also demonstrates his fascination with furniture.
He went for instance all the way to Scandinavia to learn more about furniture and incorporate the international ideas and different cultural elements in his work. From the Lecture: Chapter 23, A New Century, Part 2 4. Discuss site specific art. Site specific art is art that is created for a certain place. The artist is during the creation of his artwork concerned with the location. Ann Hamilton is a good example to give in the context of site specific work an installation. In her artwork Tropos made in 1993-1994 Hamilton altered a whole factory floor of 5000 square feet with horse hair.
The hair was of different colors and created this image of an altered reality because of the change o the site of the artwork. This is the main element of the movement. The specific focus on location above all is thus very important to bring the artwork to the attention. Ann Hamilton utilizes the site by focusing on light and sound to create an installation effect where site is an essential aspect of the finished artwork. She often used other elements like historical or literary allusions which added certain sophistication to her work.
She is a main figure of the site specific art movement. Site specific art is thus created to exist in a certain place. The works of Hamilton give us an insight into the choreography and final presentation of the whole artwork. The artwork cannot be started before the whole elements regarding the site are well studied. In Hamilton’s Tropos the lightning and sound elements are well coordinated to bring the different shades of the hair out. This could not have been achieved without the meticulous study of the site’s characteristics and topographies whether architectural or environmental.
From the Lecture: New Century Chapter 24 Part 1 A 5. Discuss identity issues in art c. 1980 to present. Art is a platform for the discussion of many themes and issues. Art is basically a representation of the human thought and especially the human thought process of the artist in charge of the artwork presented. This is very simple to understand. The artist like the writer is at the core concerned with expressing his views and experiences through the mode of art he considers most suitable whether that is abstract art or minimalism.
There are for instance many artists within the field of post-modern art that are concerned with the themes of identity and seek to convey their thoughts through their work. This can be traced to the influence of today’s global and problematic events that have influenced the political and national geographical map around the world and raised therefore many questions regarding the issue of identity. Ana Mendieta is modernist Cuban-American artist who is very well known for her earth-body sculptural and photographic works that dealt with the themes of her identity. Her personal background influenced the themes of her art works.
She was born in Cuba but was moved to the United States at a very young age and developed a strong interest in her culture. Her traumatic experience as a child in the orphanage she grew up after the political exile of her family from Cuba made her just more aware of her background which is strongly reflected in her work. Mona Hatoum is another contemporary Palestinian artist living in London. She was born in Beirut and the themes of identity are significantly present in her art regarding the experience she lived as a person born in a foreign country and grown up in another.
She and Mendieta have this historical background in common. Other characteristics common between them is the presence of the body in their artworks. Hatoum’s Entrails Carpet from 1995 illustrates the themes of conflict in perception of identity. The artists herself mentioned that the idea originates from a notion of not belonging. Though she lived in Beirut and after that in London she did not feel as if she was in a place she belonged to. Her life like the carpet might seem elegant and peaceful at first glance but just like the rug turns out to be little pieces of entrails, parts of the human body, put together.
From the Lecture: New Century Chapter 24 Part 1 A 6. Discuss painting post 2000. Contemporary paintings are very diverse in themes and forms regarding the wide subjects that have been introduced by the post-modernist artists. Ben Whitehouse is one of the artists from the contemporary post 2000 period and his painting entitled Revolution: North Bar Lake, 2006 presents his fascination with landscape and the environment. He has more paintings with the same title because the method of making these landscape paintings is largely similar.
His representation of the land is through very meticulous oil paintings that all have a very calm effect on the viewer. The artworks are so landscape focused that it is easy to lose yourself into it. This is because of the complete focus on the landscape and the lack of incorporation of any civilization elements. Another artist concerned with the issues of environment and farming is Alexis Rockman. Whitehouse and Rockman therefore reflect the contemporary concern with the effects of pollution and global warming and subsequent environmental degradation.
Her artwork The Farm (2000) illustrates how culture approaches the idea of farming and natural protection of the sources needed for human sustainment. The way the human interacts with plants and animals and the way culture influences the process is also a significant theme illustrated through the various elements of nature and the many animals within the painting. Whitehouse and Rockman are despite their different styles similar in their concern with contemporary events.
Whitehouse’s previously discussed painting is so obviously landscape focused that it throws he viewer back into a historical time devoid of the industrial pollution that characterizes current human life. Rockman’s painting provides historical and current insight into the advances within the bio-tech industry and in genetic engineering in relation with the history of agriculture which therefore makes both Whitehouse and Rockman similar in their strong interest with the effects of technological and industrial human life on the surrounding nature. From the Lecture: New Century Chapter 24 Part 1 A
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