Art Movements in Art History - Abstract Expressionist Painting
Art Movements > Abstract Expressionism > Abstract Expressionist Painting
Abstract Expressionist Painting*
Considering that none of the Abstract Expressionists saw themselves as belonging to a
group or painting according to consensually determined standards, it may be considered
an imposition to label their art as a movement or style.
Cox points out:
"Not only did these artists refuse to name themselves, they also never felt that it was
necessary to write a manifesto explaining their intentions."
Yet, despite the Abstract Expressionist loathing of the art historian's predilection
for classifying and defining (Clyfford Still called it a form of "totalitarian hegemony"),
Abstract Expressionism has generated more theories and been more thoroughly
dissected than any other art before or since.
Keeping in mind, then, the limitations and inherent artificiality of categorisation, it
is nonetheless considered expedient to recognise two visually distinct manifestations of
Abstract Expressionism - Gestural Abstract Expressionism (action painting) and
Colourfield painting. Please note, however, that quite a number of Abstract
Expressionists defy these categories due to the variability of their art. Gorky, Hofmann
and Motherwell in particular remain, critically speaking, imponderables.
In 1947, the Abstract Expressionists began to paint in styles that could no longer be
contained by existing categories. In 1948, the new American trend in painting was
acknowledged by Clement Greenberg who defined the challenge that confronted the new
generation of Modernists:
"The closed-form canon -- the canon of the profiled, circumscribed shape - as
established by Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian and Miro, seems less and less able to
incorporate contemporary feeling."
This canon (of enclosed form) has not been broken with altogether, but it would
seem that the possibility of originality and greatness for the generation of artists now
under fifty depends on such a break.
The Abstract Expressionists, it was believed, made this break by discarding the
enclosed form, which could still be seen as reminiscent of natural objects, in favour of
"energy fields" in the form of the all-over or polyphonic picture.
* Drawn from notes compiled by L van Robbroeck for the University of South Africa