What is Abstract Expressionism?

meaning of abstract expressionism

Abstract expressionism is one of the major branches of abstract art. I would say that an abstract act involves the artistic use of lines, colors, forms, and other elements of art to create a visual impression that is independent of real-life objects in existence

Abstract expressionism was first practiced in America (New York). The pioneering artists were majorly American residents. They became successful in this pattern of art.  Abstract expressionism is a term used to express the form of art developed by American painters which are characterized by gestural mark-making or brush stroking and spontaneous impression.

This creative and impulsive form of art came to be due to the efforts of American artists in the 1940s and 1950s.

People like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko. Others included Clyfford Still, Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Bradley Tomlin, William Baziotes, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, Elaine de Kooning, and Jack Tworkov. Most of these artists worked, resided, or exhibited in New York City.

Abstract expressionism is a revolutionary movement founded by American artists after world war II. This art became popular in New York and was fondly called the “action painting or New York school”. The “New York School,” a set of artists involving Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner Willem de Kooning, developed the movement.

This was based on the relevance of the spontaneity of movement and expression. Every one of them was gifted and expert in classical and standard styles of art. Convergence is one of the earliest art pieces of abstract expressionism.  It’s regarded as the smartest action paintings made by Pollock.

Jackson Pollock's Convergence

Jackson Pollock’s Convergence

Leo Tolstoy could be referred to as a father of abstract expressionism as well as, the expressionist movements of the 19 and 20 centuries. His “Expression Theory” revolved around the idea that art initiates and provokes emotion in the observer. Tolstoy argued that the duty of the artist was to provide the observer with an artwork that would elicit and produce these effects.

Abstract expressionism met this aim by letting the medium and composition inform the viewers’ emotions. Painters like Pollock believed that it was the observer (and not the artist) who decides and interprets the meaning of the abstract expression. Therefore, there is no importance of what the artist thinks or intends to convey while creating the work. Shop abstract wall art, prints, and posters for your home.

The Original Classes Of Abstract expressionism

Woman V Painting by Willem de Kooning

Woman V Painting by Willem de Kooning

Abstract expressionism is divided into two classes with different approaches but similar effects. These two participants in the movement are:

  1. Gestural Abstraction (Action painters): Gestural abstraction is evident in Pollock’s and de Kooning’s works. This is characterized by dynamic and spontaneous motion through seemingly disorganized marks. The works were done with intention and aims, but the effect is that of stochastic impulse.  Pollock allows his emotional state to determine the color and the direction of paint that he splattered on the ground or a canvas. It may appear as though he ordinarily moved back and threw paint at the canvas, but every movement of the can or brush was done with an intention. Pollock was popularly known to dance around a canvas on the ground, purring paint from the container or through stroking of his brush. In this manner, the renowned painter directly laid down his inner impulses on the canvas.
  2. Color Field: Color Field artists like Mark Rothko and Clyfford painted fields of colors onto the canvas. Though the results appear simple, the colors in these artworks viewed by an acute audience are composed of several tones that conferred depth and brilliance to the works. These artists were mostly interested in regions and myths. Therefore, their works were made up of large patches of color on the canvas. The intention was to create randomly automatic or meditational responses in their audience.

How It All Started?

what is abstract expressionism

The Liver is the Cock’s Comb

One needs to understand the revolutionary nature of the period immediately after world war II In Order, to appreciate the origin of abstract expressionism. The end of World War II had diversified after-effects in the thinking and emotional pathway of the Americans.

The years preceding the war had been loaded with major economic contraction. Soldiers getting back home from the war had been exposed to terrifying destruction, genocide, and atrocious treatments. They couldn’t withstand discussing or thinking about it.

Females who were in the labor force and had become independent and contented were again flagging off the role of domesticity. The country was putting on a smart face while internally being faced with the challenge of chaotic identity.

In coordinated cultural regions like New York, where free thought and intellectualism had always excelled. Artists, poets, and other independent thinkers were getting paranoid.

There were distrust and lack of confidence in the then norms. The political administration was progressively more anti-communistic. society was seeming more homogenous too. The artists wanted a platform to express their inner impulses, emotions, and opinions without fear.

Abstract expressionism made way for artists of diversified skills to exhibit feelings and ideas without the fear of public attack of those thoughts. Moreover, the public was unwilling to accept their work as art. which did not limit the movement’s independence in expressing their thoughts and emotions.

 Peggy Guggenheim and other prominent men were progressive in thinking. As renowned collectors, they gave the era a wider audience and authenticity.

Thus, the movement could develop and evolve into what it is now. Because of good curation and an honor for the pioneering artists of the action, it was made possible for us to enjoy these works till today. 


Abstract Expressionism has the features below:

  1. Artist’s perspective
  2.  Surrealism inspired
  3.  Large-scaled work
  4. Color diversity
  5. Motivation 
The Gate by Hans Hofman

The Gate by Hans Hofman


Despite the conventional definition of art and the critics of other artists, the American movement stool the test of time. Tolstoy’s theory was achieved. An art where observers’ emotional and psychological opinions mattered was established. The origin of abstract expressionism made the artists able to express their intents in a coded manner.


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