Introduction to Abstract Expressionism in Art


Introduction to Abstract Expressionism in Art

Abstract Expressionism, also known as the New York School, was a revolutionary art movement that emerged in the United States during the post-World War II era. It was a response to the chaotic and uncertain times, and it aimed to break away from traditional artistic conventions and explore the depths of human emotion and experience. This avant-garde movement has had a profound impact on the art world, and its influence can still be seen in contemporary art today. In this article, we will delve into the origins, techniques and theories behind Abstract Expressionism in art.

Origins of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism emerged in the 1940s as a result of the confluence of several factors. The first was the influx of European artists who were fleeing from the horrors of World War II and had settled in the United States. These artists brought with them the revolutionary techniques and ideas of the European Avant-Garde movements such as Surrealism, Dadaism and Cubism.

Another key factor was the shift in the center of the art world from Paris, France to New York, USA. American art was no longer seen as inferior to European art, and this gave local artists the confidence to experiment and push the boundaries of traditional art.

Techniques in Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is characterized by its focus on the act of painting itself rather than the subject matter. The process of creation was more important than the final outcome. This allowed artists to let their inner emotions and subconscious thoughts guide their work, resulting in highly personal and spontaneous creations.

One of the primary techniques used in Abstract Expressionism is “Action Painting,” also known as “Gesture painting.” This involved applying paint onto the canvas using large, sweeping brushstrokes or even dripping, splashing or pouring it. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning became famous for their use of this technique, where the physical act of painting became a performative act.

Another technique used by Abstract Expressionists was “Color field painting,” where large areas of flat, solid color were applied to the canvas. This method was favored by artists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who saw color as a means of expressing deep emotions and spirituality.

Theories behind Abstract Expressionism

There is no single theory that can fully encompass the complex and diverse movement of Abstract Expressionism. However, one common thread among the artists was the rejection of traditional forms of representation and a desire to create a new, individualistic and highly expressive form of art.

One of the key theories behind Abstract Expressionism is the concept of “the unconscious mind.” Artists believed that by tapping into their subconscious, they could create works that were more authentic and reflective of their inner selves. This idea was heavily influenced by the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and it led to the creation of highly emotional and imaginative artworks.

Another theory that informed Abstract Expressionism was that of “gestalt,” or the theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Artists believed that the paint, canvas, and the physical act of painting all came together to create a powerful and unified work of art.

Practical Examples of Abstract Expressionism

To fully understand Abstract Expressionism, it is essential to examine some practical examples. One of the most famous works in this genre is Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1 (Lavender Mist),” created in 1950. This enormous painting measures 9 feet by 8 feet and is a perfect representation of Action Painting. Pollock’s use of swirling, rhythmic brushstrokes and drips of paint creates a sense of movement and energy in the artwork.

Another masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism is Mark Rothko’s “Orange and Yellow,” painted in 1956. This painting, one of Rothko’s iconic color field works, is a glowing canvas of oranges, yellows and reds. The simplicity of the composition and the intense colors evoke a sense of deep emotion and spirituality in the viewer.


Abstract Expressionism remains one of the most influential art movements in history. Its emphasis on individual expression, spontaneity and exploration of the human psyche challenged the traditional notions of art, paving the way for the development of new forms of expression. By breaking away from traditional techniques and embracing their inner creativity, these artists not only changed the art world but also challenged society’s perception of art and its purpose. Today, Abstract Expressionism continues to inspire artists and captivate art lovers with its raw energy, emotion, and unpredictability.