A Closer Look At… Abstract Expressionism
Moving firmly away from the past, works of art that culminate to create the movement we call Abstract Expression focus primarily on the notions of the ‘new’ and the active role of the artist. With paintings on a canvas no longer consumed by a series of pictorial representations or narrative tales, audiences in the early 1940s found themselves exposed to works of art that used the canvas as a platform for an event more so than a surface of depiction. Situated primarily in the heart of New York City the movement of art, which had previously been rooted in Europe, began to place America on the map as the new center of the western art world. With artists such as Jackson Pollock, Frank Stella and William De Kooning pioneering new techniques and means of expressions, this wave of ‘new art’ evoked a new way of seeing.
No longer confined by the structural frame of the canvas, Abstract Expressionism sought to transgress the finite boundaries of the canvas and delve beneath the surface into the individual psyche or subconscious, which was concerned with universal themes that they found deep within themselves. By creating these modes of emotive expression, the works of art in some ways created a space for the piece of art to transform into an active event that the viewer could partake within. No longer needing prior knowledge to understand the works of art, being able to feel or react to the work in question became as significant to the experience of the art piece as the acrylic found on the canvas itself.
The artists also adopted techniques that were highly dependent on spontaneity and improvisation. For example, Jackson Pollock’s ‘action painting’ often involved swirling his arm in a way that would splatter the paint onto a surface with no element of control. By focusing on this energetic gesture, works of the Abstract Expressionists placed a particular importance on the process of the work of art more so than the end result. Venturing into the unknown both physically on the canvas and mentality within the minds of the artist therefore became the fundamental ideals from which many of the works of art were built upon, which in turn paved way for direct and immediate experience for both the artist and the viewer. Thus Abstract Expressionism, as a movement, not only collectively became a striving force in the evolution of the world of art but equally set into motion a whole new way of seeing, thinking and understanding both works of art and ourselves.