What Was Abstract Expressionism? A Paint-Splattered Primer on America’s First Major Art Movement

You don’t need to be an art insider to hear the term “Abstract Expressionists” used to describe the inspiration behind all manner of contemporary painting, but what was the original movement all about? Hint: it’s more than just Jackson Pollock drinking and tossing paint on a canvas. In this brief essay from Phaidon’s Art in Time: A World History of Styles and Movements, we learn about the historical developments and key artists that paved away for this highly influential American painting style.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the United States made its first major contribution to the international art world with a painting style that would fundamentally change twentieth-century art. In a New World translation of ideas from European modernism, the Abstract Expressionists combined the flatness and geometry of Cubism, German Expressionist gesture and color, and Surrealist spontaneity and improvisation into their often mural-sized canvases.

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