What is Abstract Expressionism?

Author: Dana McGorlick-Appelman  Date Posted:15 February 2021 

What is Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism is a movement that emerged during the 1940s and 50s in New York City. It is characterised as art that is abstract but expressive, and emotional in its effect, both for artist and viewer. It was sparked after World War II in New York City, during a time that relished jazz music and beat poetry, with key artists in the movement inspired by surrealist ideals of art being an expression of unconscious thought. The movement has also come to symbolise an expression of freedom in a conservative post-war era, and a radical re-definition of the painting experience that varies from spontaneous to contemplative. The movement is not known for a single cohesive style, but rather the interest in the use of abstraction to express emotion, with the process of art-making more important than the final result. Abstract expressionist paintings are often large scale works that absorb the viewer, and allow emotion to be projected by the artist. Abstract expressionism relates chiefly to gestural, action, and colour field abstract painting, however also abstract sculptures and drawings, and is characterised by unconventional techniques.  

Key Abstract Expressionist artists include:

Willem de Kooning

Ian Fairweather 

Helen Frankenthaler

Hans Hofmann

Lee Krasner

Jackson Pollock

Mark Rothko

Franz Kline

Elaine de Kooning

Joan Mitchell