What is “Abstract Expressionism”?
A brief introduction to the abstract expressionist movement.
By Joanna Horowitz

Mark Rothko's No. 61 (Rust and Blue), 1951

In the 1940s, a loosely affiliated group of primarily New York-based artists began steering the art world in a radical new direction. At that time, the work of European Surrealists, Dadaists, and Cubists became more readily available in the U.S. and influenced this new group. The Abstract Expressionists—also referred to as “The New York School”—wanted to make art that reflected their inner psyche and, by doing so, illustrate larger social issues—without getting explicitly political.

Famous Abstract Expressionists: Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)
Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)
Franz Kline (1910–1962)
Lee Krasner (1908–1984)
Mark Rothko (1903–1970)

In the post-WWII world, these young artists were acutely aware of human anxiety, irrationality and propensity for darkness. Taking some cues from the improvisation of surrealists, the abstract expressionists created work that was primarily abstract in nature. Their paintings were either dynamic and energetic gestures (like Jackson Pollock) or more reflective and cerebral, like Rothko’s fields of color. Many drew inspiration from primitive myths.

The abstract expressionist movement shifted the focus of the art world from Europe to New York, and the artists’ work inspired many generations to come.