Changing concerns in the field of theory and practice reflected developments in the social and economic structures after the horrible events of World War II. The complex relationship between the loss of faith in the Enlightenment’s promise that rationality would produce increased freedom and changes in cultural value systems caused by revolutionary developments in science and technology brought into focus natural contradictions in modern thinking.
Abstract Expressionists of the 1940’s and 50’s were abstract artists because they had been schooled in early modern painting. They were expressionist artists because of their strong belief in the individual gesture and ...view middle of the document...
Their improvisational paintings were created from their feelings and images that resided in the human psyche.
In the 1950’s art critic Harold Rosenberg described the model “action painter” as an artist who transformed his canvas into a modern day “arena” where the struggle between man and material might unfold. “Action Painting,” was coined in his 1952 essay “The American Action Painters,” in which he claimed:
“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in
which to act-rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze, or ‘express’ an object,
actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event” (Stokstad,
The drips and splatters that characterize action painting reveal the artist’s process of creation, which in Rosenberg’s view was as important as the finished product. Pollock’s style of painting was different from other action painters because he placed his large canvases on the floor rather that working from an easel.
“I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease, in a big area.
Having the canvas on the floor I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way
I can walk around it, work from all four sides and be in the painting, similar to the
Indian sand painters of the West. Sometimes I use a brush but often prefer using a
stick. Sometimes I pour the paint straight out of the can. I like to use a dripping
fluid paint. I also use sand, broken glass, pebbles, string, nails, or other foreign
matter. A method of painting is a natural growth out of a need. I want to express
my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means of arriving at a
statement. When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can
control the flow of the paint. There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and
no end. Sometimes I lose a painting, but I have no fear of changes… of destroying
the image. Because a painting has a life of its own, I try to let it live” (NGA, p.5).
This shift in the physical relationship of the artist to his canvas allowed Pollock to develop a full-body gestural technique incorporating rhythmic movements that resembled dance and a snap of the wrist action that expressed his uniqueness in controlling the paint.
“It is impossible to make a forgery of Jackson Pollock’s work,” Time Magazine critic Robert Hughes commented. Pollock’s paintings resulted in a physical performance that was unique, spontaneous, and...