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Art in America in the Fifties

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There was a move away from a product based aesthetic in the arts (sculpture, painting etc) to event or performance based art in the fifties: cite some examples as to why this occurred. For instance: was this due to a changing political climate? Was it in reaction to what came before? Be as specific as you can.

According to Carolyn Kinder Carr, Deputy Director, National Portrait Gallery, art in America took an evolution process in the fifties. Soon after world war two, a group of painters in New York took advantage of the political climate to change their view of art.

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In the earlier centuries, art to them focused mainly on Paris, but they chose to involve the rest of the nation as well as the rest of the world, the great experiences that surrounded them as well as the aftermath of the Second World War.

Artists who contributed to the change from Aesthetic establishment to Abstract Expressionism included, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford.

They did portraits of critics and writers like Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, and Thomas Hess who also expressed the importance of the movement.

A few terms used to define this type of art were,   “Action painting,” “American-type painting,” and the “New York School”, but to most scholars, it was appreciated as a highly developed American art in the fifties. They also found it to be an organized, logical and creative experience; a new way of expression.

Another factor that made it possible for the artists to involve change in their way of expression was the geographical center. Most of the artists involved lived in New York, hence were well acquainted with each other, interacted often and hence shared a common view in regards to art, even though their paintings varied from general paintings to highly reserved paintings. This group of artists dissociated themselves from numerical concepts as well as societal practicality which were the two governing principals in the 1930s. To them, art was no longer about replicating forms within their environment, but the expression of indescribable ideas and experiences. For most of them, art was a search for inspiration and went beyond just form. All artists, however agreed that, “art was not about an experience, but was itself the experience.” Just like the poets of that time challenged the mythical beliefs that existed and tried to involve real life experiences in their work, so did the artists of the 1950s create unique images by assimilating their personal imaginations and thoughts with original structures.

The social setting in which Abstract Expressionism began was basically due to friendships formed in the Depression-era New York. A complex and strong web of friendship and relationships developed as each new artist came into New York. This friendships were further toughened by the nearness of their studios, hence sharing of ideas and influence on each other’s artistic behaviors.

The artists living down town had common cheap social places where they gathered. This included neighborhood bars and cheap restaurants. The Abstract Expressionists had an ongoing need for a place to talk about art. Hence they formed the Club in 1949, which was not strictly limited to artists, but also featured poets of the time. This unity was further enhanced when in May 1950; eighteen artists signed a letter protesting the traditional jury for an approaching exhibition of modern American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The emergence of Abstract Expressionism was like a curve. It began with small irrelevant events during the 1940s, and then developed to more logical and intensive activities in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Its failure was manifest by both noticeable and unnoticeable incidents like the death of Jackson Pollock in 1956. In addition to the friendships formed, group unity and professionalism were achieved when the artists began to display their work at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery at 30 West Fifty-Seventh Street. Pollock first exhibited there in 1943, also Baziotes and Motherwell; paintings by de Kooning, Kline, Rothko.

In the late 1940s, Abstract Expressionism owned a large medium of rational ideas, an articulate body of established work by several artists, venues for public exhibition, and significant critical reviews. . Ironically, however, the climax ages of Abstract Expressionism began soon after Peggy Guggenheim shut down her gallery in 1947. Her exit led to a new era of dealers like Betty Parsons, Charles Egan, and Samuel Kootz.

The unrestricted acknowledgment of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s was enhanced by the increasing publications that emphasized the work of these artists. By early 1950s, most Abstract Expressionists had formed their own signatures, although the credibility of this was dispensed by Harold Rosenberg’s December 1952 essay “The Action Painters,” in Art News.

De Kooning’s significant series of paintings of women in the early 1950s improved his peculiarity among his fellow artists and enhanced his popularity in the media, and after Pollock’s death his role as the leading artist of this generation was certain. He opened his show at the Sidney Janis Gallery on May 5, 1959, and the local newspaper, Time confirmed his celebrity rank.

In 1956, Jackson Pollock died in a car accident. The other artists continued to paint, exhibit and also enjoyed positive critical thoughts as well as increased prices for their work. However, their visual management, notwithstanding the public acceptance, decreased in the mid fifties. A new era of artists was emerging, that sought to view art in a different way from Abstract Expressionism. But even as the following generations changed their artistic views, Abstract expressionism still played a major role in their works.

Even today, artists still involve the Abstract Expressionists way of imagination as well as the historian artists and their works. They remain significant, not just for the art they created, but the manner in which they created it. The Abstract Expressionists have become models for the current artists, and the way in which they lived has taken mythical status. Artists in the following centuries have emulated them and assimilated their works to create new artistic images and innovations. Therefore, even though latter artistic evolutions took various styles and ways of expression, most of which opposed Abstract Expressionism, it still emulates the adventurous nature of Abstract Expressionists, who became leaders and models of their time due to the uniqueness of their expressions.

It is therefore quite clear that, due to political changes, favorite geographical setting as well as increased web of relationships formed, it was easy for the artists of the fifties to relate to their experiences in their work. The commonness of their working environment enhanced this as well. Other revolutions also enhanced this movement such as the poetic and publications of the time that were fighting the mythical nature of the population. Art just like many revolutions that have been modernized, took its chances in society to be appreciated and hence the public critical acceptance of the Abstract Expressionists.


“Rebel Painters of the 1950s” Essay by Carolyn Kinder Carr

Cite this Art in America in the Fifties

Art in America in the Fifties. (2016, Jul 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/art-in-america/

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