What Are Characteristics of Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract expressionist art is generally abstract in style and expresses emotional content. Typically, abstract expressionist artists had either a dynamic style characterized by energetic movement or a more serene, cerebral one using large color fields. Their paintings tend to be monumental in scale.

Abstract expressionism was an American painting movement that came to prominence in the wake of World War II. Influenced by avant-garde movements such as surrealism, many abstract expressionists began their careers exploring their own psychological depths and the myths and symbols of their culture and other cultures around the world. These investigations bred an appreciation for intuition in the creative process that led some abstract expressionists, most prominently Jackson Pollock, to develop a technique called "action painting." Pollock poured, dripped and flung paint on unstretched canvases, making works that, though entirely abstract, conveyed strong emotional content. Other painters using similar dynamic techniques were Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

Other abstract expressionists began to explore the potential of color. Painters such as Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko created large canvases dominated by simple rectangles of color. These artists were attempting to give viewers a sublime experience that bordered on the religious. Their massive scale causes these color field paintings to envelop the viewers, giving them an intimacy that helped generate that quasi-religious sensation.

Though most abstract expressionists were painters, the movement also included sculptors such as David Smith and photographers such as Aaron Siskind.