Abstract Expressionism: The Art Revolution that was Born in America
S 2020


Abstract Expressionism was a revolution in the history of art, especially modern art.  Abstract Expressionism was the first major art movement that evolved out of the American experience.  Previously, the art world was centered in Europe, and American artists followed and adapted the trends that crossed the ocean.  With the rise of Totalitarianism in the 1930’s and the beginning of WWII, American artists felt emboldened to transcend European influence, and to develop a movement that reflected their own nation, experience and emotions.  This evolution thrust America for the first time in history to the forefront of the arts, where the American life experience became the ground for new artistic expression.  Because many of the Abstract Expressionist artists were refugees from Europe, they brought with them the history of modernism  and reformed it into something new when they joined up with the art community of New York.


This SDG will follow the birth of Abstract Expressionism from the art background of European refugee's to the “Wall Street Crash” and the formation of the “WPA Federal Arts Project,” which led to the birth of "The New York School".  The New York School included painters, poets, musicians and sculptors who bonded together to form a community in the face of societal hardship.  During the mid-1940’s, Abstract Expressionism found a second home in San Francisco, and “The San Francisco School” was formed.  Both of these schools, perhaps better known as collectives, rocked the artistic world, and art has never looked back.  The American worlds of music, sculpture and poetry were also influenced by the changing times and embraced the Abstract Expressionist Movement, creating a cultural shift that we are still seeing today.  


Everything about the process of painting, music, sculpture and poetry changed!  Paint could now be dripped, thrown, poured, stained or carved into.  Music could be atonal, rhythmic or neither.  Sculpture need not be figurative or representational; and poetry could express the dissonance of human life.  So, the rules could change with the intention of the artist.  Expression was valued over perfection, vitality was more meaningful than finish, fluctuation was more interesting than repose.  The unknown was the subject, and the individual was the gateway to this unknown, inner world.


Weekly Topics


Week 1.  INTRODUCTION:  The foundation and history of Abstract Expressionism; the changing methodologies for interpreting meaning and the desire to extinguish the object.  Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim's impact on Abstract Expressionist seen through the lens of sexism, financial gain and racism.  We will begin our art exploration with Janet Sobel and Hedda Sterne.


Week 2.   Jackson Pollock.

Week 3.  Willhelm De Kooning

Week 4.   Lee Krasner

Week 5.   Norman Lewis

Week 6.   Joan Mitchell


Week 7.   Louise Nevelson and David Smith


Week 8.   Mark Rothko + Morton Feldman

Week 9.   Helen Frankenthaler

Week 10.  Clifford Still

Week 11.  Alma Thomas

Week 12.  Hans Hofman

Week 13.  Perle Fine - action & color field


Week 14.   Barbara Guest and Frank O'Hara

The music of Abstrtact Expressionism will be played at the beginning of each class.  John Cage, Morton Feldman, Miles Davis



This book is available used at a reasonable price from Amazon, Abebooks or Better World Books.

The artwork and discussion material is readily available on-line and each weeks discussion leader will disseminate their material, two weeks ahead of their class.  On-line links will also be disseminated for additional readings, videos, movies or cool stuff.


Abstract Expressionism: Themes & Movements - Katy Siegel

New York School Painters & Poets - Jenni Quilter

The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest - Wesleyan Poetry Series

The Women of Abstract Expressionism - Denver Art Museum

Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis - University of California Press