QUOTES from AMERICAN

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

Quotes on the modern American abstract art movement, about the ideas, meaning, painters, definitions, history, characteristics, and artists like Pollock, De Kooning, Hofmann, Frankenthaler, Rothko, Krasner, Guston, Kline, a. o.

Abstract Expressionism, the modern American art movement is described here in selected art quotes, taken from the famous art critics Barbara Hess, Karen Wilkin and Clement Greenberg; they all published numerous articles and books on modern American art. The Abstract Expressionist art movement was the first real art movement in America. The American artists created their abstract art in a modern energy, gesture and picture-language. Europe was still an inspiration but also the old and tired country with a long history. In American art scene something new was growing with an unprecedented expression and temper. The selected art quotes here give a good characteristic and several definitions of Abstract Expressionism, including its great diversity and intense debates about direction, techniques, meaning, style, ideas, artists, and history. The same quotes I selected and placed on Wikiquote: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/User:FotoDutch 
Here you can find also a lot of modern artists I collected and edited, in their sourced quotes. - Fons Heijnsbroek.

 

QUOTES from AMERICAN

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

- ‘We agree only to disagree.’ According to Irvin Sandler, writer and observer of the art scene, this was the unwritten motto of that loose grouping of artists in New York in the 1940s and 50s who are generally known as ‘Abstract Expressionists’ or ‘the first generation of the New York School’

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 6 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- ‘It is disastrous to name ourselves’, answered the painter Willem de Kooning (often called Bill, fh) in a panel discussion in 1950 when the former director of the New York museum of modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., demanded: ‘We should have a name for which we can blame the artists – for once in history!’

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism”, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 6 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- Surrealism was one of the influential trends with which American artists were coming to terms, in particular, when the coming to-power of the National Socialists (Hitler, fh) in Germany and the outbreak of the second World War forced numerous exponents of the surrealist movement (Masson, Duchamp, Breton, Dali, fh) to emigrate to the United States.

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 7 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- The more neutral geographical description ‘New York School’ – in allusion and in contrast to the (French abstract, fh) ‘École de Paris’, which until the 1940s had been regarded as the world-leader – was first applied primarly on account of New York’s being the most important work and exhibition location for a new generation of artists. The name can be traced back to ‘The school of New York exhibition which the artist Robert Motherwell organized in 1951… which included works by, among others, William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Robert motherwell, Pollock,  Richard Pousette-Aart, Ad Reinhardt, Rothko, Theodoros Stamos, Hedda Sterne, Clyfford Still, Gorky, guston, Franz Kline, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, the sculptor David Smith, and Mark Tobey among the ‘first generation of Abstract Expressionism’; while the ‘second generation’ of younger artists, or of those who only developed their characteristic techniques in the 1950s, is supposed to include Friedel Dzubas, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan and Joan Mitchell.

* source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 7 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- Without a doubt, the female Abstract Expressionists play a special role… … The American art historian Marcia Brennan tellingly noted that women in abstract Expressionism were ‘at the same time selectively present and strategically ‘absent’; not until recently has greater attention been paid to the works and working conditions of artists such as Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell or Janet Sobel. 

* source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 8 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- This view of painting as ‘self-examination, self-reassurance and self-expression’ – a quotation from a panel discussion initiated by ‘’Life Magazine’ on the subject of ‘modern art’ in 1948 – was definitive for the Abstract Expressionists and their public alike. Mark Rothko, Gottlieb, and Barnett Newman saw themselves, especially during the 1940s, as modern ‘myth-makers’ who, by having recourse to ‘primitive’ and archaic cultures – for example native American or pre-Columbian art – hoped to create timeless and immediately accessible metaphors and symbols for the condition of ‘modern man’, which was perceived as tragic. 

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 10 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- In order to counter the economic distress being suffered by artists, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) instituted the Federal Arts Project (FAP) in 1935. This enabled numerous artists, including Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock and David Smith, to earn a living from their art for the first time., while also promoting closer links between those involved. One important undertaking by the Federal arts Project was the commissioning of works of art for public spaces, primarily exterior murals, whose execution was supervised by, among others, … …of the Mexican Muralist movement such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. 

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 9 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)


 

- In the years 1936/37 the museum of Modern art staged two exhibitions which provided strong impulses for the younger generation of New York artists: ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ and ‘Fantastic art, Dada, Surrealism’ (the Futurist artists refused to exhibit with the Cubism artists then, so their influence on American art was not possible directly, however indirectly by some French Cubists who used Futurism elements in their art as the early Duchamps, fh). The latter, in particular, aroused an interest in the unconscious as a source of artistic expression and in Surrealist artistic techniques such as ‘écriture automatique’, a form of pictorial or written expression free of any censorship by the rational mind (for ‘automatic writing’, see the quotes by Duchamp, Jorn, Miro, and Breton, fh) or the conscious will. Following the example of écriture automatique, the self-dynamic of the paint itself came to be increasingly important in the painting techniques of a number of Abstract Expressionists, (like Pollock & Gorky, fh) 

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 10 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- Peggy Guggenheim … …had also staged the (starting around 1947, fh) first solo exhibitions of the works of numerous American Abstract Expressionists… …On the occasion of the closing of ‘Art of this Century’, Clement Greenberg wrote: ‘I am convinced that Peggy Guggenheim’s place in the history of American Art will grow lager as the times passes and as the artists she encouraged mature’. He was to prove right. 

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 12 (Abstract Expressionism; American modern painting movement with painters as Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko a.o. in quotes of art critics Hess, Wilkin and Greenberg)

 


- ‘As dark as the situation still is for us, American painting in its most advanced aspects – that is, American abstract painting, – has in the last several years shown here and there a capacity for fresh content that does not seem to be matched either in France or Great Britain’ (in ‘The situation of the Moment’, Jan 1948, Greenberg, fh). One logical problem in this debate, however, consisted precisely in the difficulty of discerning the specifically ‘American’ aspect of the new painting… …Greenberg tried to resolve this in his 1955 essay ‘American-type Painting’. His thesis was that modern painting had made it its special goal to investigate its own material conditions and to filter out ‘the expendable conventions’ of the medium, ‘in order to maintain the irreplaceability and renew the vitality of art’… Greenberg saw (this modern painting, fh) successfully implemented above al in Abstract expressionist painting, which at the same time was the first American art movement that was not only respected in Paris, but even imitated. 

source of the art quote: ‘A constant searching of oneself’ in “Abstract Expressionism””, Barbara Hess, ed. Uta Grosenick; Taschen, p. 19 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- If the label ‘Abstract Expressionism’ means anything, it means painterliness: loose, rapid handling, or the look of it; masses that blotted and fused instead of shapes that stayed distinct; large and conspicuous rhythms; broken color, uneven saturations or densities of paint, exhibited brush, knife, of finger marks – in short, a constellation of qualities like those defined by Wölfflin when he extracted his notion of Malerische (painterly, fh) from Baroque art. 

source of the art quote: ‘After Abstract Expressionism’, Clement Greenberg, in ‘Art International’, 25 October 1962 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- In his (Greenberg, fh) essay ‘After Abstract Expressionism’… …he listed the characteristics of 1950s gestural abstraction (in America, fh), not only to describe them but also to underline how this approach differed from the crisp geometric efforts of the American “non-objective” artists of the 1930s and the lean, color-based compositions of the painters who rose to prominence in the 1960s. 

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 11 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)


 

- the dividing line between the painterly and the linear (painting, fh) is by no means a hard and fast one. 

source of the art quote: ‘Post painterly abstraction’, Clement Greenberg, exh. Cat. County Museum of Art, Los Angeles 1964 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- Painterly painting was not universal even among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. If the Malerische (the painterly) was exemplified by Willem de Kooning’s layered, wet-into-wet, gesture paintings, its opposite was embodied, in various ways, by Jackson Pollock’s flickering snarls and skeins, Mark Rothko’s and Barnett Newman’s sheets of uninflected color, Clyfford Still’s glaciers of viscous paint, and Robert Motherwell’s and Adolph Gottlieb’s bold, graphic, configurations, to name only a few examples. 

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 12 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 

- The painterly and non-painterly Abstract Expressionists were united by their shared belief in the necessity of abstractness and their common certainty that the source of art was the unconscious (new discovered art ideas of Surrealism: automatic writing, drawing and painting, fh). They shared too, the conviction that an ‘authentic’ painting was infused with every aspect of its author’s personality and that the history of a painting’s evolution was an important part of its meaning. 

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 12 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- …for the painterly Abstract Expressionists, assertive gestures were both declarations of individuality and carriers of emotion; layering was essential to ‘authenticity’ as a visible indication of the painting’s previous and future states, and by implication, a sign of the artists anxiety and the existential instability of the moment. 

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 12-13 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- For the anti-Malerische (anti-painterly, fh) Abstract Expressionists – Rothko and Pollock, for example – overt gesture was largely expendable. A sense of expansiveness and ‘all-overness’ was more crucial than evidence of past and future change. All-overness announced that the painting was a continuous surface of a particular dimension, inscribed with a record of the artist’s willed and unwilled intentions. At the same time, all-overness implied that this self-sufficient entity was also a fragment of a larger continuum… …, expansiveness and all-overness suggested boundlessness and endless possibility. 

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 13 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- If the layered gestures of painterly abstraction (as in De Koonings art, fh) evoked the agonized indecisions of the present moment, openness, clarity, and all-overness (Pollock, Rothko) were signs of a desire for the infinite, even the eternal. 

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 13 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

 


- What the color Field painters shared most importantly with the Abstract Expressionists was the conviction that the role of art was not to report on the visible, but to reveal the unknown. They shared too, the belief that paintings that resembled nothing preexisting could have the presence, authority and associative richness of other real things in the world. Perhaps because of these shared assumptions, close ties existed among some first-generation Abstract Expressionists and the Color field Painters.

source of the art quote: ‘Notes on Color Field Painting’, Karen Wilkin, in “Color as Field – American Painting 1950 – 1975, American Federations of Art, in ass. With Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 22-23 (Abstract Expressionism, a modern American art movement, about meaning, characteristics, ideas, technique, definitions, artists and history of the abstract expressionist art style)

edited and collected by Fons Heijnsbroek, Dutch abstract painter-artist