Movements in Twentieth-Century Art After World War II (Art 100)

Abstract Expressionism

(Action Painting and Color Field Painting)

Name: Term used as early as 1920s to describe Kandinsky's abstract paintings. Writer Robert Coates first uses the term for contemporary paintings in the March 30, 1946 issue of the New Yorker. Supportive critic Harold Rosenberg used the term "Action Painting," while another critic, Clement Greenberg, preferred "American-style Painting." Still, "Abstract Expressionism" was the term used most frequently in the U.S.
Who: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Adolph Gottlieb, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still.
When: Mid-1940s through 1950s.
Where: United States (New York City).
What: Consciously American style of art that influenced similar European movements, such as Tachisme. Abstract Expressionism can be broken into two large subdivisions: Action Painting, which came first, and Color Field Painting. Action Paintings generally have a more violent, frenzied appearance, while Color Field Paintings have a calmer, almost spiritual quality.
Subject Matter: Abstract, with an emphasis on the artist expressing everything from personal feelings to universal, spiritual concerns. With the Action Painters, the physical act of painting becomes, to a certain extent, the subject matter.
Style: Not really a coherent style so much as an attitude against traditional styles (Realism), techniques, and "finished" works. The painters do share in common their reliance on psychic self-expression. Generally, "Action Painters" employed dripping, splatter, pouring, or other aggressive techniques in an effort to be spontaneous and instinctive, while "Color Field Painters" preferred a saturated approach to paint application. Large canvases were normally used.
Janson Example: POLLOCK, Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950, 1950 (Action Painting) and ROTHKO, White and Greens in Blue, 1957 (Color Field Painting).
Kissick Example: POLLOCK, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950 (Action Painting) and ROTHKO, Untitled, 1960 (Color Field Painting).
Influenced by: Van Gogh, Cubism (shallow space), Kandinsky, Dada, Surrealism (Miró and Automatism), European artists fleeing Hitler-dominated Europe, and Native American sand painting.
Will influence: Tachisme, Art Brut, COBRA, Hard-Edge Painting, and Neo-Expressionism.

Pop Art

Name: Short for "Popular Art." Term first appeared in the article "The Arts and the Mass Media," by the British critic Lawrence Alloway, which was published in the Feb. 1958 issue of Architectural Design. Pop is more associated with the early 1960s, when Time, Life and Newsweek all ran cover stories on it.
Who: Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhhol, Tom Wesselmann, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud, Mel Ramos, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, Robert Arneson, Jim Dine, and David Hockney.
When: Late 1950s through 1960s.
Where: Began in Great Britain then quickly spread to the United States. Movement is most associated with American artists.
What: Movement was both a reaction against Abstract Expressionism, which was seen as too elitist and non-objective, as well as a celebration of postwar consumer culture. Pop is playful and ironic, not spiritual or psychological
Subject Matter: Popular culture: mass media, advertisements, comic strips, billboards, packaging, television and movie personalities, commonplace objects, etc.
Style: Similar to the styles of mass media production: bright, lurid color that is sometimes off register; sometimes the small Benday dots seen in newspaper print is copied; bold lines and shapes; immediately recognizable objects and people. Although Pop artists rejected Abstract Expressionism, their work is, nonetheless, stylistically flat.
Janson Example: LICHTENSTEIN, Drowning Girl, 1963.
Kissick Example: LICHTENSTEIN, Masterpiece, 1962.
Influenced by: Marcel Duchamp, Dada, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg.
Will influence: Post-modernist tendency toward appropriation.

Conceptual Art

Name: Term "Conceptual art" came into wide use after the article "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" by the Minimalist artist Sol Lewitt appeared in the summer 1967 issue of Artforum. "Idea art" is a synonym for Conceptual art.
Who: Joseph Kosuth, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, John Cage, Hans Haacke, and Dennis Oppenheim.
When: Mid-1960s through 1970s.
Where: International.
What: In Conceptual art the idea, rather than the object, is most important. Conceptual artists were reacting against the commercialized art world of the 1960s, the formalism of post-war art (especially the impersonality of Minimalism), as well as the limitations of traditional art. What the viewer usually saw in the gallery was merely the document (drawing, photograph, written proposals, charts, maps, video, and even language itself.) of the artist's thinking process. Sometimes, not even a document was produced. The concept was the "material." Conceptualism was sometimes used as an all- encompassing term to describe other non-traditional art movements as well, such as Performance art and Earth art.
Subject Matter: Because the art is conceptual, the subjects were extremely varied and esoteric.
Style: No single style and, oftentimes, no art object with which to attach a style.
Janson and Kissick Example: KOSUTH, One and Three Chairs, 1965.
Influenced by: Dada, Duchamp's ready-mades, Jasper Johns' work, Earth art, and Minimalism.
Will influence: Performance art.


Performance Art

Name: Name refers to a wide range of activities that are usually presented before a live audience and therefore constitute a "performance" by the artist/artists.
Who: Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, Chris Burden, Karen Finley, Gilbert and George, Tim Miller, and Carolee Schneemann.
When: Late 1960s to the present.
Where: International.
What: Performance art can encompass such activities as music, dance, poetry, theater, and video. The term can also be applied to earlier "performance" activities such as Happenings, Body Art, Actions, etc., all of which involve some degree of performance. The movement came about in the 1960s from a desire by artists to communicate more directly with their audiences than conventional painting or sculpture allowed. To a certain extent, the artists were reacting against the austerity of Minimalism. Parody is often an element of Performance art.
Subject Matter: Extremely varied, though at a base level, the artist's body is always used in some way.
Style: Also extremely varied; the style constitutes various actions performed by the artist.
Janson and Kissick Example: BEUYS, Coyote (I Like America and America Likes Me), 1974.
Influenced by: Dada, Jackson Pollock's painting for a film camera in 1950, Yves Klein's "actions," Conceptual art, Happenings, and Body Art



Name: Louis Meisel, a New York art dealer, is usually credited as originating the term "Photo-Realism." The style has also been referred to as Sharp-Focus Realism, Hyper-Realism, and Super-Realism.
Who: Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, Chuck Close, and Janet Fish.
When: Mid-1960s to mid-1970s.
Where: Primarily the United States.
What: A type of realist painting in which artist usually copies a photograph. Photorealists usually painted from slides projected onto a canvas. Sculptors at this time who worked in a very realistic manner are referred to as Superrealists. They include such artists as John de Andrea and Duane Hanson, whose figures are made from human casts and, in the case of Hanson, include real clothes and other props.
Subject Matter: The photograph itself, as opposed to nature, is the subject matter. Normal, everyday, banal subjects are common.
Style: Everything is in sharp focus; sometimes there is a flattening of the space, as is common with photographs. Photorealists are more concerned with the way a camera distorts a scene, as well as the way a photograph can bring certain elements into sharp focus.
Janson Example: ESTES, Food Shop, 1967.
Influenced by: Pop Art.
Will influence: Post-modernism.


Name: Term probably first appeared in print in Daniel Bell's End of Sociology in 1960. In the early 1960s, the term was used mainly by literary critics. In the early 1970s, the term was applied to architecture. By the late 1970s, art critics were using the term regularly. Like the term "Post-Impressionism," "post-modernism" refers not to a single, specific style, but to a period; the period after "modernism."
Who: Michael Graves, James Stirling, Nam June Paik, Ann Hamilton, Mark Tansey, Barbara Kruger, and Cindy Sherman.
When: 1970s to today.
Where: International.
What: Post-modernism in art and architecture can refer to both a rejection of "modernism," as well as art that came "after modernism." Several cultural factors have influenced this corresponding art shift from modernism to post-modernism. Perhaps the biggest factor is the advent of the technological age. Just as modern culture was influenced by the industrial age, so post-modernism has had to deal with the electronic age. As a result of this electronic, or information, age, traditional geographic boundaries have been destroyed. Images of artworks are instantly accessible to an international audience. In the art world, artists and architects embrace a rich variety of images and sources while rejecting the pure, clean elements that represented the "end" of modern art: minimalism.
Subject Matter: Whereas modernists promoted abstraction, post-modern painters advocated a return to traditional subject matter such as landscape and history painting. Some post-modernists reject the modern notion that each art movement be completely original; this rejection takes the form of borrowing (appropriation) from art or architectural history, or other sources, and combining previous images and styles in new juxtapositions. Often, post-modern subject matter in the visual arts is issue-oriented and activist. Toward this end, and because post-modernism has its roots in literature, visual artists often incorporate text into their work.
Style: Extremely varied and eclectic in both art and architecture, although post-modern visual artists use identifiable, representational images.
Janson Example: KRUGER, You Are a Captive Audience, 1983.
Kissick Example: KRUGER, Untitled ("We Won't Play Nature to Your Culture"), 1984.
Influenced by: Dada, Surrealism, Pop Art, Conceptual Art, and Neo-Expressionism.
[Top of Page]