Abstract Expressionist Sculpture: Noguchi, David Smith & Nevelson

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  • 0:01 Abstract Expressionism
  • 1:43 Noguchi
  • 2:26 Smith
  • 3:21 Nevelson
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

The abstract expressionist movement spawned some of the modern world's most famous sculptors. This lesson explores three of the most iconic sculptors of the mid 20th century. They are Noguchi, Smith, and Nevelson.

Abstract Expressionism

Discussing the characteristics of abstract expressionism is sort of like trying to nail down a cloud. The art of the movement varies as greatly as the different shapes that dot a blue sky. For this reason, we're going to narrow the scope of today's lesson to three of the most famous abstract expressionist sculptors of all time. They are Isamu Noguchi, David Smith, and Louise Nevelson. However, before we get to our three sculptors, let's try and define the rather eclectic world of abstract expressionism.

Abstract expressionism is the artistic movement that came to life in post-World War II America. As a movement, it celebrated freedom of emotion, movement, and style. Flying in the face of the old European ideal that art should look realistic and natural, abstract expressionists began creating pieces of imagination and free form. Trading in correctly sketched faces for bold strokes and brightly colored splashes, abstract expressionists often put more emphasis on the process of creating than they did on the actual creation. No longer did art have to be a pretty portrait or a serene landscape; it could just be art for the sake of art.

Adding to this distinction, abstract expressionism saw some artists trading in their small canvases and classic oil paints for all sorts of different mediums or materials used to create art. Our three artists, Noguchi, Smith, and Nevelson, chose sculpture to showcase their talents.

Noguchi

Our first sculptor is Isamu Noguchi.

With his heritage as a Japanese American, Isamu Noguchi combined the organic forms of Japanese art with the freedom of American expression to create some of the most celebrated sculptures of his day. Often working with stone, he strove to create art that would enhance life and public spaces.

Building on this desire, Noguchi gave the world beautiful gardens and abstract sculptures. Proving his desire to have art be relevant and useful, he even produced furniture and set designs for theater. To Noguchi, art was never confined to hangings on a wall. His art interacted with life.

Smith

Like Noguchi, David Smith also made his mark on the world of abstract expressionist sculpture.

As an artist, Smith is famous for being one of the first to use welded metal as an artistic medium. While most sculptors worked with stone, Smith challenged tradition by using old metal tools and discarded items to create his masterpieces. Often times, his sculptures had no central focal point. In David Smith's abstract expressionist mind, art should force the eyes to move. The act of viewing should never be sedate or passive.

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