Comparing Minimalism & Abstract Expressionism

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  • 0:15 Fine Art
  • 1:12 Abstract Expressionism
  • 2:37 Minimalism
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore some pretty heavy ideas about modern art and discover what Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism are really all about. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Fine Art

Why does art have to be so confusing? Today, we're talking about Abstract and Minimalist art, so, yeah, that should be a piece of cake. What happened to those nice paintings from the Renaissance, you know, back when art had recognizable subjects?

Well, around the end of the 19th century, artists began realizing that we don't only experience this world through sight; we experience it through emotion, memories, dreams, and sensations. We each perceive the world differently and, wouldn't you know it, these artists decided that they could represent all of these ideas through art.

So, then the 20th century rolls by and art becomes steadily more obsessed with the abstract. And here we are, somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s. Nearly a century of exploring the use of art to document varied nuances of our existence all leads here - to the rise of America's first unique style of abstract art and the reactions it created. So, are you ready to get abstract? And… minimalist? Yeah, we got this.

Abstract Expressionism

Welcome to the world of Abstract Expressionism. This movement is focused on the subconscious act of creation and the personal relationship between the artist and canvas. Let's just get that confusing intellectual stuff out of the way. So what does that really mean? Well, the goal of Abstract Expressionism was to create images that were purely dedicated to emotion. That's why there's no recognizable objects being depicted. There's no need to disguise the emotional nature of painting with metaphors hidden in realistic objects.

In Abstract Expressionism, the painters try to let their subconscious guide the painting, which is the idea behind the rough, expressive brushstrokes. In fact, many Abstract Expressionists believe in action painting, in which the paint is dripped, slung, or smeared onto a canvas as a way to reduce conscious control. To the painters, these techniques are what transfers the emotion of the artist onto the canvas. What this really means is that the physical action of painting is as important as the finished product. That's a really important aspect of Abstract Expressionism. So important, in fact, that I'm going to say it again: the physical action of painting is as important as the finished product. Need to hear it a third time? Nah, I didn't think so.


So, as you can guess, Abstract Expressionism caused quite a stir in the artistic community. This was unlike anything being done before and really cemented America's dedication to abstract art. Abstract Expressionism influenced several styles over the next decades. Some built upon the ideas of the Abstract Expressionists and some rejected them.

One of the movements to reject Abstract Expressionism was Minimalism, a movement aimed at eliminating all excess in order to expose the most basic essence of art. Now, let's start by looking at what these two styles have in common. For one, there's that desire to strip away naturalist representations in order to find some element of truth. Also, the reduction of a painting into flat colors was something being explored by Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko.

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