Influence of European Abstraction on Transcendental Painters

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  • 0:00 American Abstract Painting
  • 0:57 The Transcendental…
  • 2:27 Influence of European Art
  • 4:27 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 the roots of the Transcendental Painting Group and discover how these American artists were influenced by European ideas about art. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

American Abstract Painting

In the 20th century, American artists latched onto the ideas of abstract art that were very popular in Europe. Abstract art is focused on rejecting the idea that art should reflect the physical world. So, abstract art focused on sensations, emotions, beliefs, and other sorts of intangible things.

Now, if we wanted to check out American abstract art, where do think we should look? New York maybe, somewhere between Greenwich Village and Harlem? Or maybe Chicago, or Los Angeles? How about New Mexico? In the 1930s, this rural Southwestern state became one of the most important centers of abstract art in America. How did this happen? Well, to find out, how about a trip to the land of enchantment?

The Transcendental Painting Group

Here we are in Northern New Mexico, somewhere around Santa Fe. See that guy? That's Raymond Jonson. Which means that somewhere around here, yep, there he is - that's James Emil Bisttram over there. Jonson and Bisttram are both professional artists, educated in the best art schools, who each happened to come out to New Mexico and fell in love with the area.


So, they both ended up moving out here, started painting landscapes, and that's when they met. Jonson and Bisttram shared ideas about art, and in 1938, founded an artistic movement in New Mexico devoted to exploring modern ideas about art. They called this the Transcendental Painting Group.

So, Bisttram and Jonson founded a new movement of Santa Fe artists, and like all good artistic movements of the time period, their goals were explained in their manifesto. According to this document, they called their art transcendental because the aim was to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world. So, as you can guess, this is going to be a style of abstract art. The transcendental painters mixed abstraction and realism to create a world of pure and unrestricted imagination. Although the movement only lasted until the early 1940s, it managed to bring together several abstract painters in New Mexico and pushed the limits of modern art.

Influence of European Art

So, the transcendental painters set up in Northern New Mexico to explore abstract art. But, where did these come from? After all, abstract art was something mostly found in Europe until, that is, 1913. In 1913, the city of New York hosted an international exhibition of modern art called the Armory Show. For the first time, many American artists really got a taste of abstract art, including Raymond Jonson. European movements like Cubism, which broke up realistic scenes into sharp angles, greatly influenced how Americans thought about art. Look at these paintings by Jonson - see how flat and broken up they are? That's the influence of cubism and other European modernist art.



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