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Minimalist & Abstract Art

Amanda Ferguson, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Amanda Ferguson

    Amanda has taught middle and high school social studies subjects for several years. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, with specialization in Secondary Social Studies Education, as well as a Bachelor's in Psychology.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

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

Minimalist and abstract art presents art in its most basic and honest essence. Learn how the abstract and minimalist styles developed and discover minimalist and abstract paintings. Updated: 03/09/2022

What is Abstract Art?

The abstract art movement first began in Europe during the latter half of the 19th century. Abstract art varied from prior art movements and pushed boundaries, opening people's minds to what art was and could be. Accuracy and realism were less important in abstract styles; whereas strong emotional, personal, and expressive content were favored instead. There were various sub-types of abstract art movements that came about during the mid-20th century, like Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism. Abstract art movements were characterized by their shift away from realistic depictions and could be semi-abstract or more fully abstract in nature. "Avant-garde" is closely associated with the abstract art movement and can be defined as art that is experimental, innovative, unusual, conceptual, original, etc. The abstract art movement managed to evolve into an American obsession, leading to America's first unique style of abstract art in the 20th century- Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism helped shift the center of the art world from Europe to the U.S., specifically New York City, in the 20th century. America's abstract art inspired many artists and led to the opening of some of the first modern art museums.

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism was developed by mostly New York artists during the 1940s-1950s. The movement was influenced by the earlier Surrealism movement, along with other types of abstract art movements, and was stylistically expressive. Surrealism was marked by unrealistic or illogical imagery that was in stark contrast to earlier styles of art; deeper meanings or metaphors were often hidden within the works. Abstract Expressionism is said to be distinctly American because it often depicts individualism, artistic freedom, and personal expression—its artists were very closely tied to their work. In addition, the style was also influenced by WWII, as themes of trauma and war were often depicted.

There are two main types of Abstract Expressionist art, which are action painting and color field painting. Action painting involves the creation of images with dramatic brushstrokes that are of the pure, subconscious emotive state of the artist at the time. The artist may use dripping, slinging, and splashing of paint when creating an action painting. The type of paints used may vary for such paintings. Color field paintings are made when the artist makes large areas of color with reductive compositions. The latter is often viewed as meditative, calming, and simplistic. In Abstract Expressionist art, the technique and finished product are both of nearly equal importance. A few well-known action painters included Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell. Some color field painters included Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Barnett Newman.

Abstract Expressionism was both accepted and rejected as an art style. One reaction to the aforementioned style was Minimalist art, which was a rejection of Abstract Expressionism. Minimalists rejected Abstract Expressionism largely due to its close connection with the artist and deeper meanings for everything within the work. Minimalists were much less complex. Both styles are still relevant, and used, in modern times and helped with the evolution of subsequent art movements.

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.

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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.

Minimalism

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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Video Transcript

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.

Minimalism

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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between minimalist and abstract art?

Minimalism is a type of abstract art, but differs in some ways from the other main types. Minimalism is often simplistic and does not tend to have deeper meanings associated with the artist. Minimalist artists strip away all excess imagery deemed unnecessary to the main subject. Other abstract art types tend to be busier and have deeper connections with their artists.

What are the characteristics of minimalism?

Minimalism is characterized by the use of clean lines, geometric shapes, and overall simplicity. Artists do not usually seek to put themselves into their works in Minimalist art.

What is abstract art?

Abstract art is composed of several different sub-groups and movements. It can be characterized by its surrealism and deviation from representing an accurate reality.

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