The effects of World War II on the arts cannot be discounted, giving rise to a new generation of writers, influencing the genre of film noir, and even in the world of fine arts. The war was the most devastating event in modern history, changing the social fabric, political realities and the economics of the world. Just as the horrors of war and the Nazi atrocities had acted to transform the presiding naiveté of many writers and encourage them to write deeply pessimistic novels, so did the world of art undergo a revolution. One art movement in particular thrived under the sense of desolation and alienation inculcated by the post-war political landscape. This movement, which would become one of the dominant and most influential schools of art for the rest of the century was termed Abstract Expressionism. Though not accurately a full-fledged American invention, the success of abstract expression was enough to allow New York to replace Paris as the center of artistic expression.
The artists who are the center of the beginnings of Abstract Expressionism are best defined as a group intent on placing forth a challenge to the traditions of social realism and representational art. Inspiration for these artists spanned the gamut from Native American folk art to the murals occasioned by the Mexican Revolution to Surrealism. Essentially, the abstract expressionists declared that the subject of their art would be the unseen interior of the mind. For this reason, many Abstract Expressionist paintings are disturbing images that appear to show their subjects gripped in an inescapable turmoil, a sprawling tornado of dread and fear. The movement received its name from critic Robert Coates in a 1946 profile of the giants of the form, Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, among others. As with most new art movements, the initial critical reaction to the abstract expressionists was openly hostile and degrading. One critic set the stage for the collective reaction by terming them little more than “paint-splattering monkeys.” As with Impressionism and Cubism and nearly every other untraditional shift in the world of art, it took awhile to for Abstract Expressionism to move from the disregarded avant-garde into the mainstream.
Even today, of course, the drip painting technique of Jackson Pollock is ridiculed by most people, but in the world of art Abstract Expressionism has long since moved to a place where it part of the standard vocabulary of art. The dark foreboding tones, and the weird angles and perspectives have slowly seeped into the media of film as shorthand for a perspective that illustrates alienation from society and psychological tumult. The ultimate expression of the abstractions associated with the movement, however, probably lies in the fact that Abstract Expression has gone on to influence later art movements that appear to be even farther removed from the traditions against which it originally rebelled. This influence on the world of art is represented on the one side by Pop Art, which rose in part as a reaction against what was viewed as the overly emotional elements in Abstract Expressionism. On the other side of the spectrum is Minimalism, which is quite clearly influenced by the revolution in form and spatial construction of its precursor.