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IDEAS & CRITICS

Art Theory and Art Critics

Art theory may sound like a complex, modern invention, but ideas about art are as old as art itself. The very first artists held some elementary ideas about imagery when they began making marks on the surfaces of caves - otherwise they wouldn't have made them. Perhaps those ideas weren't as sophisticated as those which have informed modern artists, but many of the most advanced artists today still hold theories about art which are little more than a series of unspoken, instinctively held assumptions. The writings of the critics and historians that are explored in this section sometimes interrogate those assumptions, but often they simply elaborate upon them and bring them to a wider audience.

This section offers several routes to an understanding of Abstract Expressionist theory. There is an overview of the movements' key ideas, showing what it derived from artists that came before it, what it absorbed from the beliefs of its own time, and how its ideas have since fared. There is also a timeline setting out the major contributions to art and ideas in the America of the 1940s and 1950s. And there is a full biographical directory of the major critics and historians who interpreted and contextualised the movement, then and since.

Definitions

Modern Art

represents an evolving set of ideas among a number of painters, sculptors, writers, and performers who - both individually and collectively - sought new approaches to art making. Although modern art began, in retrospect, around... Learn More

Postmodernism

is best understood by defining the modernist ethos it replaced - that of the avant-garde who were active from 1860s to the 1950s. The various artists in the modern period were driven by a radical and forward thinking approach... Learn More

Other Concepts

Formalism Existentialism
A painting's form is composed of its basic elements: color, line, composition, and texture... Learn More The philosophy of Existentialism was an influential undercurrent in art of the 1940s and 1950s... Learn More
Medium Purity Flatness
'Purity' can be defined as an untainted and desirable object or reality. In art and art criticism... Learn More Since humankind first began using tools to depict figurative forms in an artistic medium, the greates... Learn More
Art for Art's Sake
The phrase 'art for art's sake' condenses the notion that art has its own value and should be... Learn More


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CRITICS & THEORY


Clement Greenberg vs. Harold Rosenberg
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Clement Greenberg Clement Greenberg
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Harold Rosenberg Harold Rosenberg
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Meyer Schapiro Meyer Schapiro
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Leo Steinberg Leo Steinberg
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More Theorists
John Russell John Russell
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Robert Hughes Robert Hughes
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John Canaday John Canaday
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Dore Ashton Dore Ashton
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Thomas Hess Thomas Hess
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Rosalind Krauss Rosalind Krauss
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Robert Rosenblum Robert Rosenblum
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Michael Fried Michael Fried
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Hans Hofmann Hans Hofmann
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Robert Motherwell Robert Motherwell
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Barnett Newman Barnett Newman
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Fairfield Porter Fairfield Porter
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Timeline

Abstract Expressionism
View the interactive timeline of significant events in Abstract Expressionist art theory