What is existentialism? After the war, Europe was gripped by a profound pessimism. The existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre was a direct response. What did Sartre mean by the phrase “Existence precedes essence”? He agreed that the human condition is defined by alienation, anxiety, lack of authenticity, and a sense of nothingness, but he said that this did not abrogate the responsibility to act and create meaning. How did Sartre’s lifelong companion, Simone de Beauvoir, extend Sartre’s argument in The Second Sex ? Others in Sartre’s circle contributed to the existential movement. What existential virtue does Albert Camus’s anti-hero Meursault, in The Stranger , possess? Sartre’s own play No Exit and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are examples of the Theater of the Absurd. What are the characteristics of this brand of theater? In art, Alberto Giacometti’s emaciated figures seemed to capture the human condition as trapped halfway between being and nothingness. Jean Dubuffet’s art brut , “raw art,” projected a condition of formlessness that reflected the disorder and chaos of the age.
Alberto Giacometti. City Square (La Place) . 1948. 8-1/2" × 25-3/8" × 17-1/4”.
What is Abstract Expressionism? The unprecedented prosperity of the United States after the war included the introduction of new products and services and the mass adoption of television as the primary form of entertainment. A counternote of sincerity was struck by the Abstract Expressionists. How did they apply Sartre’s theories to the act of painting? Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning inspired a generation of artists, including their own wives, to abandon representation in favor of directly expressing their emotions on the canvas in totally abstract terms. Color-field painters Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler created more meditative spaces based on large expanses of undifferentiated color. The sculptors Alexander Calder and David Smith created dynamic works that, in the first instance, literally moved, and in the second, required the viewer to move around them.
Jean Dubuffet. Corps de Dame . 1950. 10-5/8" × 8-3/8”.
Jackson Pollock. Guardians of the Secret . 1943. 4’ 3/8" × 6’ 3-3/8”.
Richard Hamilton, John McHale, and John Voelcker. Closer Look: Pavilion for the “This Is Tomorrow” exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. 1956.
Richard Hamilton. Closer Look: Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?. 1956. 10-1/4" × 9-3/4”.
Jackson Pollock. Number 27 . 1950. 4’ 1" × 8’ 10”.
Willem de Kooning. Seated Woman . ca. 1940. 54-1/4" × 36”.
Willem de Kooning. Pink Angels . 1945. 52" × 40”.
Willem de Kooning. Excavation . 1950. 81" × 100-1/4" (unframed).
Lee Krasner. White Squares . ca. 1948. 24" × 30”.
Grace Hartigan. River Bathers . 1953. 5'9-3/8" × 7'4-3/4”.
Joan Mitchell. Piano mécanique . 1958. 78" × 128”.
Mark Rothko. Green on Blue . 1956. 89-3/4" × 63-1/4”.
Helen Frankenthaler. The Bay . 1963. 6’ 8-3/4" × 6’ 9-1/2”.
Alexander Calder. Black, White, and Ten Red . 1957. 33" × 144”.
David Smith. Blackburn: Song of an Irish Blacksmith . Frontal view. 1949-50. 46-1/4" × 49-3/4" × 24”.
David Smith. Blackburn: Song of an Irish Blacksmith . Profile view. 1949-50. 46-1/4" × 49-3/4" × 24”.
Who are the Beats? At the same time, the Beat generation, a younger, more rebellious generation of writers and artists, began to critique American culture. Swiss photographer Robert Frank’s The Americans revealed a side of American life that outraged a public used to seeing the country through the lens of a happy optimism. Allen Ginsberg lashed out in his poem “Howl” with a forthright and uncensored frankness that seemed to many an affront to decency. What was the nature of the collaboration between composer John Cage, dancer Merce Cunningham, and artist Robert Rauschenberg? What characterizes Rauschenberg’s combine paintings? What defines Cage’s 4 9 33 0 as music? What are the characteristics of Allan Kaprow’s Happenings? In what ways do the American Beats reflect the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre? In architecture, Mies van der Rohe, transplanted from the Bauhaus to Chicago, brought the International Style to America. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, however, is a conscious counterstatement to Mies van der Rohe’s rationalist geometry, its organic forms echoing the natural world. To the Beats, the architecture of both represented all that was wrong with America. How would you explain their thinking?
Robert Rauschenberg. Bed . 1955. 6’ 3-1/4" × 31-1/2" × 8”.
Merce Cunningham. Summerspace . Set and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg. 1958.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Farnsworth House, Fox River, Plano, Illinois. 1950.
Frank Lloyd Wright. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 1957-59.
What is Pop Art? Pop Art reflected the commodification of culture and the marketplace as a dominant cultural force. In what terms did Andy Warhol compare Marilyn Monroe to Campbell’s soup? How did Tom Wesselmann suggest that painting itself was a commodity? How did Roy Lichtenstein parody Abstract Expressionist painting? Claes Oldenburg created witty reproductions of American goods. How did he change them?
Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup Cans . Installation at Ferus Gallery. 1962.
Tom Wesselmann. Still Life #20 . 1962. 48" × 48" × 5-1/2”.
Andy Warhol. Marilyn Diptych . 1962. 6’ 8-7/8" × 4’ 9”.
Roy Lichtenstein. Oh, Jeff . . . I Love You, Too . . . But. . . . 1964 . 4' × 4’.
Roy Lichtenstein. Little Big Painting . 1965. 70" × 82" × 2-1/4”.
Frank Stella. Pagosa Springs . 1960. 99-3/8" × 99-1/4”.
What is Minimalism in art? Minimalism reduces art to almost total formality and abstraction in terms that at first seem diametrically opposed to Pop Art. But, in fact, Pop Art and Minimalist art have much in common. What values do they share? What differentiates them?
Carl Andre. Altstadt Copper Square . 1967. Each unit: 3/16" × 19-11/16" × 19-11/16"; Overall: 3/16" × 197" × 197”.
Sol LeWitt. Wall Drawing #146A: All two-part combinations of arcs from corners and sides, and straight, not straight, and broken lines within a 36-inch (90 cm) grid . 2000, June.
Continuity & Change: The Civil Rights Movement: One of the "Little Rock Nine," Elizabeth Eckford, braves a jeering crowd. 1957, September 4.
Europe After the War: The Existential QuestWhat is existentialism?• Christian Existentialism: Kierkegaard, Niebuhr, and Tillich— In the face of countless deaths, pessimism reigned, and ideologicalconflict between the Western po0wers and the Eastern blocexacerbated a growing sense of meaninglessness, alienation, andanxiety. Christianity found itself in crisis as well. Kierkegaard hadargued that Christians must live in a state of anguish caused by theirown freedom of choice. Niebuhr and Tillich further articulated thisposition of Christian existentialism in America.• The Philosophy of Sartre: Atheistic Existentialism — Sartreargued for what is termed atheistic existentialism. Living in a universewithout God, and thus without revealed morality, individuals mustnevertheless choose to act ethically.
• De Beauvoir and Existential Feminism — Simone de Beauvoirargued that women had passively allowed men to define them ratherthan creating themselves.• The Literature of Existentialism — The Stranger by Albert Camusoffers an antihero who refuses to admit to feelings that are absent eventhough it condemns him. The Theater of the Absurd is a theater inwhich the meaninglessness of existence is the central thematic concernas is seen in Sartre’s No Exit. The most popular of the absurdist playsis Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.• The Art of Existentialism — Faced with the lack of life’s meaningthat Sartre’s existentialism proposed, painters and sculptors sought toexplore the truth of this condition in their own terms. Alberto Giacomettiproduced City Square which was admired by Sartre. The French artist,Jean Dubuffet created art brut, “raw art” from those unaffected by oruntrained in cultural convention.• Discussion Question: What are the existentialist themes in the work ofCamus and Beckett?
America After the War: Triumph and DoubtWhat is Abstract Expressionism?• The Triumph of American Art: Abstract Expressionism —The individualistic spirit of Abstract Expressionism was seen as theantithesis of communism, and their work was meant to convey themessage that America had not only triumphed in the war, but in art andculture as well. New York, not Paris, was now the center of the artworld.• Jackson Pollock plumbed the depths of the psyche and de Kooningrepresents the psyche’s encounter with the world. Although excludedfrom the inner (male) circle, a number of the women associated withAbstract Expressionism were painters of exceptional ability. BothElaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner developed their own stylesseparate from their husband’s. Joan Mitchell was obsessed with waterand was influenced by Monet.
• Both Rothko and Frankenthaler offered viewers a more meditative andquiet painting based on large expanses of relatively undifferentiatedcolor. Calder and Smith demonstrated that sculpture could partake ofthe same gestural freedom and psychological abstraction as AbstractExpressionist painting. It could become a field of action.• Discussion Question: What role did women play in AbstractExpressionism?
The Beat GenerationWho are the Beats?• The Beat generation sought a heightened and, they believed, moreauthentic style of life, defined by alienation, nonconformity, sexualliberation, drugs, and alcohol.• Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac — Frank published a book ofphotographs as The Americans in 1958. The photographs capturedeveryday, mundane things that might otherwise go by unseen, with asense of spontaneity and directness. Kerouac’s real-life adventures aredescribed in On the Road.• Ginsberg and “Howl” — The work that best characterizes the Beatgeneration is “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. The publisher, LawrenceFerlinghetti was charged with obscenity; he was eventually acquitted.
• Cage and the Aesthetics of Chance — Ginsberg showed thatanything and everything could be admitted into the domain of art.Composer John Cage “set about discovering means to let sounds bethemselves.” His composition 4’33” admits all manner of ambientsound—whatever sounds happened during its performance were purelya matter of chance. Rauschenberg began to make combine paintings,works in which all manner of materials are combined to create the work.Theater Piece #1 inaugurated a collaboration between Cunningham(dance, Cage (music), and Rauschenberg (décor and costume) thatwould span many years. Jasper Johns focused on the most common,seemingly obvious subject matter. Cage’s aesthetic of diversity andinclusiveness also informs the inventive multimedia pieces of AlanKaprow.• Architecture in the 1950s — The design of Frank Lloyd Wright forthe Guggenheim Museum in New York represents the spirit ifarchitectural innovation that still pervade the practice of architecture tothis day.
Pop ArtWhat is Pop Art?• In the early 1960s, a number of artists created a “realist” art thatrepresented reality in terms of the media—advertising, television, comicstrips—the imagery of mass culture. The term Pop Art quickly becameattached to work such as Warhol’s famous paintings of Campbell’sSoup cans. Roy Lichtenstein enlarged comic strip paintings. ClaesOldenburg opened The Store, filled with life-size and over-life-sizesculptures of everything from pie a la mode, to hamburgers, hats, and7-Up bottles.• Discussion Question: How is pop art a rejection of commercialism?
Minimalism in ArtWhat is Minimalism in art?• Nothing could be further from the onslaught of mass-media images inthe culture of consumption than Minimal Art’s almost pure and classicalgeometries. Minimalist artists were intrigued with utilizing theprocesses of mass production, the use of ready-made materials, theemployment of modular units. Minimalism invites the activeengagement of the viewer in experiencing it. Frank Stella’s PagosaSprings, draws attention to one of the fundamental properties ofpainting—the support. The room installation by Sol LeWitt began as aset of instructions to be followed by workers who execute the workindependently of the artist.