Clyfford Still

“I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse together into a living spirit.”  – Clyfford Still

I wanted to bring up an Abstract Expressionist that isn’t very popular despite being a leading figure of Abstract Expressionism.

File:Still 1957 D1.jpg

There are two things that I want you to focus on, first the quote. That sounds very similar to what Kandinsky, and Newman said. Secondly, I want you to look at the painting by Still. This painting looks like one that would go along side many of the more famous abstract pieces. So why is Still not famous and well known?

Still actually decided to separate himself from the art world. He did this because he was actually very dedicated to his art. Still decided to separate himself from the art world to distance himself from distractions and in turn produce better art.

In order to achieve “pure” abstract art, he felt as if he needed to isolate himself from distractions. Based on what Abstract Expressionism is all about, Still’s concept makes perfectly good sense. Coincidentally, he sacrificed fame to make good abstract art. What this means to me is that fame is not a good measure of a successful artist.


Timing is Everything

Previously I was focusing on different artists and how they specifically got their fame. However, all the stories shared the same common themes; having a unique style and interesting philosophies. I’m going to shift gears away from specific artists now and look at what was happening in America during that time that promoted abstract art to flourish.

All the major artists of the period, with the exception of Hofmann, were born between 1903 and 1915. These artists grew up in a period of American isolationism. The art in Europe was the main source of artistic style in America. But in the 20’s  American artists were trying to achieve aesthetic independence from Europe.

Abstract Expressionism began between the two world wars but began to flourish in the United States after the second world war. Abstract Expressionism was symbolic of freedom; coming after the WWII, this concept of freedom was greatly accepted and enjoyed by the United States. This also was the first American art movement; this was a very important aspect to the success of the style. As mentioned previously, the artists in America had been trying to break free from the European art world. So Abstract Expressionism became a symbol of artistic freedom for United States artists and a symbol of overall freedom for United States citizens.

Many European artists, such as Dalì, as a result of WWII sought refuge in the United States. A lot of these artists were Surrealists; surrealism introduced the idea of unconsciousness in art. As mentioned in many of my previous posts, this idea of unconsciousness was a main aspect of abstract expressionism. The introduction of European Surrealists to United States artists help turn the American artists into Abstract Expressionists. Now you might be saying to yourself, I thought Abstract Expressionism was a symbol of freedom from European art. Yes, the reason this is different is because it evolved from European art but abstract expressionism began in the United States opposed to any other style of art. Even though it evolved from European Surrealism, it still was a different style and it originated in the United States.

Joan Mitchell

No, not the musician Joni Mitchell, this is Joan Mitchell, a “second generation” abstract expressionist. Below is a video in which Alexander Rotter, Head of Contemporary Art, New York, talks about Mitchell’s piece Untitled. 


My Kind of Art

In my post about Kandinsky I mentioned that one of the reasons I struggle to “experience” abstract art the way it is intended is because my brain doesn’t think abstractly; I think linearly, scientifically, and mathematically. I realized that in order for people to better understand the way my brain processes, in terms of art, they must understand what art I find beautiful, amazing, and stunning. For some people, when a Pollock paining is put in front of them, they are left in awe; for me, an Escher piece leaves me in shock. M.C. Escher was a Dutch graphic artist from the mid 1900’s; he is most known for his mathematically inspired pieces. Below is my favorite piece of art ever made, Circle Limit IV, a tessellation made by Escher in 1960.

This piece is commonly called Heaven and Hell, Angels and Devils or Angels and Demons. There are simply two objects in this piece, angels in the light space and demons in the dark space. There is absolutely no empty space. This is an amazing piece to me for many reasons; the fact that there is no empty space is impressive. Also the piece contrasts in color and in subject; Heaven and Hell, are there any two more contrasting things… other than black and white? I always thought this was amazing because these two opposing symbols fit together perfectly, there is no space between them, only two things, good and evil. Below is an image of Escher working on Circle Limit IV.

What I want to point out in this picture is the wooden sculpture on the table. All of Escher’s Circle Limit pieces can be made into a three dimensional sphere and still work perfectly without any empty space. This is the most beautiful aspect of Circle Limit IV to me, it can fill the entire space with only two objects which are two extremely contrasting symbols, and not have any space that isn’t one of the two objects. This piece is extremely mathematical but mathematically amazing and for this reason it is beautiful to me, a linear and mathematical thinker.

One important thing I want to note about Escher is the time at which he made art. Escher made artwork before, throughout, and a little after the Abstract Expressionism Period. This means that during this time, there were two types of art going on at the same time, the art that would appeal to someone like me and art that would appeal to more abstract thinkers. The art world allows for two styles of art to happen at the same time because there are two types of thinkers.

I hope that by explaining my favorite piece of art my way of thinking can be better understood. I also wanted to make it clear that I actually appreciate some art; I just don’t see the artistic beauty in abstract art. I’m sure there are people who find Escher’s pieces as being simple and not very amazing, these people probably enjoy abstract art much more than I do. Neither opinion is right or wrong, just different.

Wassily Kandinsky

wassily kandinsky farbstudie quadrate

When talking about abstract art, Kandinsky is one of the first names that comes up. Wassily Kandinsky is a Russian artist and is known as the first artist to paint purely abstract art. Some of his more popular works remind me of my own pieces… from kindergarten art class. Somehow, however, these pieces are some of the most iconic pieces of the abstract art period. For instance the piece above, farbstudie quadrate, appears to me simply to be a bunch of circles of different colors and colored backgrounds. But my analysis of this piece would be pathetic and ignorant to any art enthusiast. Each of these colors are supposed to mean something far more than just a color, Kandinsky says so himself, “Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.” His pieces are actually all about the soul but Kandinsky tells us that there is one important thing that must be done for the soul to experience the art, the viewer must stop thinking.

Kandinsky and all abstract art is asking us to do such a difficult task, well, difficult for me at least. I want my art to come out and tell me what it means but this is not what abstract art is about; in fact, this is the exact opposite of abstract art. Perhaps I do not see feel colors in my soul because I am too linear. I have always excelled in math and science and always struggled in understanding metaphors. Perhaps I will never be able to experience abstract pieces in the true essence of them. But to people whose brains work differently than mine, this piece could be full of meaning. If this is the case, then it is completely obvious why Kandinsky is so famous. To a lot of people these pieces could be a moving experience. I am able to understand why these pieces became famous but I don’t understand the art itself. Abstract pieces will probably never make meaning to me, but to many people they do, and for that reason they have become famous.

Another claim to fame for Kandinsky is that he was a pioneer, a creative thinker. Just as Pollock was the first to “drip,” Kandinsky was the first to make abstract art. As mentioned before, uniqueness is greatly appreciated in the art world and justly so. Being an original thinker is not a simple thing, conformity is easy but breaking conformity is one of the hardest things that can be done. Even though the painting itself may not be easy, coming up with the painting, free from conformity, is truly amazing. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist and nonconformist, said,  “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Kandinsky was himself, and for this reason, among others, he is viewed as a great artist.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). (2010). In Contemporary World Issues: Global Refugee Crisis: A Reference Handbook, Second Edition. Retrieved from

Kandinsky, Wassily (1866 – 1944). (1996). In The Bloomsbury Guide to Art. Retrieved from


Hans Hofmann

Abstract Euphony

Hans Hofmann was a German artist producing pieces between 1928 and 1965, he created one piece in 1902 but other than that all his works were between 1928 and 1965. What is interesting about his career is that it spanned through many art movements. He was an artist during the cubism, fauvism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism movements. I am mostly concerned with his abstract expressionism because, if you haven’t already noticed, that is my main concern.

The painting above, Abstract Euphony, in no way seems to take any artistic skill, how could this be considered good art? Well, just as the other abstract artists, his ideas were what was so great. He believed that achievement was best accessed once a person is able to flow with the life forces.  These ideas are unique and of course, in the art world, unique is wonderful. I do like how being unique is greatly appreciated in the art world. Being unique, in my opinion, is great through any medium. However I don’t think the art itself is great. I do believe that being unique even as an artist is great and should be greatly appreciated. I don’t appreciate Hofmann as an artist but I do appreciate that he is unique and that shows original thought which is a good and rare quality.

Hofmann, Hans. (2013). In Marquis Who Was Who in America 1985-present. Retrieved from

Amgott, M. (Writer) (2002). Hans hofmann: artist/teacher, teacher/artist [VHS]. Available from



Josef Albers

“Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature.” – Josef Albers

Homage to the Square - Josef Albers

Josef Albers is a German Abstract Expressionist from the 20th century. I do not view his pieces artistic but, just as i did with Barnett Newman, I am in love with his ideas. The quote above is a very interesting and bold statement. Albers’ ideas are very interesting to me, but the painting above, Homage to the Square, doesn’t appear to be very difficult to paint. Art critics say that although members outside of the art community may view these pieces as impersonal, people in the art community know that these paintings are in fact very personal.

Something else that makes Albers very significant in the art world is that he was a teacher of Robert Rauschenberg, a pioneer in the Pop Art Movement. Rauschenberg’s success gives credit to Albers as a successful artist aswell. This may not be the case in other subject areas, but in the art community, teaching a successful artist is success for the teacher.

Similar to Pollock, Albers was great for being unique. When you see Albers painting you know that it is an Albers painting. This means that there is no other artist like him, he is unique and an individual and for this reason, he became a successful artist.

Albers, Josef (1888–1976). (2012). In The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers. Retrieved from

Albers, Josef (1888 – 1976). (1996). In The Bloomsbury Guide to Art. Retrieved from

JOSEF ALBERS: HOMAGE TO THE SQUARE: AGAINST DEEP BLUE (1955). (2010). In Masterworks. Retrieved from

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