The influences of Wassily Kandinsky on the New York School of Abstract Expressionism : poetic nuance within the essence of abstract-expressionist painting
Zdanovics, Olga S.
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The influences which served to shape the philosophic and artistic structure of the New York School of Abstract Expressionist painters are decidedly varied and numerous. Probably the most salient unifying characteristic of the otherwise nebulous Abstract Expressionists was their common desire to express a new awareness of man’s complex inner self, and perhaps the biggest challenge they faced was in reconciling the prevailing established modes of artistic thought with the spontaneity of expressionistic experimentation and thus exploring the relations between form and content. Having ample opportunity to view European abstract art in New York, the young American artists gradually assimilated a general, avant-garde European aesthetic which they soon adapted to their individual artistic concerns. Even before World War I, however, American modernists were aware of Wassily Kandinsky’s abstractions and indeed, his influence seems to have made itself apparent pervasively, and seems to have been subsumed as an integral part of the essence of the structure of Abstract Expressionist philosophy. Kandinsky’s influences were to have an impact on the New York School in both a general way, and also in a more direct sense, with artists like Arshile Gorky, John Graham, Hans Hofmann and Jackson Pollock being strong proponents of the former’s work. Hofmann, whose own theories on aesthetic meaning and art would seemingly parallel Kandinsky’s in relation to the need for an “inner vision” in art, was particularly useful in transmitting these philosophies to the emerging Abstract Expressionist artists. Having developed his abstract style in the years from about 1911 to 1913, ABSTRACT Kandinsky rendered nature as one’s “inner eye” might see it, reproducing not the things themselves but the spirit of the things. In the sense that he drew from “real” forms, his abstract pictures are related formally and philosophically to the New York School’s attempt to create a poetic, non-literary art embodying a vocabulary of personalized, metaphoric structures. The aesthetic predominating both Kandinsky’s and the Abstract Expressionists’ art was that of the Symbolist evocation of form, intangibles brought dimly into a concrete perception through a gentle process of evocation and negation, being actually mere suggestions of more factual qualities. Using nature as a metaphoric model they directed the viewer to more interiorized, personal landscapes and remembrances; they attempted, respectively, to infuse their works with a meaning that would extend beyond the physicality of paint and surface organization.