Abstract Expressionism & How Early TCKs Changed Art History

France and Italy have been known to be influential in the art world for centuries — the former birthing avante-garde and works by Rodin, Monet and others, and the latter blessing us with pieces, such as the Mona Lisa and the David sculpture. American art didn’t gain traction or credibility until the late 1930s with the rise of Abstract Expressionism.

During and after the Second World War, European artists immigrated to the United States, Great Britain, the Dominican Republic, Palestine, Switzerland, and various other countries as a means of finding a better life. They used painting and sculpting as tools to help them adapt to their new lives and cope not only with a change in location, but also with a change in culture. Throngs of refugees fled to escape certain death and separation from their loved ones. Whole cultures were targeted and oppressed, creating a huge population of immigrants, cross-cultural kids and TCKs.

Art became a tool for creatives, such as Arshile Gorky, giving them an outlet to reflect on the horrors they witnessed and to adjust to a new life in a new country. Many of the more famous Abstract Expressionists were young during the height of the war. Gorky was 16 when he fled alone to America after the slaughtering of his family from the Nazis.

Gorky’s “Garden in Sochi” and “The Artist and the Mother” are two examples of the pain Gorky experienced leaving his home, losing his mother, and having to adjust to the American lifestyle on his own. A new TCK, though the term wasn’t coined back then, Gorky reacted to his global mobility by painting abstract forms that represented his emotions in a way he was unable to articulate with words.

Immigrating to the U.S. before WWII, Mark Rothko used his new mobility and the experiences he gained to refine his technique as an artist, he became invested in mastering color theory, and was enthralled with the idea that his work could create different feelings for viewers — feelings he knew as an immigrant but viewers from the United States may not understand. 

These troubling images that young artists were creating as a way to cope with and express their adjustments sparked something, and by the 1950s New York had become a new center of the art world because of Abstract Expressionism. 

Though Abstract Expressionism started out with the goal of creating a piece just to simplify and signify one’s emotions in a completely informal way, it evolved into artists creating works to articulate their thoughts and emotions toward the hidden diversities of the world. Humans were more aware than ever of the happenings in other countries, and these artists created messages that spoke to a broader audience. 


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