Until World War II the important American galleries exhibited only the work of European artists. American artists were simply not taken seriously; it was believed that one had to go to Europe to be a real artist. Those American artists that didn't go to Paris turned inward, creating work mainly for themselves and each other. The trend in the years between World WarI and World War II was toward the development of private styles. Artists came to have contempt for a public that had contempt for them; they gave up on the idea of communicating to a broad audience. At the same time they studied avidly the philosophers of modernism. They read the writings of surrealist intellectuals such as Andre Breton, and Abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky's tract on abstraction Concerning the Spiritual in Art .
They took these philosophies to heart, especially the ideas of Surrealism. As the Nazis drove dissenters out of Europe, many artists fled to the US. This exodus (which also included leading Surrealists and others) contributed to the development of the first indigenous American Art movement, Abstract Expressionism . The result was the development of private styles, based in the subconscious, and reached through dreams, mythic images, and reinforced by imagery drawn from archaeology, primitive art, mysterious ancient inscriptions, and the like. Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock were the leaders of this new American movement. Out of the extremely varied work of the Abstract expressionists there developed a group of artists working in quite diverse styles, which became known as the New York School. This group included Rothko, Motherwell, Gottlieb, Morris Lewis, Jasper Johns, and others.
From World War II on Americans would be the groundbreakers for new artistic styles.
Pop art is an art form based in the power of popular images, derived from the commercial and mass media sources that permeate modern American society. By elevating the banal to the status of Art, the viewer is challenged to reconsider the nature of society and its values. Andy Warhol's soup cans, coke bottles, and movie stars are the best known examples. Roy Lichtenstein uses comic book imagery and style, creating bold images that are undeniably part of the American lexicon. Artists such as Claes Oldenburg focus our attention on every day objects by blowing them up to enormous size.
Op art is a term used to refer to a style of nonobjective art in which optical effects of color relationships and formal relationships are the primary subject matter. These works are characterized by intricate, usually geometric patterns and carefully calibrated colors. Among the artists known for this style are Bridget Riley and Vasareley. This very intellectual approach shows a relationship with the earlier de Stijl ideas about the aesthetics and expressive power of pure form and color.
Minimalism grew out of Op Art, a logical extension of the obliteration of subject matter. Painting and sculpture are reduced to essential forms without embellishment or complication. Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Grosvenor, Isamu Noguchi, and Frank Stella were among its practitioners.
Conceptual art is rooted in the DaDa movement of the early 1920's, in that it attacks the sacredness and permanence of the artwork itself, claiming that the art is in the idea, and that once the concept has been expressed, the object is unimportant.
Some forms of conceptual art involve temporary installations in galleries or other public places, such as arrangements of lumber, or bricks, or other materials. A gallery in one instance was transformed into a tremendous birdcage filled with live birds and other objects.
A special form of conceptual art is performance art, in which art media and other objects are blended with theatrical or musical performance.
Environmental art can involve large scale installations or earthworks, such as a field of lightning rods, or Robert Smithsons "Spiral Jetty" or Christo'swrapped environments (click on "Some Artworks at top left and select). A contemporary environmental artist who has actually done projects here at Cornell is Andy Goldsworthy (scroll down for images. In addition to the images on the previous link, take a look at this video clip of Goldsworthy at work from a documentary "Rivers and Tides."
Electronic media The new technologies of the information age are creating entirely new opportunities for artists. Virtual reality refers to forms of computer animation that permit the viewer the illusion of moving through the visual space. Interactive multimedia, can combine poetry, theater, music, dance,video and more.