Of the many styles of artistic creation and integrity, neoclassicism, impressionism, and abstract expressionism are several of the more well known that were instantiated as movements during key points in world history. The first of the three, neoclassicism, is a title given to a series of artistic movements based in the Western part of the world that are directly inspired from the classical works of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. Secondly, impressionism is a specific movement of the 19th century that originated with a conglomerate of artists based in Paris whose independently created exhibitions gained attention due to the unusual method of painting. Finally, abstract expressionism is a movement taking place after the events of World War II; originally developed in the State of New York during the period of the 1940’s.

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Originally beginning in Rome during the middle of the 18th century, neoclassicism’s popularity soon spread all throughout Europe when students completed their Grand Tour and returned to home countries; possessing redefined ideals. The paintings mirrored the spirit of the time period known as the Age of Enlightenment and were typically described as “serious, unemotional, and sternly heroic” (Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d.). In addition, “neoclassical painters depicted subjects from classical literature and history, as used in earlier Greek art and Republican Roman art using somber colors with occassional brilliant highlights” (Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d.). These highlights were subsequently used to “convey moral narratives of self-denial and self-sacrifice fully in keeping with the supposed ethical superiority of antiquity” (Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d.).

Characteristics of impressionist painters include moderately thin, small yet visible strokes of brush with open composition and a particular emphasis on correctly depict the changing qualities of light over time (Samu, 2004). While settings are typically ordinary and plain with unorthodox angles, the addition of physical movement is present as a critical part of human experience and perception (Samu, 2004). Such an alien form of art was met with extremely harsh criticism from the French art community. The name of the painting style was specifically derived from a piece created by Claude Monet in the year 19872 titled Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise) (Samu, 2004). This unusual painting style manifested itself analogously in the form of music and literature.

America’s first artistic movement to achieve influence on an international scale while simultaneously placing New York City at the forefront of western art was the introduction of abstract expressionism. While early forms of this artistic movement drew inspirations from “primitive myth and archaic art”, a man named Jackson Pollock developed a remarkably new technique that consisted of “pouring and dripping thinned paint onto raw canvas laid on the ground” (Paul, 2004). As a result, the paintings were described as “entirely nonobjective” and lacked a central motif; a trend that would fully manifest itself into other similar artists’ paintings (Paul, 2004).

In comparing the three artistic movements, the painting styles all exist outside of the accepted modern styles that persist today. Moreover, all three serve as direct reflections of the societal changes that were taking place at the time. As French citizens disproved of the garish aristocracy, so did the artists of neoclassicism reject the Rococo style of art that consisted of ornate and overdone trappings (Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d.). While the French Revolution was a time of extreme poverty and somber ideals, the desire of the impressionists to evade the struggling times and represent lives of optimistic, light-hearted, and forward thinking people (Samu, 2004). Impressionist art looked within the gazer and expressed suppressed emotions of the time; forcing society to ignore the whole and focus on the individual; just like in abstract expressionism (Paul, 2004).

Despite sharing a similar base definition of rebelliousness, neoclassicism focused on revealing the most ideal form of a subject (Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d.). Conversely, the impressionist focused artistic efforts on leaving a permanent, although fleeting impression of the lifestyle and ideals of an individual (Samu, 2004). Finally, the abstract expressionists’ greatest desire was to represent the inner psychology of a person yet depict chaotic feelings without a central motif or focus (Paul, 2004). The actual modus operandi with regards to the way the paintings were created differ significantly between the three movements. For example, neoclassic styles utilized solemn colors that included real objects with backgrounds that depicted settings of Roman and Greek architecture (Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d.). On the other hand, impressionists were able to utilize synthetic pigments of great intensity to emphasize the “impression”; often with two hues on a single brush to impress onto previously applied hues to create a sense of vagueness, with thick brush strokes made by a loosened hand (Samu, 2004). Completely separate from the first two is of course abstract expressionism’s aimless and chaotic method of spattering loose paint onto a blank canvas; often mixing the paint with other particles to create an additional level of dimension (Paul, 2004).

  • Encyclopedia of Art History. (n.d.). Neoclassical Art. Retrieved July 7, 2016 from http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/neo-classical.htm
  • Paul, S. (October 2004). Abstract Expressionism. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved July 7, 2016 from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/abex/hd_abex.htm
  • Samu, M. (October 2004). Impressionism: Art and Modernity. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved July 7, 2016 from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm