The Figure in Post WWII Art


Art Since 1945


10:00 AM, MWF


The abstraction of the human form was brought to a new level in post World War II art. It suddenly became acceptable to accept the “less is more” attitude. Many abstract expressionists believed that after the war the human existence and our intentions were brought more into question. Rothko brought into question the very nature of humans when he said, “It was with the utmost reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes...But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it.” After the war many artists, Rothko included, had formed new opinions on how the form was to be represented. These artists all painted in the abstract expressionist movement. This movement carried art to a new level. Rothko’s specialty was color field painting, in which he let colors represent form, instead of line and shape. His work can be seen to represent the human form in the most abstract of ways. Several fields of color stacked upon one another may not be immediately recognizable as human form, but there is a deeper meaning here. Rothko found this meaning, and created some of the most influential works during this period.


During the Pop Art era of the late 50’s and early 60’s, Roy Lichtenstein transformed the figure into the modern day “cartoon”. He stripped the figure down to the basic visual elements, and included very little detail and shading. Lichtenstein was the master of the stereotype. He used the human form to accentuate his political and social views. He would create characters to express what he felt about issues in real life. In real life you cant always say what you feel, but Lichtenstein discovered that you could indeed say whatever you feel through your art. This discovery transformed the art world, and opened the door to many other politically based artists to follow.


Lichtenstein and Rothko, though they had drastically different styles still managed to get their political views across in their work. To these artists, the reasoning behind the art overshadows the final product.