Through exploration of gesture, line, shape, and color, many Abstract Expressionist artists hoped to evoke strong emotional reactions. Their grand scale created an overwhelming and, for some, almost religious viewing experience. Mark Rothko famously said that his paintings should be viewed from a distance of 18 inches, perhaps to dominate the viewer’s field of vision and thus create a feeling of contemplation and transcendence.

Abstract Expressionism and the Sublime

Some critics, such as Robert Rosenblum, considered Abstract Expressionism’s interest in the sublime to be a continuation of the ideals of the Romantics. Romanticism was an artistic and literary movement from the late 17th century and early 18th century that placed emphasis on the aesthetic experience and the emotions it evoked. In 1948, Newman wrote an essay titled “The Sublime is Now,” in which he asserts that America is where artists are finally achieving the sublime: “Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ‘life,’ we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.”


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