Modernism, especially in literature, was a period defined by innovation. Many Modernist writers believed that “every story that could possible be told had, in one way or another, been told already,” which prompted them to find new, original ways of representing unoriginal ideas (Modernism). This is true of writers like WH Auden, whose use of symbolic language (not to be confused with Symbolism the movement) was very innovative.
Many scholars claim that Modernism ended in 1945 with the Second World War (Modernism). However, it continued in visual art and brought forth new movements such as Abstract Expressionism. Faced with the recent atrocities of the Holocaust, many artists turned to abstract art rather than figural representation for clarity and healing. Abstract art was new in that it was not often practiced in the Western world before the tragic events of the Holocaust. Movements like Cubism and Surrealism were popular, but still relied on figural representation. These new abstract representations lent themselves to a “purity” that was characterized by the way a work of art pertained only to itself (Greenberg 1). This is a wholly Modernist idea since it “uses the methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself,” therefore using new methodology to critique past works (Greenberg 1). However, Greenberg’s notion of purity takes this idea to the extreme such that it cannot work in practice.
Whenever there is an expression, there is an event, a feeling and a consciousness that precedes it. The goal of Abstract Expressionsim, therefore, came out of the failure of purity as a concept; when an artist’s work represents his expression, it really consists “of the same metaphysical substance of the artist’s experience” (Rosenberg 28). When we view art as a reaction to the experience of being, it is no longer sacrosanct or “pure” and instead becomes familiar—even relatable. Using Poemage in conjunction with a close reading of certain parts of the text of one of Auden’s poems “Spain,” I aim to show that the Auden (a Modernist poet) and the Abstract Expressionsists were both making use of gesturalism in their artworks. See the glossary, Poemage, and outcome pages for more details.