Post-war European art the result of a radical rethinking of values ​​by artists

Post-war European art. Jean Dubuffet, Landscape of the Formless. 1952
Jean Dubuffet, Landscape of the Formless. 1952

Post-war European art is a unique layer of a number of diverse styles and trends that emerged after the end of the greatest military catastrophe in the history of mankind. Post-war European art is the result of deep emotional trauma suffered by Western civilization and the totality of many attempts at artistic rethinking of questioned traditional values.

European Post-war art is the result of the creative searches of a huge number of artists from different countries. All of them were looking for a way out of a difficult situation, when basic humanistic principles were destroyed in the course of a terrible war. Many painters and sculptors could not simply forget the nightmares they experienced and return to ordinary life. It seemed to them that humanity had changed forever and traditional academic art should give way to a new culture.

Post-war European art. Georg Baselitz, Different Signs. 1965
Georg Baselitz, Different Signs. 1965

Postwar European Art: Important Events Influencing Artists

Post-war European art spans a long period from 1945 to 1968. During this period, many significant events took place in the history of mankind, which could not go unnoticed by artists.

First of all, these are:

  • The atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans.
  • The beginning of the Cold War and the formation of the Iron Curtain between Western and Eastern Europe.
  • The beginning of the space age and the intense rivalry between the USSR and the USA in the field of flights to near-earth orbit.
  • Significant improvement in the material well-being of people and a boom in consumerism in the early 1960s.
  • The rapid growth of revolutionary sentiments among the youth, numerous protests and student unrest in Western Europe in the late 1960s.
Post-war European art the result of a radical rethinking of values ​​by artists
Hans Grundig. Triptych Atomic War, central part. 1958. State Hermitage

The grandiose events that took place in the post-war years were manifested in the visual arts by the emergence of various new styles and trends. All of them left their unique mark in world culture and influenced the worldview of millions of people around the world.

Among the many revolutionary schools and movements, the following stand out:

  1. abstractionism;
  2. tachism;
  3. informationism;
  4. pop Art;
  5. kinetic art;
  6. optical art;
  7. fluxus;
  8. actionism.

We will describe each of them in more detail below.

Post-war European art. Abstract drawing by a modern artist in the ebru technique
Abstract drawing by a modern artist in the ebru technique


Abstract painting appeared in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, and its main center in the 1920s and 1930s was Paris. But Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II had a huge impact on this art form. The Nazis severely persecuted abstract artists and practically outlawed them. Many German artists were forced to emigrate, first to other European countries, and later overseas.

As a result, it was in the United States after the war that a powerful center of abstract art was formed not only from among immigrants, but also from artists born in the States. In Western Europe, from the mid-1940s, abstract art began to revive rapidly.

Post-war European art. Willie Sitte. Massacre. 1959. Willi Sitte Galerie und stiftung in Merseburg
Willie Sitte. Massacre. 1959. Willi Sitte Galerie und stiftung in Merseburg

Many artists associated it with freedom and democracy. They contrasted abstract art with the dictatorial fascist regime and found ways of creative self-realization in it.

Abstract art was ideal for creating works that shocked the public. They were dominated by the theme of the horrors of war, the extermination of the civilian population and the fear of new cataclysms that the Cold War threatened humanity. It was from abstractionism that many other trends in Western European art were subsequently formed.

Informationism. Nicolas de Stael. Great footballers. 1952
Informationism. Nicolas de Stael. Great footballers. 1952


Informalism became the first new post-war art movement in Western Europe. It originated in France, as part of the Paris School at the turn of 1945-46.

Informalists denied the importance of artistic excellence and any established rules. In their opinion, the artist should convey emotions in the picture and act spontaneously. Informationalism is characterized by the rejection of images of both people and objects, even in an abstract form only complete freedom of self-expression and randomness of gestures.

Asger Jorn Mods
Asger Jorn Mods

Tachism evolved from informationism in the early 1950s. Moreover, not all art critics recognize it as a separate trend in art, many experts consider tachism to be one of the categories of informationism.

The Tashists painted pictures in spots and also denied the need to create real images in their works. In their opinion, the artist could have a much stronger effect on the viewer by other methods by expressing his unconscious activity. The tragedy and pessimism of paintings is a common characteristic feature of the creativity of the followers of Tachism.

Dip, 1967
Dip, 1967
Pop Art

Contrary to popular belief, pop art is not a purely American invention of the visual arts. At about the same time, in the early 1950s, pop art originated in Europe, namely in the UK. Moreover, English artists, unlike their colleagues from the United States, to a certain extent preserved academic traditions in their works.

Pop art adherents had a negative attitude towards abstract expressionism. On the contrary, they used concrete images of consumer goods in their works. In their works, the artists subtly mocked modern society and common stereotypes. As a result, they managed to combine popular culture with the visual arts and achieve significant success with the public.

Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics), Marcel Duchamp, 1920
Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics), Marcel Duchamp, 1920
Kinetic art

The origins of kinetic art can be found in the work of the Impressionists. Many great Impressionists tried to capture movement in their paintings, but they were limited to traditional art forms. Numerous experiments with moving images continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

And in the early 1950s, kinetic art in Western Europe experienced a period of rapid growth. At this time, artists began to massively create moving compositions “mobiles”. Dimensional installations made of glass, metal and other materials have become independent works of art, and the interest in kineticism continues unabated today. Optical art

The founder of optical art or op-art is rightfully considered Victor Vasarely, who in 1955 published the “Yellow Manifesto” a program of a new trend.

Op art is the art of visual illusion based on the peculiarities of human perception of flat and spatial figures. Artists tried to convey illusory movement in their works using all kinds of deformations, latent images and original optical effects.

Post-war European art. Herman Nitsch. 56th pictorial action, 2009
Herman Nitsch. 56th pictorial action, 2009

Actionism emerged in the early 1960s as a result of the search for new ways of expressing oneself through the creation of dynamic works of art. The actionists tried to involve the viewer in the action (action), they unceremoniously invaded public territory and attracted attention with their bold antics.

In actionism, the artist, along with the viewer, often becomes the subject of a work a staged theatrical action. But the author does not want to control the running process. On the contrary, he gives full freedom of action to all participants and, on an equal basis with them, participates in the discussion of his work.

Post-war European art. Alison Knowles. Wounded furniture, 1965
Alison Knowles. Wounded furniture, 1965

Unlike the rest of the trends described in our article, fluxus is fully international, and not a European trend in art. Although it was formed in the United States, it first gained wide recognition in Europe at several festivals in 1962. In Germany, a manifesto of the new movement was presented, and one of the most furious followers of fluxus was the German artist Joseph Beuys.

The followers of fluxus tried to combine all the available ways of artistic expression into a single stream. They destroyed borders not only between countries and cultures, but also between art and life. In their works, they mixed randomness and simplicity, play and experimentation, music and poetry, performance and installations.

Post-war European art has had a huge impact on subsequent generations of artists. Even today young authors find a source of inspiration in it, and art critics find interesting topics for scientific works.

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