The sixties was a decade of changes in America, on many levels in society. It was the time when the post-war children became young people, who were not wiling to remain the conservative fifties any longer. It was a time of freedom and possibilities, and is memorable for the impact that had on art at the time and since.
In art, the sixties was the decade of the birth of a number of art movements, as different groups and individuals engaged in creative activity searched for new ways to express themselves and their generation. This article will give you general impression of this art boom, focusing on major and particularly interesting art movements.
Abstract expressionism was the first notably American art movement, a new way in art of expressing emotions and composing abstractions in which artists painted rapidly and emotionally using nongeometrical strokes on big canvases, using big brushes or their hands. Consequently, the resulting work shows not only an image but an event. The best-known abstract expressionists include Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and others.
Conceptual art, in which the central aim is to transmit an idea, holds that material expression is not so important. A piece of art has power through its idea, not through the material involved. Conceptual art appeals to our intellectual perception, rather than immediately inciting emotional reactions. The first conceptual artwork was “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp, in 1917, but at the time it was unusual rather than part of a movement. In the sixties conceptual art gained much ground in America, producing works such as “One and Three Chairs” by Joseph Kosuth. Conceptual artists felt that their movement went to the heart of something fundamental about art more than any other – Kosuth wrote in his essay “Art after Philosophy” that “All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (by nature) because art only exists conceptually.”
Optical art is a movement whose name speaks for itself. It is an art of optical illusions. The task of optical art is to cheat the eye, to provoke a false reaction, to provoke emotions or conceptions through a “nonexistent” image.
Performance art is a form of contemporary art in which an artwork consists of the artist’s activities at a particular place and time. For the first time the word performance was used by an American composer John Cage for his composition 433 (4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence) in 1952, but as with Conceptual art, the movement grew in traction during the sixties.
Pop art was an art movement that came into existence as a reaction against abstract expressionism. Pop art uses objects from mass culture and places them into a different context. Pop art got much criticism from artists and art critics, who said that Pop art was no different to advertisement, but despite this reaction Pop art took hold in the world with great success.
The Sixties was a decade of bright expectations and possibilities, and the movements that were popular and explored at the time had a profound impact on the direction of the art world, both at the time and since then.
Bob Dylan said “People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around – the music and the ideas” and although this is a sweeping statement, it has some truth to it, at least in the field of art.