David Smith, Saw Head, 1933. Iron and bronze, painted, 40 x 30 x 21cm. Reproduced under CC Attribution. Share Alike 2.0/InSapphoWeTrust, USA.

Online courses

Abstract Expressionism

  • Begins: Wednesday 6 January 2021
    Until: Wednesday 3 February 2021
    (Week 1: 1-3pm / Weeks 2-5: 10am-12pm )
  • Lecturer: Ben Street

Abstract Expressionism is a term used to refer to artists living and working in American cities around the tail-end of the Second World War. The five-part course will address the complexities and nuances of this sometimes maligned moment in western art. It will frame Abstract Expressionism as a moment in cultural and social history during the 1940s and 50s by exploring the work of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, David Smith, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Mark Rothko.


  1. The death of Jackson Pollock – what kinds of meanings did his life and death hold for American art of the 1940s and 50s? Artists working at the same time as Pollock will also be considered.
  2. Mural Painting in Mexico and the legacy of the 1930s – a close look at mural painters such as Diego Rivera and José Alfaro Siquieros and at the government-backed 1930s mural projects.
  3. ‘A long way from Europe’ – a look at surrealist and cubist works of art and how their ideas were and were not engaged with by American artists.
  4. ‘Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom’ – What is Abstract Expressionism about?
  5. ‘What Kind of a man am I?’ – a look at the next generation, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Philip Guston and pop art, and their relationship to Abstract Expressionism.



Ben Street is a freelance art historian, lecturer and writer. He lectures on modern and contemporary art for Tate, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Christie’s Education and the Royal Academy. He is the author of interpretative materials for major exhibitions at Tate, the Royal Academy and the National Gallery and has contributed essays for museum and gallery publications across the world. Ben’s recent book is How to enjoy Art.

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