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Existentialist Art in the XX Century

Introduction and Thesis Statement

Initially, existentialism emerged in philosophy and literature focusing on the themes of alienation and adverse impacts of human conditioning (Modern art movements, n.d.).

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Philosophy of Existentialism significantly influenced arts and manifested itself as an opposing reaction to rationalism and intellectualism proclaiming that the life of any individual is far more complex than it may appear to a human mind.

Existential artworks emphasize the significance of subjective experiences, freedom of choice, and sensory perceptions; hence, abstract expressionist movement and art informal became strongly associated with Existentialism (Modern art movements, n.d.).

Thesis: While the rational and traditional form of thinking tries to divide reality into two spheres – subjective and objective – the existential art unites them forming an irrational reality of the existential works which can be understood merely intuitively.

Analysis of the First Work of Art: “Right After” by Eva Hesse, 1969

The sculpture “Right After” is one of the last artist’s works which represents a fragile web of latex ropes and strings hanging in the air and held together by metal hooks (Wolff-Bernstein, 2005).

The significance of Hesse’s work is in her alienation from traditions and art forms that had already existed – she preferred to remain innovative creating the objects whose “preservation and deliverance into an institutional context, have created a body of work which stimulates thought” (Jackson, 2011, p. 246).

“Right After” is one of the sculptures representing the artist’s struggle between chaos and order, inner and outer worlds (Wolff-Bernstein, 2005).

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The fragility and semitransparent texture of the sculpture closely reflect Hesse’s internal state and help to provoke a viewer’s meditative self-reflection and inward look (Wolff-Bernstein, 2005).

Analysis of the Second Work of Art: “Two Figures in a Landscape” by Willem de Kooning, 1968

Vague yet expressive women figures are represented in the picture – one of them appears to lay on a chaise long while another woman sits with crossed legs; the painting is created in de Kooning’s distinctive technique of quick and impulsive drawing focusing on sensations and inner feelings rather than outward signs (Shiff, 2014).

The artist “spoke against making distinctions between the figure and abstraction” and often preferred to draw with the closed eyes to transfer the inner perceptions of movement (Shiff, 2014, p. 5).

De Kooning’s emphasis on the inner feeling of objects and the experience of their motion rather than their actual embodiment constitutes the significance of his work in both social and artistic context because his approach represents him as an innovator.

The content of de Kooning’s work is “the representational connotations of his imagery,” “trivial content, captured as intriguing form” (Shiff, 2014, p. 6).


The review of the artworks makes it clear that, in the context of irrational reality, the existentialist artists pay significant attention to the borderline situations in which an individual is vanishing in an unconsciousness or is on the edge of rational thinking and madness. From the existentialist point of view, during these moments, a person may experience reality much closer than in any other time.

The analysis reveals that individual intuition plays an important role in the given context while the scientifically rationalized objects become insignificant.

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It is possible to say that while creating their artworks, Hesse and de Kooning not merely tried to capture this state of irrationality and merge objectivity and subjectivity but also strived to provoke and dramatize it making existentialism concepts part of their daily reality and expressing them in the abstract and non-figurative art forms.


Jackson, A. (2011). Eva Hesse: Studiowork. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 9(2), 240-247. Web.

Modern art movements, 1870-1970. (n.d.). Web.

Shiff, R. (2014). De Kooning: The kick, the twist, the woman, the rowboat. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 14(1), 5-20. Web.

Wolff-Bernstein, J. (2005). In search of her own language Eva Hesse show San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 6(4), 345-368. Web.

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