Date of Award

Summer 2004

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Linda McGreevy

Committee Member

Dana Heller

Committee Member

David Johnson

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331. H85 S86 2004


The formation of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of Roosevelt's New Deal, in conjunction with the Depression and World War II, can be credited with changing the face of international art of the twentieth century. The majority of the artists who were later to be known as Abstract Expressionists participated in the Fine Arts Project (FAP) branch of the WPA in New York throughout the 1930s. This government support of the artists gave them a chance to commit to painting as a career, and their painting styles evolved drastically during this time. Through this support, the connections that were made among the artists through various organizations, and the unity created through adversity, a community of artists was created that had not existed on such a large scale in American history.

To trace the origins of the Abstract Expressionist movement, the history of abstraction in America and its reception must be recognized. Public opinions based on the International Exhibition of Modem Art in 1913 and on movements in Europe throughout the 1920s impacted the critical reception of such a radical movement, and were the basis for much of the governmental ire that was roused against state-supported abstraction. The New Deal and its programs engendered much controversy, but none as much as they FAP. The Congressional reaction against abstraction and the paranoia about Communist infiltration led to the investigation of many of the artists, a surveillance and suspicion that followed many of them through the end of their lives.

The Abstract Expressionist movement was a turning point in American art, and though it did not impact publicly until the mid-1940s and 1950s, its roots in the Depression and the government supported programs of the era should not be overlooked. This critical gestation period and the community that was created provided an impetus that had been lacking in previous years and created an impact in the international art world that still resounds greatly today.


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