The New York School was an informal group of American poets, painters, dancers, and musicians active in the 1950s and 1960s in New York City. It represented, and is often synonymous with, the art movement of Abstract Expressionism, such as the work of Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning (Figure 2). The artists drew inspiration from surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular action painting (Figure 1), abstract expressionism, Jazz, improvisational theater, experimental music, and the interaction of friends in the New York City art world's vanguard circle.
A school of painting that flourished after World War II until the early 1960s, abstract expressionism is characterized by the view that art is non-representational and chiefly improvisational. Abstract expressionist paintings share certain characteristics, including the use of large canvases, and an "all-over" approach in which the whole canvas is treated with equal importance (as opposed to the center being of more interest than the edges). The canvas as the arena became a credo of Action painting, while the integrity of the picture plane became a credo of the Color Field painters.
The post-World War II era highly benefited some of the artists who were recognized early on by art critics. Some artists from New York, such as Norman Bluhm and Sam Francis, took advantage of the GI Bill and left for Europe, to return later with acclaim. Many artists from all across the U.S. arrived in New York City to seek recognition, and by the end of the decade the list of artists associated with the New York School had greatly increased. Painters, sculptors, and printmakers created art in Action painting, Fluxus, Color Field painting, Hard-edge painting, Pop art, Minimal Art, Lyrical Abstraction, and other movements associated with abstract expressionism.
The work of the New York School was documented through a series of invitational artists' committee exhibitions. These exhibitions took place in conjunction with the 9th Street Art Exhibition in 1951 and were followed by Annual Exhibitions of Painting and Sculpture at the Stable Gallery in NYC, from 1953-1957. These annual exhibitions represented a total of 265 New York School artists; however, none of these was African-American. For African-American artists a barrier to success in the post-war era was the prevailing blight of racism and segregation, which resulted in exclusion of artists of African-American origin from major exhibitions and critical attentions.
In addition to painting, the New York School was associated with many poets, dancers, composers, jazz musicians, and writers. Poets drew on inspiration from Surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular the Action painting of their friends in the New York City art world like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In the 1960s, the work of the avant-garde Minimalist composers La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Tony Conrad, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley became prominent in the New York art world. The new Bebop and cool jazz musicians in the 1940s and 1950s (such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Gerry Mulligan) coincided with the New York School and abstract expressionism. There are also commonalities between the New York School and the members of the beat generation poets active in 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s New York City, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Diane Wakoski, and several others.