After World War II many global shifts occurred; America became a world power, many once prominent cities lay in ruins, and many cultural traditions were challenged. This applied to the art world as well, which began to develop a new vocabulary as well as a new geographic "center". Before the War, Paris had been the heart of the global art scene; afterward it became New York City.
Almost immediately, America created its first unique style, "Abstract Expressionism", though it was actually a culmination of many years of change in the art world.
Classic and Academic traditions had been challenged since the mid-nineteenth century, and establishments such as the National Academy of Design and the Academie des Beaux Arts had all ready seen rebellious groups breaking from their traditions.
In 1946, art critic Robert Coates used the phrase abstract expressionism when discussing the works of several noted American painters, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Coates was referring to a style, but also to a new attitude and philosophy about art, one based on "Existentialism", which focused on the significance of the act or creation and not the end result, and a previous movement called "Surrealism" which emphasized the spontaneous or subconscious creation.
Soon the movement had earned a fixed place in the world of art, and followed two distinct "branches" - the "Color Field" and the "Gestural". The color field artists worked with large blocks of pure color on a canvas, while the gestural explored the effects of physical action in their work. There was never a distinct set of techniques or style applied to the artists, only a similar philosophy of improvisation and creation. The early artists of the school exhibited their work at the Ninth Street Gallery and the Stable Gallery.
The movement included sculpture as well, and is ongoing in the current age. Artists recognized as Abstract Expressionists include Kenneth Noland, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Seymour Lipton, Robert Motherwell and Lee Krasner among many others.