What Is Action Painting?

Action painting is a type of modern art.
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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 04 January 2015
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Action painting is a type of modern art that involves the random splashing, dripping, or even throwing of paint onto a large canvas without a prior image concept in mind. Artists who work with this technique place more importance on the movements of their arms, hands, and bodies during the process of making a painting. This type of painting is often closely tied to the art movement of abstract expressionism because of the emphasis on underlying emotions as the driving force behind the spontaneous movements of action painting. Some action painters also create their pieces before a live audience, which adds an element of performance art to their work.

This method of painting is also known as gestural abstraction, and it became especially popular during the mid-20th century due to the changing attitudes of this time period. People began placing less emphasis on formal art paintings that depicted figures and images from real life. They instead responded to the unique patterns of paint in abstract pieces because this kind of art allowed the subject matter to be completely open to individual interpretation. Many abstract imagists who create action paintings believe that viewers respond to their work on a deeper subconscious level.


Various techniques of action painting usually differ among individual artists. Many have a preferred type of paint such as oil, acrylic, or even the types of paint found in home improvement stores. Some artists also use implements other than traditional artist brushes. Paint can be applied to a canvas with a wisk broom, sponge, or even the artist's bare hands. The only universal rules that apply to action painting include having an understanding of color theory and continuing to experiment with creative ways to splatter and splash paint on the canvas.

Although traditional methods of action painting are done with brushes and canvases, this type of contemporary art can also be done with digital art software and interactive video installations. Some artists create museum exhibits of their finished digital action paintings with a projector that displays their work on a screen or even on an entire wall. Others upload files of their work to large liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors that play rotating slide shows of their paintings. Digital action painting can even involve the viewers with displays that allow them to add color to a screen by holding a digital brush that tracks each hand movement.



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