The term postwar art has most typically been used to describe art created in the aftermath of World War II within a North American or Western European context. The advent of the atomic age – initiated by the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945-and the atrocities of the Holocaust, perpetuated by Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, challenged artists and intellectuals to invent new languages and forms that could respond to the un-representable. The disjunction between Western ideologies and the realities of violence and devastation led many European and North American artists to embrace non-Western aesthetics and modes of thought.
In the visual arts, abstraction provided an experimental vocabulary with which to signify the magnitude of destruction caused by the war and the gravity of horrors unleashed by the nuclear bomb. It also offered artists an openended approach to envisioning other psychic or emotional states, as a respite and refuge from the harsh realities of the present. Simultaneously, figuration and performance art flourished, as artists sought to portray the radical fragmentation of the body-a result of the violence wrought against it and the environment, the cityscape, and the countryside. Art offered both a critique of and an escape from a war-weary world.