Photograph of the Statue of Liberty amongst the ocean

US art is such an interesting topic to write about and read about. But have you ever wondered who the greatest American artists were and are now? Well, read on because we reveal all of this and more in this insightful article! It’s time to learn all about US art and what paved the way for the brilliant art world!

The key events that shaped the American art scene

America is a relatively young country, but there have been numerous events over the course of its history that have shaped the art movements of the time. Here are just some of the most influential events that had a significant impact on the development of American art:


The history of American art can be traced back to the indigenous people of the Americas. Native Americans created many kinds of decorative objects that depicted the natural landscape and their beliefs to tell their ancestral stories. However, while fine craftsmanship was highly regarded in Native American culture, art was not a vocation! Instead, objects held a purpose, whether that was for everyday living or worship. Pretty interesting, right?

No to mention, the arrival of Europeans in America was hugely significant in culture, society and, in turn, American art. Settlers brought with them the influence of European portraiture and landscape art, where the focus became depictions of the rural landscape.

Yellow paper with two paintings laid on top to draw with

The development of national identity

It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century, however, that this developed into the first significant American art movement: the Hudson River School (1825-65). Based in New York, this art movement helped form a national art style that depicted the majestic landscape while symbolising prosperity, freedom and patriotism.

As the nineteenth century progressed, Hudson River School painters moved out of New York, starting to depict the American West. And these depictions were significant in portraying national expansion and discovery across the west. During the American Civil War (1861 – 1885), these western scenes symbolised hope and post-war promise, which we see in a lot of the artwork of this time.


At the turn of the century, American art was influenced by rapid industrialisation, immigration, and urbanisation. Plus, modern photography developed during this period of modern America, which was pretty exciting; it included Pictorialism and Straight photography. This urbanisation was the focus of the Ashcan School painters, who depicted the gritty reality of working-class life in New York City.


After many Europeans moved to America after the world wars, European art movements began to greatly influence American art. European Surrealist artists brought the concept of ‘automatic painting’, which greatly influenced American Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s, such as the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothco.

Pop culture and consumerism

Pop Art came onto the American art scene in the late 1950s as a rejection of Abstract Expressionism and other popular dominant art movements of the time. It might have started in England, but the American take on the style became iconic, and became one of the most famous movements in American art history!

Then there was pop art – which was a critique of mass consumerism, cleverly using images taken from popular culture, adverts and other media. The famous American artists of the time regarding Pop Art included the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, whose work you’ll likely know about already.

The emergence of hip-hop

One of the more recent significant art movements in America is Graffiti Art, also known as Aerosol Art, which was significantly influenced by hip-hop culture in America’s cities. From the 1970s, urban artists sprayed graffiti art in areas like the New York subway, which was pretty remarkable at the time, and the start of things to come!

A group of these artists formed the United Graffiti Artists (UGA), and from the 1980s, popular urban artists started renting art studios and displaying their work in galleries. And now, Graffiti Art is a well-established art form.

How did other countries and artists contribute?

From the Dutch Golden Age to French Impressionists, European art movements have contributed to American art since its colonisation. European art continued to influence American artists, but during the nineteenth century, national art movements developed that were unique to America, which included Frontier art and the Hudson River School.

During the twentieth century, as America starts to become a commercial powerhouse, world wars brought many influential European artists to America. This was when European art once again started having a greater influence, helping to shape American art today.

The most famous American artists

There have been so many significant figures in American art through the centuries, but when we think of famous American artists today, several key figures spring to mind. So, to keep you clued up, we’ve listed some of the greats, below:

Jackson Pollock

Woman and man standing looking at famous US art by Jason Pollock

A leading figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement in the mid-20th century, Jackson Pollock is one of America’s most famous artists of all time. Pollock is famed for his distinctive drip technique – the process of splashing and dripping paint onto canvases on the floor, which made viewing his art different from every angle!

Pollock’s best-known works include:

  • Convergence (1952)
  • One: Number 31 (1950)
  • Number 5 (1948)
  • Mural on Indian Red Ground (1950).

Andy Warhol

Head of a statue of famous US artists, Andy Warhol

As Pop Art was such a significant American art movement, it’s not surprising that Andy Warhol was (and still is) one of USA’s most famous artists.

Known as “the king of 1960s counterculture”, his distinctive, modern designs, which feature pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe alongside consumerist products like Coca-Cola cans and Campbells Soup, are some of the best-known in art history!

Warhol’s most famous art pieces include:

  • Campbell’s Soup Cans (1961-2)
  • Marilyn Monroe (1964)
  • Banana (1966).


JonOne is an American graffiti artist, and one that shaped how this type of art was portrayed in the US.  Following is notoriety as a street artist, JonOne’s art developed to oil on canvas which really holds the influence of his urban graffiti!

Amongst JonOne’s most famous pieces are:

  • The Fall (2017)
  • Night Sky (2018)
  • My World (2019)
  • Transparent (2015).

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With all of this newfound knowledge about American art, what it entails and who the most famous American artists are/were, you’ll be able to inform your friends and family about this fascinating topic!

For more inspirational articles and insights, head over to our blog and read all about other art styles and the history behind them, including a brief history of French art.

December 27, 2022 — James Mace