And one of the key elements of Modern Art was self-expression. An early example of this is found in the artwork of Arshile Gorky, an Armenian artist who, as a young boy, had to flee his country and come to America in order to escape the Armenian Genocide, which indirectly caused his mother's death. In memory of his mother and the devastating loss of life which occurred in his country during World War I, Gorky's art became about the remembrance and personal struggle with the aftermath of such a horrific experience.
This painting, of The Artist and His Mother, Gorky painted after his mother died in Armenia. It is painted simplistically to accentuate the expressive feelings of a child (the artist was just a boy when he had to leave his home because of the Genocide). Innocence has been lost here in the sloppy, choppy brushstrokes of, for example, the two figures' clothes, and yet a devotion or loyalty to innocence remains in the stylistic choice of the flat, two-dimensionality of the image. Gorky paints himself as a kind of stick figure, humbly offering up a small flower in honor of his mother. The mother, seated proudly on the right, stares with confidence and strength directly at the viewer. Although she has passed away, her memory, in the artist's eyes, is something still energetic and powerful, exuding an authoritative presence and an engaging connection with onlookers. Her face is defined and firm. The whiteness of her dress indicates her purity and spotless humanity, but the artist hasn't bothered to continue filling in the bottom of her dress. The brushstrokes fade off—and in fact much of the painting looks unfinished. And what is most poignant is the artist's separation from his mother in the scene. He stands to the side, apparently a small distance back, gazing sadly or longingly at her. This painting is expressive of his personal emotions about his mother and the memory of the terrible experiences of his childhood. As an artistic statement, the painting is able to show a form of Expressionism but one executed with subtle and restrained colors (not like the vibrant palette of Van Gogh). Because the art itself, then, isn't producing the bulk of its own emotional expressionism, the painting's stylistic theory takes from both Abstract Art and Expressionism. To convey emotion, artists began turning to non-traditional stylistic forms, since abstraction (at least theoretically) has no bounds.