Action Painting (also Actionpainting "action painting") refers to an art movement of modern painting within abstract expressionism. It appeared in the USA from 1950 and became internationally known through Jackson Pollock. European Tachisme or Informel is comparable.
The term goes back to the US art critic Harold Rosenberg, who in the 1950s called the painting of the American Abstract Expressionists Action Painting. More recent research suggests that the exile surrealist Wolfgang Paalen was the first to introduce the term. In his theory of observer-dependent possibility space, which, through his publications, gave abstract painting new momentum and a unified, new world view in New York in the 1940s, Paalen incorporated insights from quantum physics as well as idiosyncratic interpretations of the totemic view of the world and the spatial structures of Northwest Coast Indian painting.
His long essay Totem Art had an influence on artists such as Martha Graham, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman; in it Paalen develops a highly artistic vision of totemic art as part of an ecstatic "action" capable of establishing a psychic connection with generic memory.
Jackson Pollock's main work is classified as action painting, but his paintings are equally defined as drip painting works. The technique of pour painting, made famous by Hermann Nitsch, also falls under the term action painting. These examples show the difficulty of clearly delimiting the term.