|Themes > Arts > Painting > 20th-Century Painting > Expressionism|
Expressionism is a general term for art that emphasizes inner feelings and emotions over objective depiction.
The Expressionists felt compelled to use the power of expressionism to address the human condition as they saw it, exploring themes such as poverty, corruption, loneliness and sorrow. The one unifing factor for Expressionism would seem to be that their glass is always half-empty, and polluted. Where the Fauve artist championed the "joy of life," the Expressionist emphasised the miseries of modern life brought on by the capitalist/materialistic society, a theme still found in most "modern" expressionism. The first "official" Expressionist groups, as opposed to our "precusor of expressionism", Edvard Munch, who never published a manifesto (a public declaration of principles and policy), emerged in Germany in the early 1900's:
Die Brucke, founded by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, appealed to artists to revolt against academic painting and develop an art that would turn people away from false values and toward spiritual rejuvenation;
Der Blaue Reiter, led by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky in Munich, wanted painting to lead the way through an impending period of catastrophe that he forsaw, to a great new era of spirituality.
Nolde, with another biblical theme:
St. Mary before she was converted to Christianity, as a street prostitute surrounded by ignorance, lust, greed, and the sinners... an anology of his view of modern German society.
Meanwhile, Kirchner portrays the German "high society," the monied aristocracy of the new materialism, as stiff, hard-edged, two-dimensional cut-outs concerned with nothing but themselves and their image, indifferent to the suffering going on around them.
While the artists of Die Brucke (The Bridge) looked at the immediate everyday world of modern society, the artists of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) searched for a universal spirituality that would save all mankind from the coming catastrophe. This search for a universal visual "language" to express his message of spirituality to everyone would lead Wassily Kandinsky to the creation of the first totally nonrepresentational imagery. As the story/legend goes, Kandinsky, who started painting in the Fauve style, walked into his studio one bright afternoon and was overcome by the visual impact of a painting leaning against the far wall of his studio. On closer examination, he found that it was one of his own paintings which he had set down on it's side, making the images in the painting unrecognizable (thus nonrepresentational). The realization of the power of the visual elements released from their discriptive role opened a whole new direction for him and inevitably the whole of the visual arts.
Wassily Kandinsky believed that a painting should be " an exact replica of some inner emotion".... the content of his painting was " what the spectator lives or feels while under the effect of the form and color combinations of the picture."
By 1910, he had made the shift to totally nonrepresentational (note that the Blue Mountain done in '08 was done in Kandinskys Fauve period) imagery in order to concentrate on the expressive potential of pure form freed from associations with recognizable subjects.
Unlike Kandinsky, Marc never entirely eliminated recognizable objects from his work, except in preliminary drawings made shortly before his death in the trenches at Verdun during WWI.
But by the time he painted The Fate of The Animals, an apocalyptic view of the earth and its plants and animals shattered and broken by shafts of energy, he had discovered that the animals too suffered from a lack of nobility and purity of spirit. In his attempt to find a purer form, his work became more abstract, a kind of crystaline cubism.
Expressionism would never "die out," but after the Second World War it would fall out of favor, so to speak, to re-emerge in the 1960's and 70's and continues through are own time.
Lynn University Art Appreciation
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