When it comes to Expressionism, the name says it all: Expressionists like to express emotion.
The movement emerged over the turn of the 20th century in Europe, particularly in Germany, detailing the particular styles of two famous artistic groups: Die Brücke (The Bridge), founded in Dresden in 1905, and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) formed in 1911. The term “Expressionism” was first used by the Berlin Journal and art gallery Der Sturm in 1910.
The focus of the Expressionist artist is not to describe situations, but to project their inner experience onto the spectator. This was what they considered to be a “rebirth of thinking”. The paintings became removed from accepted aesthetic conventions, instead emphasising bold and contrasting colours at the expense of definitive lines; frequently leaving the support visible. The tones become quite dark and dirty, characterised by heavy and rough brushstrokes, and a dominance of black and red.
Paintings are often focused upon aggressive or oppressive themes, featuring repulsive subjects or aiming to show humankind in a poignant or derisory light. Eroticism and death are depicted here, alongside physical and moral misery. Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise that at least six of the artists involved in Expressionism – Van Gogh, Munch, Ensor, Kirchner, Beckmann and Grosz – were prone to both psychotic and neurotic episodes.
The turbulent paintings could be explained by the tumultuous times. When World War I broke out, most of the Expressionists were still young men, becoming old men under the oppressive weight of World War II. They used art to express the outrage of era of history riddled with economic and social unrest. The movement attributes part of its formation to a century’s worth of ideological movement and fluctuation – figures like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Ibsen, Strondberg, Nietzsche and Marx generated an evolution of “intellectual violence” which appealed to the young Expressionists searching for individuality.
Expressionism flourished in Germany under the Weimar Republic, but then experienced suppression from the Nazis, who found the style degenerate and unsuitable under the Third Reich. Many of the painters left Europe for the USA, where, after World War II, Expressionist Art became highly valued by many American critics and collectors.
When you think of Expressionism, consider Egon Schiele, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner or Alexei von Jawlensky as just a few examples.
So whenever you are feeling blue about the political and economic shape of the country, why not express yourself? If not, I’m sure a ready Expressionist can do it for you.