Expressionism is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect; it is a subjective art form. Expressionism is exhibited in many art forms, including painting, literature, theatre, film, architecture and music. The term often implies emotional angst. In a general sense, painters such as Matthias Grünewald and El Greco can be called expressionist, though in practice, the term is applied mainly to 20th century works.

Origin of the term

Although it is used as term of reference, there has never been a distinct movement that called itself "expressionism", apart from the use of the term by Herwald Walden in his polemic magazine "Der Sturm" in 1912. The term is usually linked to paintings and graphic work in Germany at the turn of the century which challenged the academic traditions, particularly through the Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter groups. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche played a key role in originating modern expressionism by clarifying and serving as a conduit for previously neglected currents in ancient art.

In "The Birth of Tragedy" Nietzsche presented his theory of the ancient dualism between two types of aesthetic experience, namely the Apollonian and the Dionysian; a dualism between the plastic "art of sculpture", of lyrical dream-inspiration, identity (the "principium individuationis"), order, regularity, and calm repose, and, on the other hand, the non-plastic "art of music", of intoxication, forgetfulness, chaos, and the ecstatic dissolution of identity in the collective. The analogy with the world of the Greek gods typifies the relationship between these extremes: two godsons, incompatible and yet inseparable. According to Nietzsche, both elements are present in any work of art. The basic characteristics of expressionism are Dionysian: bold colours, distorted forms-in-dissolution, two-dimensional, without perspective.See Nietzsche (1872, sections 1-6).] More generally the term refers to art that expresses intense emotion. It is arguable that all artists are expressive but there is a long line of art production in which heavy emphasis is placed on communication through emotion. Such art often occurs during time of social upheaval, and through the tradition of graphic art there is a powerful and moving record of chaos in Europe from the 15th century on the Protestant Reformation, Peasants' War, Spanish Occupation of Netherlands, the rape, pillage and disaster associated with countless periods of chaos and oppression are presented in the documents of the printmaker. Often the work is unimpressive aesthetically, but almost without exception has the capacity to move the viewer to strong emotions with the drama and often horror of the scenes depicted.

The term was also coined by Czech art historian Antonín Matějček in 1910 as the opposite of impressionism: "An Expressionist wishes, above all, to express himself.... [An Expressionist rejects] immediate perception and builds on more complex psychic structures....Impressions and mental images that pass through mental peoples soul as through a filter which rids them of all substantial accretions to produce their clear essence [...and] are assimilated and condense into more general forms, into types, which he transcribes through simple short-hand formulae and symbols." (Gordon, 1987)

Visual artists

Some of the movement's leading visual artists in the early 20th century were:

* Australia: Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman, John Perceval, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester
* Austria: Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka
* Belgium: Constant Permeke, Gustave De Smet, Frits Van den Berghe, James Ensor, Floris Jespers and Albert Droesbeke.
* France: Georges Rouault, Gen Paul and Chaim Soutine
* Germany: Heinrich Campendonk, Emil Nolde, Rolf Nesch, Franz Marc, Ernst Barlach, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Erich Heckel, Otto Dix, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl, Max Beckmann, Conrad Felixmüller, Carl Hofer, August Macke, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Ludwig Meidner, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, Max Pechstein and Käthe Kollwitz.
* Hungary: Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry
* Iceland: Einar Hákonarson
* Lithuania: Mstislav Dobuzhinsky.
* Mexico: Rufino Tamayo
* Netherlands: Charles Eyck, Willem Hofhuizen, Jaap Min, Jan Sluyters,Vincent Van Gogh, Jan Wiegers and Hendrik Werkman
* Norway: Edvard Munch, Kai Fjell
* Poland: Henryk Gotlib
* Portugal: Mário Eloy
* Russia: Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Alexej von Jawlensky and Natalia Goncharova.
* Switzerland: Carl Eugen Keel, Cuno Amiet
* USA: Ivan Albright, Milton Avery, Thomas Hart Benton, George Biddle, Hyman Bloom, Peter Blume, Peyton Boswell, Charles Burchfield, Paul Cadmus, John Steuart Curry, Stuart Davis, Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Beauford Delaney, Joseph Delaney, Edwin Dickinson, Arthur G. Dove, Norris Embry, Philip Evergood, Hugo Gellert, John D. Graham, William Gropper, George Grosz, Louis O. Guglielmi, Philip Guston, Marsden Hartley, Charles Hawthorne, Albert Kotin, Walt Kuhn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Rico Lebrun, Jack Levine, Alfred Henry Maurer, Alice Neel, David Park, Clayton S. Price, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ben Shahn, Harry Shoulberg, Raphael Soyer, Joseph Stella, Harry Sternberg, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Dorothea Tanning, Max Weber, Hale Woodruff, Karl Zerbe

Expressionist groups in painting

This movement primarily originated in Germany and Austria, though following World War II it began to influence young American artists. Norris Embry (1921-1981) studied with Oskar Kokoschka in 1947 and over the next 43 years produced a large body of work grounded in the Expressionist tradition. Norris Embry has been called "the first American German Expressionist". Other American artists of the late 20th and early 21st century have developed distinct movements that are generally considered part of Expressionism. Another prominent artist who came from the German Expressionist "school" was Bremen born Wolfgang Degenhardt. After working as a commercial artist in Bremen he migrated to Australia in 1954 and became quite prominent and sought after in the Hunter Valley region. His paintings captured the spirit of Australian and world issues but presented them in a way which was true to his German Expressionist roots.There were a number of Expressionist groups in painting, including the Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke. The Der Blaue Reiter group was based in Munich and Die Brücke was based originally in Dresden (although some later moved to Berlin). Die Brücke was active for a longer period than Der Blaue Reiter which was only truly together for a year (1912). The Expressionists had many influences, among them Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and African art. They also came to know the work being done by the Fauves in Paris.American Expressionism [Bram Dijkstra, [ "American expressionism : art and social change, 1920-1950,"] (New York : H.N. Abrams, in association with the Columbus Museum of Art, 2003.) ISBN 0810942313 9780810942318] and particularly the Boston figurative expressionism [Judith Bookbinder, [ "Boston modern: figurative expressionism as alternative modernism"] (Durham, N.H. : University of New Hampshire Press ; Hanover : University Press of New England, ©2005.) ISBN 1584654880 9781584654889] were an integral part of American modernism around the Second World War. Major figurative Boston expressionists included: Karl Zerbe, Hyman Bloom, Jack Levine, David Aronson, Philip Guston. The Boston figurative expressionists post World War II were increasingly marginalized by the development of abstract expressionism centered in New York City.

Later in the 20th century, post World War II, figurative expressionism influenced worldwide a large number of artists and movements:

* New York Figurative Expressionism [Paul Schimmel and Judith E Stein, [ "The Figurative fifties : New York figurative expressionism"] (Newport Beach, Calif. : Newport Harbor Art Museum : New York : Rizzoli, 1988.)ISBN 0847809420 9780847809424 0917493125 9780917493126] , [“Editorial,” "Reality, A Journal of Artists’ Opinions" (Spring 1954), p. 2.] of the fifties represented American figurative artists such as: Robert Beauchamp, Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Robert Goodnough, Grace Hartigan, Lester Johnson, Alex Katz, George McNeil, Jan Muller, Jackson Pollock, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers and Bob Thompson.
* Lyrical Abstraction, Tachisme [Flight lyric, Paris 1945-1956, texts Patrick-Gilles Persin, Michel and Pierre Descargues Ragon, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris and Skira, Milan, 2006, 280 p. ISBN 8876246797.] of the 1940s and 1950s in Europe represented by artists such as Georges Mathieu, Hans Hartung, Nicolas de Staël and others.
* Abstract Expressionism, of the 1950s represented primarily of American artist such as Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning and others. [Marika Herskovic, [ "American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey,"] (New York School Press, 2000. ISBN 0-9677994-1-4] some of whom took part in figurative expressionism. In the United States and Canada Lyrical Abstraction beginning in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Characterized by the work of Dan Christensen, Peter Young, Ronnie Landfield, Ronald Davis, Larry Poons, Walter Darby Bannard, Charles Arnoldi, Pat Lipsky and many others.

Neo-expressionism was an international revival movement beginning in the late 1970s and centered around artists across the world:
* Germany: Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz and others;
* USA: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Eric Fischl, David Salle and Julian Schnabel;
* France: Rémi Blanchard, Hervé Di Rosa and others;
* Italy: Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia and Enzo Cucchi;
* England: David Hockney, Frank Auerbach and Leon KossoffMany other artists from different countries joined the movement of Neo-expressionism.

Influenced by the Fauves, Expressionism worked with arbitrary colors as well as jarring compositions. In reaction and opposition to French Impressionism which focused on rendering the sheer visual appearance of objects, Expressionist artists sought to capture emotions and subjective interpretations: It was not important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter; the Expressonists focused on capturing vivid emotional reactions through powerful colors and dynamic compositions instead. The leader of Der Blaue Reiter, Kandinsky, would take this a step further. He believed that with simple colors and shapes the spectator could perceive the moods and feelings in the paintings, therefore he made the move to abstraction.

In other arts

Expressionism is also used to describe other art forms.


Some sculptors also adopted this style, as for example Ernst Barlach. Other expressionist artists mainly known as painters, such as Erich Heckel, also worked in sculptural media.


There was also an expressionist movement in film, often referred to as German Expressionism. The most important examples are Robert Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920), "" (1920), Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1927) and F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror" (1922).


In literature the novels of Franz Kafka are often described as expressionist. Expressionist poetry also flourished mainly in the German-speaking countries. The most influential expressionist poets were Georg Trakl, Georg Heym, Ernst Stadler, Gottfried Benn and August Stramm.


In the theatre, there was a concentrated Expressionist movement in early 20th century German theatre of which Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller were the most famous playwrights. Other notable expressionist dramatists included Reinhard Sorge, Walter Hasenclever, Hans Henny Jahnn, and Arnolt Bronnen. They looked back to Swedish playwright August Strindberg and German actor and dramatist Frank Wedekind as precursors of their dramaturgical experiments.

Oskar Kokoschka's 1909 playlet, "Murderer, The Hope of Women" is often called the first expressionist drama. In it, an unnamed man and woman struggle for dominance. The Man brands the woman; she stabs and imprisons him. He frees himself and she falls dead at his touch. As the play ends, he slaughters all around him (in the words of the text) "like mosquitoes." The extreme simplification of characters to mythic types, choral effects, declamatory dialogue and heightened intensity all would become characteristic of later expressionist plays.

Expressionist plays often dramatize the spiritual awakening and sufferings of their protagonists, and are referred to as "Stationendramen" (station plays), modeled on the episodic presentation of the suffering and death of Jesus in the Stations of the Cross. August Strindberg had pioneered this form with his autobiographical trilogy "To Damascus".

The plays often dramatize the struggle against bourgeois values and established authority, often personified in the figure of the Father. In Sorge's "The Beggar", ("Der Bettler"), the young hero's mentally ill father raves about the prospect of mining the riches of Mars; he is finally poisoned by his son. In Bronnen's "Parricide" ("Vatermord"), the son stabs his tyranncial father to death, only to have to fend off the frenzied sexual overtures of his mother.

In expressionist drama, the speech is heightened, whether expansive and rhapsodic, or clipped and telegraphic. Director Leopold Jessner became famous for his expressionistic productions, often unfolding on the stark, steeply raked flights of stairs that quickly became his trademark. In the 1920s, expressionism enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the American theatre, including plays by Eugene O'Neill ("The Hairy Ape", "The Emperor Jones" and "The Great God Brown"), Sophie Treadwell ("Machinal") and Elmer Rice ("The Adding Machine").


In music, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, the members of the Second Viennese School, wrote pieces described as expressionist (Schoenberg also made expressionist paintings). Other composers who followed them, such as Ernst Krenek, are often considered as a part of the expressionist movement in music. What distinguished these composers from their contemporaries such as Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin and Igor Stravinsky is that expressionist composers self-consciously used atonality to free their artform from the traditional tonality. They also sought to express the subconscious, the 'inner necessity' and suffering through their highly dissonant musical language. "Erwartung" and "Die Glückliche Hand", by Schoenberg, and Wozzeck, an opera by Alban Berg (based on the play "Woyzeck" by Georg Büchner), are example of expressionist works.


In architecture, two specific buildings are identified as expressionist: Bruno Taut's Glass Pavilion at the Cologne Werkbund Exhibition (1914), and Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany completed in 1921. Hans Poelzig's Berlin theatre (Grosse Schauspielhaus) interior for Max Reinhardt is also sometimes cited. The influential architectural critic and historian, Sigfried Giedion in his book "Space, Time and Architecture" (1941) dismissed Expressionist architecture as a side show in the development of functionalism. It was only in the 1970s that expressionism in architecture came to be re-evaluated in a more positive light.


Further reading

*Antonín Matějček cited in Gordon, Donald E. (1987). "Expressionism: Art and Ideas", p.175. New Haven: Yale University Press.
*Jonah F. Mitchell (Berlin, 2003). Doctoral thesis "Expressionism between Western modernism and Teutonic Sonderweg." Courtesy of the author.
*Friedrich Nietzsche (1872). "The Birth of Tragedy Out of The Spirit of Music." Trans. Clifton P. Fadiman. New York: Dover, 1995. ISBN 0486285154.
*Judith Bookbinder, [ "Boston modern : figurative expressionism as alternative modernism,"] (Durham, N.H. : University of New Hampshire Press ; Hanover : University Press of New England, ©2005.) ISBN 1584654880 9781584654889
*Bram Dijkstra, [ "American expressionism : art and social change, 1920-1950,"] (New York : H.N. Abrams, in association with the Columbus Museum of Art, 2003.) ISBN 0810942313 9780810942318

External links

* [ "Hottentots in tails"] A turbulent history of the group by Christian Saehrendt at
* [ "Expressionism"
* [ "The Official Website of the Norris Embry Estate"] A free educational resource on Expressionism, including a large collection of expressionist paintings by the American artist Norris Embry (1921-1981).

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