Expressionism Is The Art Of Unrest Art Essay

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The term expressionism arose through many different factors in the early twentieth century (1904-1914), which were described as the act of expressing feelings and emotions though into a physical manner. It is a movement labelled within art history to give a name to artist who decided to work in this format; portraying ideas and concepts of exploring themes with the sense of belonging and alienation. Another format of this movement was articulating the awareness involving decorative symbolic meanings of a personal reference. Expressionism may be considered one of the leading movements in art within the twentieth century as it was a starting point for art to be considered with fewer boundaries. Although it is said that the term expressionism has not been agreed upon by critics for the word's meaning (Zigrosser, C. 1957 p.5). One of which was a development onwards to non-figurative art work, which became a common sight within the works of expressionism. Although expressionism is considered a further manifestation of the works contained in the 'Post-Impressionism' (1880 to early twentieth century) period which includes the pieces by Van Gogh, Munch and others like Gauguin (Little, S. 2004). As said Gauguin was part of the Post-Impressionism movement but his work on pieces like the one to the right of the nude female, titled Manao Tupapau (she thinks of the sprit) work was largely completed by colour experimentation, largely seen in works in expressionism. These artists mentioned worked with ideas of using real life subject matters, mixed with the vivid colours. Some habits that were re-used in the expressionism movement to portray the artist emotions of the piece they were creating. Expressionism however though is a way of art bearing a meaning, or concept rather than it being of a visual representation of the surroundings like most work before this time.

Movements like expressionism have not only been subjected to the art world of fine art, mostly painting but other creative outlets like literature, music and performance drama's. Although it is mainly referred to as an art movement with things such as paintings, it does routinely come back to specific German artist. 'Expressionism is a Northern European phenomenon' (Little, S. 2004 p.104) although was seen to be mainly within Germany, relating back to the history of how the movement began. Looking at how the political conflict with modern art struck debates with impressionism, which again leads directly back to the growth of expressionism. Therefore the political debate intensified with the expressionism movement by contributing to the first avant-garde challenge in Germany (Weinstein, J.1990 p.8). However with expressionism being able to tear down the restrictions of having to conform to observational art work which was mainly in circulation at the time, could possibly described as tearing down the values and institutions of the middle class and imperial artistic culture (Weinstein, J.1990 p.8). Within all this history of the expressionism movement there were two main groups of which leading artist became loosely a part of; Die Brücke (translated into The Bridge) and Der Blaue Riter (The blue Rider).

Although the first artist that should be mentioned is the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch as he is said to be the forerunner of expressionist art work. His works with symbolist methodology in his personal work makes him the perfect person to be able to develop the expressionist movement. With his work in many different fields of art, including that of Naturalism and Impressionism its clear to see how his work would grow into expressionism at some point. Therefore his work in the series of Frieze of Life - a poem about life, love and death fits perfectly with the practice of expressing ones true feelings in a physical expression. Thus starting his obsession with illustrating an emotion, mainly around a dark harboured feeling but however is one that is often repeated with the works seen in expressionism. It is said to be something that all artists carry around with them and are able to channel this feel into work representational of this. Thus Munch's emotional experiences gained through his life were of great intensity; "…reached out into many different directions, including the discovery of psychoanalysis and the subconscious…" (Zigrosser, C. 1957 p.5). Stating that some of these works go into depths of the subconscious that it can lead to work becoming expressive into almost abstract expressionism. Even work that can take on another meaning that can transform from viewer as they pick up upon the slight underlying emotions and references in pieces causing them to experience emotions and physical attributions. Even in today's society Munch's most famous piece of art work titled 'The Scream' can still be a window to look through in to most people's minds and thoughts. Expressing that of emotions from life, showing social awareness and even right down to that of the basic fears and anxieties that are very obviously in the painting itself. Almost a look at how people want to express themselves but feel that they cannot with our reaping consequences. Something that has been taught to people by society with what is correct and what is un-expectable, however expressionism is where artist are like this painting above able to express these feelings without the harsh judge mentation that would come from fellow peers.

Edvard Munch is clearly someone that had aided in starting the expressionist movement due to his practice that was under the influence of Gauguin when conduction works while in Paris, France. While there, as stated before developed an obsession on subjects of death and love that appear in a symbolic style that shows his starting point for expressionism. While using bright colours in experimentation of expressing feels and thoughts with an indirect curved brushwork design which can be clearly seen in the scream painting. All began the influence with the first expressionist group labelled Die Brücke, 1905-1913. However it is said that the group did not take shape until 1910 when most of the member's moved to Berlin. The group originally started by students who were taken by the new style of disorientation of images, bold new strong colours and the concepts of "…destruction of genuine feelings by a society which they felt needed to be 'cleansed' or 'purified'." (Little, S. 2004 pg. 104). The group Die Brücke which is translated into The Bridge [a perfect name brought to attention to signify the path to the mastery and the future] were the first group to develop thus having the challenge and freedom of starting fresh. Most artists started with rejecting classical style and immediately starting with the practice of destruction and loss, leading into work characterized by the large amount of violent imagery and highlighted by the intense emotion projected to the viewer. Like most of the founders of the Brücke group; Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner work is a classic example of the work established in the practice of this group. His work is mostly original from the rest and renders a distinctive dynamic style.

The painting to the right is a completed work by Kirchner titled 'Artillerymen' 1915. The heavy use of brush stroke that were clearly used quite roughly to gain such effects, matched with the use of crude colours, ooze the heavily influenced of the previous work in the Die Brücke group. The painting showing distorted crowed men showering as a military officer watch upon them clearly depicts his exact emotions of the kind of society he felt he lived in. Becoming vulnerable to an extent of paranoia and thus harbouring emotions of being under constant social criticism. Later to be understood of how the current culture of which he lived and surrounds of the war created even more ruthlessness to draw upon in expression through his work. Depicting the clarity of why expressionism was not just a part of growth within art practice but was a necessity. For artists that needed to expand upon the search through their work, involving confronting certain interpretations.

The next piece of majority in the expressionist movement was the Der Blaue Reiter group. Roughly translated to The Blue Riders, they were founded by Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Gabriele Münter. However this group was mainly produce on the expressionist work created by Kandinsky. The group had a different approach to that of the Die Brücke group, with the concept of spirituality and mystical attitude. Shown in the critique of strong colours and the diversity in the range. With the forerunners of this group regarding spirituality as a concept the main goal of expressionism was not just to express harbored feelings as seen before. The Der Blaue Reiter group focused upon an aim of expression creating a connection between the viewer and the piece, that art could be able to express an intrinsic human truth; giving meaning to people's lives. Like Kandinsky work here above, titled 'Improvisation 28 (second version), 1912, is clearly able to receive attention from viewers of many forms; Confusion, anxiety even joy. The vivid colours are the main attraction complementing the loose brush work and highly aggressive lines to complete the composition. All of which are used to draw focus upon the artists criticism of not just the piece itself but the concept behind the piece created. The way in which Kandinsky welcomed transformation was a key point in how his work gave a of evolving new techniques like that of Abstraction Expressionism.

Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning, Franz Kline to name a few are some of the major artist who worked in the follow on from Expressionism to Abstract Expressionism. This movement is still one that is carried on in today's society/ culture on a worldwide scale. Not apparent to the fact that it was not able to develop if the work created before in the Expressionism movement was not completed. If the artist never had the innovation to express themselves and their emotions instead of just observational paintings, etc, the possibilities for something different, something revolutionary could not have been made today. However this had not just opened up path ways to expressing emotions through art but has led to works that can be about the impossible. The fact that Expressionism has not just influenced art work practice but brought about concept and may be possibly to commend for the way in which art is viewed. Non-representational to state is work with just concepts are now being reproduced every day in society. The fact art work is different and seen with such familiar distinguish is the most important factor that came from the movement overall.


Little, S, 2004, …isms, First Edition, A&C Black Publishers, London.

Zigrosser, C, 1957, The Expressionist, First Edition, George Braziller, Inc, Philadelphia, USA.

Weinstein, J, 1990, The End of Expressionism; Art and The Novemeber Revolution in Germany, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

Behr, S, 1999, Expressionism, Frist Edition, Tate Gallery, London. - Referaanced to Edvard Munch - Biography, Frieze of Life - A Poem about Life, Love and Death.