Expressionism lets artists express their feelings

“Die grossen blauen Pferde” (The Large Blue Horses) by Franz Marc, 1911. This is an excellent example of Expressionist use of color and line to symbolize universal principles. Marc chose animals as his subject because he believed in their "purer, more sublime relationship with the world," and he used abstract color (a brilliant blue) and line (the curving of the horses' necks) to communicate their spiritual harmony with nature.

     In the early 1900s, science was making huge leaps, and people were excited over the new discoveries about the “real world.”  Art reflected this scientific outlook by becoming more and more realistic.  Even Impressionism was an outcome of this attitude.  Impressionism is art which is based on purely visual impressions.  The Impressionists were using their knowledge of the law of optics to paint their sparkling, vibrant pictures. But a number of writers and painters were becoming disturbed by the trend to look at things only on the surface.  Out of this concern came a new art movement.

     Expressionism (the name was intended to distinguish it from Impressionism) developed in Germany around 1910.   It came about because a number of artists wanted to take art beyond the boundaries of physical reality to include imagination, dreams, and prophecy.  In short, they wanted to “express” their emotions about the subjects they painted, something that had never been done before.  To do this, the Expressionists discarded the laws of realistic painting.  They manipulated perspective, color, composition and line and distorted shapes to create a whole new way of painting.   Expressionist work includes recognizable images and objects, but instead of having the subject as the most important part of the painting, the reaction of the artist to the subject was now the focus of attention. 

     The art of the past had avoided shocking or startling people.  However, the Expressionists wanted to share their own emotions with the viewer, and they felt that art should make people think and feel strongly. As a way of jarring people into thinking about the subject in a new way, some artists used grotesque and even repulsive elements in their paintings.  Others used color and distortion to make their paintings more powerful.  For example, an expressionist artist might look at an ordinary tree and paint it as if it were writhing and twisting in pain, using brilliant reds and oranges rather than natural browns and greens. 

     In some cases the artists used unreal colors to symbolized emotions.  Tradition has always said that certain colors correspond with certain states of mind — blue for power, red for passion, yellow for cowardice, green for jealousy, white for innocence, and so forth.  So the time of blue horses and green faces had arrived. 

     Like all artistic movements, Expressionism grew out of the mental climate of its period.  But, first and foremost, it was the desire of artists to renew their art.  This was not done haphazardly.  They based their experiments on the experience of the painters who had preceded them, and learned more from pictures than from theories.  Gauguin, with his vividly colored, flat-looking paintings, influenced many of the expressionists, as did Van Gogh with his dramatic color and swirling brushstrokes that reflected his state of mind.

     Eventually great museums opened their doors to accept Expressionist works, and the artists became famous, obtained important teaching posts and saw their paintings reproduced on posters and postcards.  Unfortunately, with the rise of the Nazi regime the works of the Expressionists were branded as decadent and only those who went into exile could continue to work.  After the war, they were remembered and brought back to be exhibited once again.     

     Although the initial Expressionist movement now belongs to history, the door had been opened to the expression of emotion through art.  Many artists today continue to work in the expressionist style.

cc SOURCE: Art-to-Art Palette Journal print edition

Published by on December 2011. Filed under Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Bugle Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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