Against the typical grain of thinking.
A Schooling on Expressionism
I’m more a follower than a scholar. I click ‘like’ and I’m following! There’s no shame to this. It is 2013; social media and websites are the go-to tools for self-education. They are also, for now, some of the best ways to digest the world of art in a palatable and non-schooled way.
This is also my way of saying, “DISCLAIMER”.
What I’m about to talk about is how I feel, not what I know. Well… at least, what I think I ought to know because someone who actually knows told me.
Early in my first trimester of Design School, I was asked to pick an art movement in order to help an Art-themed bar redesign their vibe. Without really understanding what it was I was picking, I chose Expressionism.
What it came down to was the pictures looked pretty to me. I loved the big dump of solid colours and skewed imagery. Little did I know that once I delved myself into the movement, I would quickly appreciate it a heck of a lot more than just its quirky aesthetic appeal.
It was rebellious and raw.
It started in Germany just before WWI (c.1900), in an environment where artists were faced with a despondent, apathetic culture.
For a select group of artists, their impatience with society’s wants and lack of external inspiration turned them to experiment with styles, mediums and take the focus away from the subject and turn it inwards.
Bare in mind, by this time, the art world already had Vincent Van Gough, whose public struggle with depression was strongly portrayed through his work. Art groovers had also been exposed to Edvard Munch, who famously painted “The Scream” in 1893. Both were inspired by their own headspace.
Expressionism spoke not only to the internal dialogue of the artist, but that dialogue in relation to the outside world. For a society that was controlled and on the brink of war (think: Cabaret, the movie), this was BIG.
Two leading studios were die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blauer Reiter (The Blue Rider). Both were known for using a mixture of mediums, including coming up with the style of linocut printing.
Franz Marc, founding member of der Blauer Reiter was one such artist known for his vivid use of colour; opting for blue to represent masculinity and yellow to represent femininity. His most famous work was “Animal Destinies”, which he painted in 1913 in response to the growing political tensions across Europe.
Amazingly, after WWI a lot of Marc’s work was discredited by the Nazi’s and labeled as ‘degenerate’ along with a lot of Expressionism art. This could very much have contributed to the movement’s short but influential run (dying out mid 1920s).
Another member to der Blaue Reiter was Wassilly Kadinsky who went on to be an influential artist for the Bauhaus and Abstract Expressionism movements.
Kadinsky’s art was renowned for being deeply emotional and far removed from creating the literal or physical subject. He was also a believer in the arts inspiring art or music inspiring movement. This is what he reflected in his most acclaimed work, “Composition VII”. Kadinsky saw this as representing “the cyclical processes of destruction and salvation” in 1920s Europe (theartstory.org).
Ernest Ludwig Kirschner, another founding member of die Brücke, is probably one of the most popular artists of the time. He was famous for his bohemian approach to Expressionism.
This piece, called “The Visit – Couple and Newcomer” was painted in 1922. Although not the most illustrious from his collection, it is a good demonstration of how Kirschner used colour with a disregard to proportions.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
If we look at the body of work that was created during the time of Expressionism, the styles that it developed and the mediums that it experimented with, there is still relevance and points for inspiration for modern day creatives to use.
Expressionism pushed the boundaries on what was appropriate subject matter, which only further aided in creating passionate talking points for parties both for and against Expressionism.
Their state of mind and taste was timeless, quirky and relevant. It did not exist in parallel to society. It existed to explain the human of society and can exist again today to do the same.