Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Expressionism is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for emotional effect. Expressionism is exhibited in many art forms, including painting, literature, film, architecture and music. Additionally, the term often implies emotional angst - the number of cheerful expressionist works is relatively small.
Origin of the term
The term was coined by Czech art historian Antonin Matějček in 1910 as the opposite of impressionism: "An Expressionist wishes, above all, to express himself [sic]....[An Expressionist rejects] immediate perception and builds on more complex psychic structures....Impressions and mental images pass through his 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)
Some of the movement's leading painters in the early 20th century were:
There were a number of Expressionist groups in painting, including the Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke. Later in the 20th century, the movement influenced a large number of other artists, including the so-called abstract expressionists.
Expressionism is also found in other art forms - the novels of Franz Kafka are often described as expressionist, for example, and there was a concentrated Expressionist movement in early 20th century German theatre centred around Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller.
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 even Igor Stravinsky is that expressionist composers meticulously used atonality to free their artform from the traditional tonality, and used techniques such as serialism and dodecaphony (twelve-tone) for expression. Lulu, an opera by Alban Berg, based on plays by Frank Wedekind is one such work.
In architecture, the work of Eric Mendelsohn comes under this category. An important building by him under this style is the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany. There is an organic quality to buildings using this approach. Some sculptors also used this style, as for example Ernst Barlach.
There was never a group of artists that called themselves Expressionists. The movement is primarily German. The Blaue Reiter was based in Munich and Die Brucke was based originally in Dresden ( although some later moved to Berlin). Die Brucke was active for a longer period than 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. It is important to realize that although the Fauves and the Expressionists both used bright colours, they used them for distinct purposes. The Fauves hoped to achieve beauty, while the Expressionists hoped to achieve emotion through them. The importance of color was its expressive power, no longer was the subject the medium which led to drama or sentiment in the work of art, but it was the use of color and lines that were the expressive and powerful means. The Blaue Reiter "leader", 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 important jump to Abstraction, changing 20th century art.
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