10 characteristics of Expressionism
Expressionism was an artistic and cultural movement emerged in the Germany of the twentieth century and manifested itself in a variety of disciplines: the visual arts, literature, film, music, theater, dance and photography, among others .
Opposed to realistic impressionism and naturalism with its deterministic and rationalist pretensions, Expressionism defended a more intuitive and subjective position of art, in which the interiority of the artist had a leading role. That is why expressionism is understood more as an attitude towards art and life than a homogeneous artistic trend.
In fact, numerous creators of different styles, interests and tendencies came together in expressionism, which made it a heterogeneous movement without too many recognizable characteristics.
Expressionism is usually understood as the deformation of the real to reflect the subjective content of the human being, that is: instead of copying the real faithfully, as proposed by realism, or copying a glance of it (an "impression") like the impressionism, the Expressionists preferred to mold reality to make it reflect what was inside them: get an "expression" of their subjectivity.
2. Historic context
Expressionism emerged during the first years of the twentieth century, before the First World War and in the midst of the so-called "historical Vanguards".
At this time the rejection of positivist philosophy was born, a doctrine of rationalist thought that places its faith in scientific progress and advancement as conductors of society, which resulted in an atmosphere of pessimism, criticism and loss of human values , that expressionism knew well to reflect.
This atmosphere would only worsen after the First World War and Expressionism would expand its horizons to cinema and theater, becoming a movement quite central in the imaginary of the time. This would last until the Second World War, because it would be cataloged by the Nazis as "degenerate art" and linked to communism; although it would re-emerge briefly in the United States as abstract expressionism.
Although in expressionism numerous artists of different aesthetics met, always predominated in the movement the concern for the subjective content of the work over the harmony and resemblance to the reality of their forms. The importance was granted to the "interior" vision of the artist and not to the imitation of everyday life.
This in some cases could produce more figurative or more abstract art, according to the interests and styles of the artist, and even in artistic forms such as literature or architecture, implied a true artistic renovation that tended towards the abstract and the reflective.
The field of birth and the most outstanding expressionism was painting. Its beginnings were between two groups of German artists: Die Brücke ("The Bridge") and Der Blaue Reiter ("The Blue Rider"). Even then, color, dynamism and sensations were outlined as the great resources of this pictorial trend.
The Expressionist painters were very active and diverse, they made abundant exhibitions and had notorious presence in the main German cities. This trend would later expand to other countries such as France (with the School of Paris), Belgium (especially around the Selection magazine), Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and, in the American continent, the United States , Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil.
The expressionist architecture was cultivated particularly in Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Austria and Czechoslovakia, strongly influenced by modernism and by the critique of functionalism, which Paul Scheerbart accused in his essay Glass Architecture (1914) of lacking artisticity.
This trend took advantage of the massive manufacture of the time of different building materials such as bricks, steels and glass, to expand their possibilities and experiment with utopian perspectives and more daring forms, often venturing into certain stylistic excesses.
In Expressionism, the sculpture consisted of an individual rupture of the traditional forms of sculpting, rather than a uniform tendency. Towards 1920 this one derived more than anything in the abstractionism, in pursuit of a liberation of the forms that would offer plenitude to the artistic expression.
The literature of expressionism embraced more than any other form of art the existential vacuum crisis prevailing in the society of the time. This was reflected through inquiries into the disease, madness and deformity, which often led to an existential absurdity.
The expressionist narrative was divided fundamentally between an experimental and reflective side, more given to the abstract and the subjective, and another naturalistic and objectivizing, arising as a reaction. The maximum point of this tendency was the appearance of illogical, labyrinthine works, like that of Franz Kafka.
In poetry, the aesthetics of the ugly and the grotesque, the deformed and the firm expression that does not adhere to grammatical or stylistic rules were assumed. The metric and the sonnet were maintained, although the free verse also appeared.
And the expressionist dramaturgy abandoned the realistic representation of naturalism and tried to make the theater a means to renew ideologically and philosophically the public. Thus, works of very free themes were undertaken, with a lot of detachment due to logic and an abundant load of anguish, despair, loneliness and suffering in their characters and situations.
Another outstanding area of expressionism was music, in which they saw the opportunity to create a language stripped of words and verbal senses, a direct and authentic route to the subjectivity of the artist.
Therefore, it was intended to free music from its tonality and rules and conventions, allowing it to reflect the mood of the artist more than anything else and thus allowing the birth of twelve-tone music. The latter is a musical scale inspired by the twelve tones of the chromatic scale, used in series, disorderly, but without repeating a single one before the whole scale has sounded.
9. Other arts
Dance, opera and especially cinema received the influence of expressionism, which freed them from formal conventions and allowed the freer exploration of expressed feelings.
In the field of cinema, above all, German expressionism produced notable works, using somber themes and oneiric, surrealist representations, whose scenes were more similar to a painting than to reality itself, deforming according to the expressive needs of the plot.
10. Representation of expressionism
A short list of the main authors and artists of Expressionism includes:
Painting: Iva Laki, Nathalie Al-Sarage, Otto Mueller, Georges Rouault, Paul Klee, Vasili Kandinski, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Piet Mondrian, Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Karl Hofer, Franz Marc, Egon Schiele, Oswaldo Guayasamín, among many others.
Architecture: Bruno Taut, Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn, Hans Poelzig, Hermann Finsterlin, Fritz Höger, Hans Scharoun and Rudolf Steiner.
Sculpture: Ernst Barlach, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Käthe Kollwitz, Bernhard Hoetger, Renée Sintenis, Jacob Epstein and Antoine Bourdelle.
Literature: Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Alfred Döblin, Gottfried Benn, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Camilo José Cela, Georg Trakl, August Stramm, Bertolt Brecht, Max Reinhardt, among others.
Music: Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, Anton von Webern, Kurt Weill.
Cinema: Robert Wiene, Paul Wagener, Fritz Lang, Ewald André Dupont, Robert Siodmak, among others.