EXPRESSIONSM, the German art movement and artists, in definitions and meaning
the history of the Expressionist German movement and its painters, in style characteristics and facts
Expressionism was a mainly German modern art movement which started circa 1905 with the start of Brücke in Dresden and Blaue Reiter in Munich. Bendien sees Expressionism as the most emotional and subjective art style of modern art; the emotionally moved Expressionist steep himself in his individual, deepest and most violent emotions. Expressionistic artists are, amongst others, Nolde, Kirchner, Schmidt-Rotluff and Max Beckman , but also the more abstract Expressionists like Kandinsky , Werefkin , Munter, Jawlensky and Franz Marc Franz Marc and others.
The selected art quotes on the modern art movement German Expressionism are produced by the Dutch artist / art critic Jacob Bendien (1890 – 1933); they are taken from his artbook “Trends in the Present Day Art of Painting”, published by W.L & J. Brusse N.V. – Rotterdam 1936, after his death; – the editor.
’Heckle und Mühler beim Schach’, Kirchner 1913
GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM, characteristics, history facts, definitions and meaning of the German art movement
- The Expressionist is looking for a return to our inner, primitive state, in which we feel subordinate to life as a whole and in which we feel the often, ominous powers at work within ourselves, just as we see this in nature around us.
- According to the Expressionist life can only be approached directly through living and not by watching externally, by actively and passively experiencing everything,, everything that stirs and craves and suffers in nature.
-The Expressionist artist looks for the heart of life. The sense he uses to discover this is his own intense will to live, his love of life, which is reflected in the stormiest areas of life.
- Expressionism believes only in the unattainable for the contemplative soul, often the shadowy depths of human nature. It rebels against political correctness, against all philosophical formulas, against all the self-satisfaction of our civilization.
- Expressionistic art is a spontaneous genial grab at life. It is direct syntheses. It is a summary without going into the various elements.
-The Expressionist never wants anything less than the whole. He knows nothing of a carefully considered approach.
- Expressionism is the only modern art movement that more or less ignores the contemplative mind.
- At first he finds freedom to move unhampered outside in natural surroundings. Or rather, the Expressionist inhabits the border of nature and culture, much like young people after puberty in their ‘Sturm & Drang’ period, but then the other way round – with their faces turned to nature.
- It is based on this great nostalgia for our basic, primitive existence, before we understood how to control natural forces with machines and instruments with miraculous results. They long for the existence that was controlled by natural forces. Before we knew about the Taylor system and were turned into machines to gain results. When we still laughed when we had fun, and not when it was decided by social etiquette. Sadly, this life has been totally lost.
- Expressionism is direct and spontaneous, with or without any bearing on reality; without the lengthy, careful consideration that characterized New Objectivity, and without artistic painting systems as used in Futurism.
- When an Expressionist paints a sheep being torn up and eaten by a wolf, he does not paint a sheep and a wolf with so many legs, nails, long or short fur; no he paints being torn up or tearing up and devouring.
- Just like the sheep, he does not ask himself whether or not the wolf is cruel. Neither is he interested in beauty or ugliness…… if we are devouring or being devoured nothing else exists at that moment. Anything we think of afterwards and work into the painting has no value for the Expressionist.
- The construction of an Expressionistic work of art is not a carefully considered build up, but rather the action itself set out in bold suggestive lines. Color and transference, all are only an expression of the event itself as experienced by the artist in Expressionism.
- Christianity, with its total surrender. With its ‘ he who loses himself will find himself’, is pre-eminently a religion for Expressionists. The dramatic and deep passion in Christian religion fulfills his craving for emotion.
- Even when the Expressionist is painting a non-religious subject, it is still always the abandonment he expresses. His work is nearly always internally monumental, powerful, essential and total; at least one feels that the artist experiences it in this way. In spite of the spontaneous nature the work always seems heavy.
- The Expressionist is tyrannical in his abandonment. Whether he paints a battle scene or a potted plant, he is immediately in full action. Each painting is dramatized by his passionate will to envelope the subject. Sometimes the will is a passion to serve, as with Van Gogh, a predecessor of Expressionism.
- Expressionism has a blind faith in its naturalness and spontaneity. It distrusts all ethical idealism. It has a raging desire to unmask everything to do with culture.
- Even though the Expressionist condemns, perhaps rightly, the narrowness of culture, we could ask ourselves whether nature offers many possibilities to those who have already been introduced to cultural life? Very often limits create conditions upon which life can further develop…..
- The Expressionist who outgrows his natural state and ignores his cultural limits, has lost any reference point and stands before an empty space. Here he has the freedom for his broad, pathetic gesture.
- However, two streams (in Expressionism, fh)can be clearly defined: namely the movement where power dominates (Schmidt-Rotluff, Pechstein, etc.) and the movement in which openness/susceptibility dominates (Nolde, Munch etc.) The lines in the power stream are taut as opposed to the lines in the more receptive (….expressionistic artists, fh.), which are like aimless detours in space.
- For Expressionists the line is mainly an expression of emotion, temperament, or passion. They distinguish especially rage lines, calm, ecstatic, doubtful, happy, depressed lines etc.
- Expressionists often chose sharp contrasts in their search for emotive colors. Their colors are often sombre or vague with sudden, bright flashes. Particularly when they portray cultural life, they reflect their sombre view of this cultural life. In abstract paintings and paintings of natural scenes however, the colors in expressionism tend to be idyllically joyous (like those of Jawlensky, Marinanne Werefkin, Franz Marc and Kirchner for instance, fh).
- The most important art painting method for Expressionists is rhythm. The relative poverty of possibilities offered by this method forms no objection to giving this a dominant function. The main point is the suggestive working, the enthusiasm that caused suspicion by the more contemplative movements.
-It is difficult to precisely distinguish between the three revolutionary movements, Expressionism, Dada, and Surrealism. Serious Expressionists like Nolde and Schmidt-Rotluff, will not easily be confused with Dada or Surrealism. But the more subtle Expressionists will often be considered as Surrealists. And a few of the serious Surrealists like Masson and Bores are sometimes considered as Expressionists.
N.B. Artists from the art group the ‘Blaue Reiter’ who tended to abstraction, such as Franz Marc, Marianne Werefkin, Jawlensky and even Kandinsky, are seen by Jacob Bendien as real Expressionists (fh).
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by Jacob Bendien
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