What is Expressionism in Painting?

 

Wassily Kandinsky, Reiter
Wassily Kandinsky, Reiter

Expressionism is an international art movement from the late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century that allowed the artists of the time to do exactly what is suggested by the name, express themselves. They expressed themselves through painting, literature, architecture, and performance. These artists felt that their work needed to describe the world, not as it is seen by the human eye, but how it is perceived through raw emotion. This form of art has had its hold in the more modern art as well, and several of the paintings that line the walls of famous museums such as The Louvre and MOMA are Expressionist pieces. Unfortunately, the movement was cut short with the advent of World War II, when many of the practitioners were forced to leave Germany in search of less dangerous surroundings. So to answer the question what is Expressionism in painting, this article will focus on what is considered one of the most influential movements in the art world. It will be an analysis of what Expressionism is and who the standout artists of the time were.

August Macke, Self-Portrait with Hat
August Macke, Self-Portrait with Hat

History and Expressionism

As mentioned above, Expressionism is an art movement that started in the late 19th century and flowed into the early part of the 20th century. It was virtually finished by the second World War and the Nazi Regime, although many Expressionists did flee Germany for other countries, including the United States. Many famous artists were a part of this movement, which was centered mostly in Germany, although recognized and practiced worldwide.

Instead of painting the world as everyone saw it, artists during this time seemed to trickle back down to the basics and used more primitive styles of painting to express the world as they felt it. Broad brush strokes, flattened characters, geometric ornamentation, garish colors, and extreme angles are some of the characteristics of Expressionist paintings. The Expressionist painting showed the anxiety and torment of what these artists were feeling at the time. Within the umbrella of Expressionism were several groups of artists, such as Der Blaue Reiter, Phalanx, Neue, and Die Brueke. These were mostly based in Germany.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorfplatz
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorfplatz

Famous Expressionists

When researching to find out more on the topic of famous artists and specifically what is Expressionism in painting, there are probably several names that you will encounter that will be familiar to you. This is a list of some of the most important Expressionists throughout history.

First on the list is Vincent van Gogh. Although he is not a pure Expressionist painter, he influenced profoundly the Expressionist art. Vincent van Gogh’s story seems one of sorrow. He did not begin painting until the last 10 years of his life, some of which was spent in an asylum due to the many afflicting mental ailments that he suffered.

Van Gogh’s Expressionist style included using broad brushstrokes and the colors red and green. His depression and melancholy can be seen in works such as Wheatfield with Crows where the viewer is presented with a menacing sky and dead-end path. The sky is ominously filled with crows, a dark omen. This is van Gogh’s final contribution to the world and fully expresses the idea of Expressionism on painting.

Edvard Munch, The Scream
Edvard Munch, The Scream

Next is Edvard Munch, who is most known for his painting, The Scream, which depicts the artist walking across a bridge in Oslo, reflecting on the way he saw the injustices afforded to his community during the time. Munch used garish colors and simplified forms in his painting, which is a key characteristic of Expressionism.

Another key Expressionist is Wassily Kandinsky. He is most known for being the first to create a purely abstract piece of art. He used a lot of geometric shapes and several colors in his painting. One of his most recognized pieces of art is Squares with Concentric Circles.

Francis Bacon is one of the more modern Expressionist painters. His painting depicts raw imagery and geometric shapes. His feelings can be felt through his painting. Like with others in the Expressionist movement, Bacon focused on the melancholy and somber. His paintings depict death and suffering. He is most known for Crucifixion.

Rounding out our list is Gabriele Munter, the only female on the list. She is most famous for her flat figures, collapsed pictorial space, and muted colors.

Egon Schiele, Portrait of Eduard Kosmack
Egon Schiele, Portrait of Eduard Kosmack

Influences of Expressionist painting on Modern Art

One of the most influenced groups of artists are those of Post-war New York City, who practiced and sometimes rejected Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism developed in New York City in the 1940s and lasted through the 1960s. The artists of the time focused on a combination of Expressionism and Surrealism and included a hodgepodge of artists from both movements.

George Grosz and Otto Dix used Expressionism to develop a new blend of the art movement to combat their views on socialism. Other subsets of Expressionism formed later as Neo-Expressionism. This time frame popped up in the 1960s and continued on through the 1980s. Neo-Expressionism was characterized by unnatural color palettes, layers of paint, and gestural brushstrokes.

Where can you learn more?

Art and art history are important parts of the world we live in. If it wasn’t for movements such as Expressionism, Surrealism, Impressionism, Cubism, Modernism, and so many more, we would not be able to understand the world as it was or see how it influences the world we live in today. Art portrays so much of the past, and we are able to learn from what creative minds laid down on canvas. It also helps us to see the symbolism of the world around us.

If you can dedicate the time to really learning about expressionism and specifically what is expressionism in painting, taking an online course through Coursera is an excellent choice. Coursera is an online database of classes tailored specifically to the experience that you want to have in your individualized education. Pricing varies, depending on your intent, as does the length of each course you decide to attend.

Coursera offers a user-friendly platform that features videos, worksheets, lectures, and graded work, for paid curriculums. If you decide that you just want to take a course, but not pay the fee to receive a certificate of completion, you can audit the course. Coursera works with a wide range of universities and professors from several countries worldwide to create a huge network of classes and programs.

There are several courses that you can take through Coursera that will provide you with an in-depth education in art or art history. By searching “art” in Coursera, you are returned with a list of more than 500 class offerings in the area of art. Art history yields several responses as well. These classes are available with subtitles for several languages and fall into several different subcategories, including Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical Science and Engineering, and Business. Course offerings include Graphic Design, Modern Art and Ideas, Indigenous Canada, and several others.

If art and art history is something that you are interested in, you should stop by Coursera and register to take part in one of the classes. Coursera offers a two-week grace period, if you find that you are not committed to taking a class through the program, or if something comes up after you have applied for and paid for the class, you can get a full course refund within the first two weeks of starting the class.

If you want to continue after signing up, you will receive a certificate of completion. There are several free sectors of the curriculum as well. If you audit the course or decide to take a free version of the class, you can still receive a certificate, but there is a price tag associated with it. Continuing to learn throughout life is an important skill to have. Coursera can help you achieve your goals in art and art history and expand your horizons. Learning about different movements in art history can help you to understand our more modern world.

 

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