Artists value color for its expressive force, and have long used it in the services of decoration and greater realism. But in the late nineteenth century, artists began to use color to depict subjective states. At the time, critic Walter Pater... [more]
Artists value color for its expressive force, and have long used it in the services of decoration and greater realism. But in the late nineteenth century, artists began to use color to depict subjective states. At the time, critic Walter Pater declared that great art is made after an examination of "one's own mind" -- not of the physical world.
As Freud's theories of the subconscious inundated intellectual circles, artists reached inward to express a world filtered by psychological response. This idea of a psychological bridge, or "Die Brucke", forged the heart of German Expressionism.
The world these artists saw around themselves was terrifying -- the peak of the Industrial Revolution was nudging nature and indigenous cultures into crises. German Expressionists responded by exalting natural states as utopian, adopting expressive qualities of "primitive" art into their own paintings. Despite the perceived bleakness of their situations, German Expressionists produced works with a definite vitality (the Great War hadn't yet reared its ugly head to quash the idealism).
The movement found outlets in two major wings in Germany. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde were instrumental in Die Brucke, a group centered in 1905 Dresden. Der Blaue Reiter formed six years later in Munich, with Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Franz Marc heading up the group. Both branches railed against bourgeois life and called for a new social order. Kandinsky in particular believed in nonobjective painting, or painting without a recognizable subject. Kandinsky worked wholeheartedly into abstraction, thus bridging the gap from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism.
A classic example of German Expressionism is a 1913 painting by Kirchner entitle "Five Women on the Street." The painting features a group of women, grotesquely distorted as if a product of Kirchner's personal nightmares. The piece is a commentary on social artificiality, rendered in a dreamlike altered state.
World War I, with its horrific brutality and sheer length, drained the movement of its momentum and some of its members. A decimated Germany opened its frail arms to Dada, while many of German Expressionism's pioneers moved to the Bauhaus. [show less]