a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

expressionism


people, terms, and concepts: Expressionism, social criticism, primitivism, the apocalypse (apocalyptic imagery), the Epoch of the Great Spiritual, color vibrations


Recall the idea of expression (ex+pression, pushing out) as one of the major 'modes' of art (along with naturalism and conceptual). In general, twentieth-century Expressionist artists use strategic distortions of the exterior appearance of objects (color, shape, etc.) in order to express their internal feelings about their subject-matter. What are Munch and Kirchner, below, trying to express, for example, and how do they distort the 'normal' appearance of the scenes to do so?

Know the two major themes of much Expressionist art: social criticism (disgust at the moral degeneracy of modern cities and the middle classes) and primitivism (the hope for regeneration by rejecting modern cities, technology, etc., and reverting to a more pure state of nature). Be able to discuss the Kirchner as an example of the former and the Becker as an example of the latter.

Be able to discuss the apocalyptic imagery in Kandinsky's works of the early teens in relation to his belief in a forthcoming Epoch of the Great Spiritual. What apocalyptic imagery can we see in his Improvisation no. 28, below? Know why he eventually rejected the use of subject matter (too materialistic), and instead attempted to convey spirituality through color vibrations.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace, German Expressionism, c. 1905

Kandinsky, Improvisation no. 28 (second version), Russian Expressionism, c. 1915

Kirchner, Street:  Berlin, German Expressionism, c. 1915

Munch, The Scream, Norwegian Expressionism, c. 1895