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Concerning The Spiritual In Art With Vassily Kandinsky

yellow-red-blue by vassily kandinsky

Perhaps the greatest meditation on how art serves the soul came in 1910, when Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky published The Art of Spiritual Harmony, an exploration of the deepest and most authentic motives for making art.

Uber Das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) completed in 1910

A pioneering work in the movement to free art from its traditional bonds to material reality is one of the most important documents in the history of modern art. It explains Kandinsky’s own theory of painting and crystallizes the great ideas that were influencing many other modern artists.

Kandinsky’s words were written in the period between the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the consumer society, ring with remarkable poignancy today.

Kandinsky’s ideas are presented in two parts. In the first part called “About General Aesthetics’’, issues a call for a spiritual revolution in painting that will let artists express their own inner lives in abstract, non-material terms.

Just as musicians do not depend upon the material world for their music, so artists should not have to depend upon the material world for their art. In the other part, “About Painting’’, Kandinsky discusses the psychology of colors, the language of form and color and the responsibilities of the artist.

 

Several Circles - Wassily Kandinsky
Several Circles – Wassily Kandinsky

He begins by considering art as a spiritual antidote to the values of materialism and introduces the conception of ‘’stimmung’’, an almost untranslatable concept, best explained as the essential spirit of nature. He considers that in great art, the spectator, as a viewer, or a witness, does feel a corresponding thrill in himself.

Such harmony or even contrast of emotion cannot be superficial or worthless; stimmung of a picture can purify the spectator. Such works of art at least preserve the soul of coarseness, they ‘’key it up’’ to a certain height, as a tuning-key the strings of a musical instrument.

Regarding the tendency of the general public to reduce art to technique and skill, Kandinsky argues that its true purpose is entirely different and adds to art history one of the most beautiful definitions of art:

“In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whether is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art’’

the blue rider by wassily kandinsky
The Blue Rider – Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky admonishes, the conception of l’art pour l’art– art for art’s sake, produces a neglect of inner meanings, a lament perhaps even more sad and ominous in our age of permanent commodification of art as a thing to transact around- to own, to purchase, to display, rather than an experience to have.

The spiritual life to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement upwards and forwards. That movement is the movement of experience, it may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.

As an explanation, Kandinsky offers a visual metaphor for the spiritual experience and how it relates to the conception of genius:

’The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.

The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.

At the apex of the top segment, only one man often stands. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman.

(—)In every segment of the triangle are artists. Each one of them who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to those about him, and helps the advance of the obstinate whole.

But those who are blind, or those who retard the movement of the triangle for baser reasons, are fully understood by their fellows and acclaimed for their genius. The greater the segment, so the greater the number who understand the words of the artist…’’

 

sky blue kandinsky
Sky Blue – Wassily Kandinsky

For Kandinsky, art is a kind of spiritual anchor when all other certitudes of life are unhinged by social and cultural upheaval:

“When religion, science and morality are shaken … and when the outer supports threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt.

They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand, they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.’’

But, despite this eternal spiritual element, Kandinsky recognizes that all art is inescapably a product of its time. Examining the music of Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg, each celebrated as a genius in his own right, he wrote that “the various arts of today learn from each other and often resemble each other… The greatest freedom of all, the freedom of an unfettered art, can never be absolute.

Every age achieves a certain measure of this freedom, but beyond the boundaries of its freedom the mightiest genius can never go. But the measure of freedom of each age must be constantly enlarged’’ and he also adds that the cross-pollination of the different arts can inform and inspire one another… “The arts are encroaching one upon another, and from a proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly monumental.

Every man who steeps himself in the spiritual possibilities of his art is a valuable helper in the building of the spiritual pyramid which will some day reach to heaven.’’

 

yellow-red-blue by vassily kandinsky
Yellow-Red-Blue by Vassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was synesthetic, greatly influenced by Goethe’s theory of the emotional effect of color. He considers the powerful psychic effect of color in the cohesive spiritual experience of art: “Many colors have been described as rough or sticky, others as smooth and uniform, so that one feels inclined to stroke them (e.g., dark ultramarine, chromic oxide green, and rose madder).

Equally the distinction between warm and cold colors belongs to this connection. Some colors appear soft (rose madder), others hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that even fresh from the tube they seem to be dry.

The expression “scented colors” is frequently met with. And finally the sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark lake in the treble…Color is a power which directly influences the soul.

Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.’’

Considering the color and the form, and defining form as ‘’the outward expression of inner meaning”, Kandinsky examines their interplay in creating a spiritual effect: “This essential connection between color and form brings us to the question of the influences of form on color.

Form alone, even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. A triangle (without the accessory consideration of its being acute — or obtuse — angled or equilateral) has a spiritual value of its own.

In connection with other forms, this value may be somewhat modified, but remains in quality the same. The case is similar with a circle, a square, or any conceivable geometrical figure, a subjective substance in an objective shell-The mutual influence of form and color now becomes clear.

A yellow triangle, a blue circle, a green square, or a green triangle, a yellow circle, a blue square—all these are different and have different spiritual values.’’

 

Composition-VI
Composition VI – Wassily Kandinsky

Considering the inherent aesthetic intelligence of nature, he returns to his piano metaphor: “Every object has its own life and therefore its own appeal; man is continually subject to these appeals. But the results are often dubbed either sub- or super-conscious.

Nature, that is to say the ever-changing surroundings of man, sets in vibration the strings of the piano (the soul) by manipulation of the keys (the various objects with their several appeals)’’

There is no ‘’must’’ in art, because it springs from an inner need – the psychological trifecta built up of three mystical elements:

  • Every artist, as a creator, has something in him which calls for expression( the element of personality)
  • Every artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of his age( the element of style), dictated by the period and nationality to which the artist belongs
  • Every artist, as a servant of art has to help the cause of art( the element of pure artistry); it is constant in all ages and among all nationality
Improvisation 28 (Second Version)
Improvisation 28 (Second Version) – Vassily Kandinsky

Sharing in Schopenhauer’s skepticism about style, Kandinsky predicts that only the third element “which knows neither period nor nationality’’, accounts for the timeless in art:

“In the past and even today much talk is heard of “personality” in art. Talk of the coming “style” becomes more frequent daily. But for all their importance today, these questions will have disappeared after a few hundred or thousand years.

Only the third element ( pure artistry) will remain forever. An Egyptian carving speaks to us today more subtly than it did to its chronological contemporaries; for they judged it with the hampering knowledge of period and personality.

But we can judge purely as an expression of the eternal artistry.

Similarly — the greater the part played in a modern work of art by the two elements of style and personality, the better will it be appreciated by people today; but a modern work of art which is full of the third element, will fail to reach the contemporary soul.

For many centuries have to pass away before the third element can be received with understanding. But the artist in whose work this third element predominates is the really great artist.’’

Furthermore, Kandinsky points out, the true artist gives credence only to that inner need, and not to the expectation and conventions of the time. “The artist must be blind to distinctions between “recognized” or “unrecognized” conventions of form, deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age.

He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and hearken to its words alone. Then he will with safety employ means both sanctioned and forbidden by his contemporaries.’’

 

decisive pink kandinsky
Decisive Pink – Wassily Kandinsky

This is the reason why theory invariably fails to capture the essential impulse in art, and he offers a beautiful disclaimer of his own theoretical treatise: “It is impossible to theorize about this ideal of art.

In real art theory does not precede practice, but follows her. Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling. Any theoretical scheme will be lacking in the essential of creation — the inner desire for expression — which cannot be determined.

Neither the quality of the inner need, nor its subjective form, can be measured nor weighed.’’

He also considers the paradox of what we refer to us as ‘’beauty’’, which is more of a theoretical agreement based on convention, rather than a true spiritual response ‘’ “Outer need” … never goes beyond conventional limits, nor produces other than conventional beauty.

The “inner need” knows no such limits, and often produces results conventionally considered “ugly.” But “ugly” itself is a conventional term, and only means “spiritually unsympathetic,” being applied to some expression of an inner need, either outgrown or not yet attained.

But everything which adequately expresses the inner need is beautiful…which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul’’.

 

movement 1 wassily kandinsky
Movement 1 – Wassily Kandinsky

Reflecting on the birthplace of art, Kandinsky return to the conception of a creative freedom: “The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being.

Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one.

If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life.’’

Eventually, he brings everything full-circle to the metaphor of the spiritual triangle, reexamining the essence of art and the core responsibility of the artist:

‘’Art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul …If art refrains from doing this work, a chasm remains unbridged, for no other power can take the place of art in this activity.

And at times when the human soul is gaining greater strength, art will also grow in power, for the two are inextricably connected and complementary one to the other. Conversely, at those times when the soul tends to be choked by material disbelief, art becomes purposeless and talk is heard that art exists for art’s sake alone…

 

braunlich
Braunlich – Wassily Kandinksy

It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose.

He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.

(…) The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling, and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to arise, that he is free in art but not in life’’.

More On Kandinsky:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edVdgH-pgZ8 

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

andy-warhol-eating-a-hamburger

Two of the biggest art movements that have dominated the twentieth century are Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.

While stylistically very different, both movements compliment each other and reflect the ever-increasing complexity that the 20th century saw with industrialization and globalization.

What is Abstract Expressionism?

Abstract Expressionism (AKA The New York School) came out of America, in New York as part of a post World War II painting movement during the last part 1940’s.

Abstract Expressionism was the first state-side art movement to achieve international attention, making New York the center of the art world within western culture and now in a place to compete internationally with Paris.

abstract-expressionism-vs-pop-art

The movement moved quickly throughout the United States with San Fransisco area soon becoming an artistic hub for Abstract Expressionism as well.

Pop art, however emerged nearly a decade later in the mid-1950’s in Britain and later made it to the United States during the late 1950’s were it really took its roots.

With these two movements closely overlapping, it is important to understand the differences and similarities of these movements and their context within contemporary art history.

Here is a short documentary about abstract expressionist Carlos Garcia de la Nuez, just to get your mind percolating and give you a glimpse into the process that an abstract expressionist artist uses.

Non-Representational Art

In Abstract Expressionism there is no representation of person, place, or object.

With a focus on spontaneous, subconscious expression; Abstract Expressionism focuses on the medium itself and exists without representation of subject.

That is to say that these paintings make no attempt to capture the reality of the physical world.

Because of this, as well as Modernist influences, abstract expressionists believe that when you create art you should create art that can only be done using that medium.

In this way, Abstract Expressionism is a celebration of the medium.

For example: Jackson Pollock created engaging, complex paintings by dripping paint onto canvas, as well Mark Rothko who largely created works of large coloured blocks on coloured grounds.

Here is a work entitled Excavation, by Willem de Kooning showing some of the characteristics of the style…

excavation-by-willem-de-kooning


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Abstract Expressionism Isn’t Art

Of course, there are many critics, many of them armchair critics but also some scholars (*ie. Edward T. Kelly), who like to mock the expressionists for their apparent lack of talent, saying that abstract expressionism isn’t art.

It is perhaps easy to see why people would mock the expressionists, in that abstract expressionist artwork is not at all similar to typical realist paintings people have seen throughout history.

There are often no people, or things that are recognizable on the canvas, and this results in frustration, confusion, and anger.

Abstract expressionists often approach their work in a way that many have described as childish, or easy to imitate.

Detractors of abstract expressionism are quick to point out that even they could do this type of art.

In addition to all of this debate, Abstract Expressionists have proudly created art void of any notion that it was the artist’s job to interpret their art, which only serves to make matters worse for the viewing public.

They instead left interpretation to their viewer, and often that conclusion is a strong dislike for the work, as the viewer has no way “in”.

While Abstract Expressionism has been highly regarded for its merit within the art community, it may be inaccessible to a wider audience outside of the art community who may be seeking something tangible within art which they can relate to.

Watch this TED Talk which discusses the idea that even your cat could be an abstract expressionist, should they so desire to be.

What is Pop Art?

In contrast to this, Pop Art typically has a very clear subject in its works. In many ways, Pop Art was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism.

Rather than trying to create art that is a reflection of the medium, Pop Art typically used screen printing in order to mass produce its works.

You Can’t Talk About Pop Art And Not Mention Andy Warhol

While Abstract Expressionism created a void of interpretation; Pop Art had themes of consumerism and commentary on mass production deeply ingrained into nearly every piece to come out of the movement.

Pop Art draws on recognizable figures from mass media, and draws the audience in with the familiar but challenges them by having it presented in a new, novel fashion.

In fact, in his now famous studio simply called ‘the factory’, Andy Warhol had a production line of artists creating his now iconic art work.

With Andy, it didn’t stop at mass producing artwork and even getting others to do the work for him (while still calling it his own), he touched on other mediums such as film, of which he has several underground “classics” as well, such as his film about the Empire State Building, which literally watches the lofty structure for 485 minutes.

Another famous artist from the pop art movement, Roy Lichtenstein, combined hand painting with the mass production style of pop-art. He would create the initial image by hand, and then project it onto canvas in order to trace the image.

His art was in the style of mass-produced comic book style and never before seen within the art community.

Roy Lichtenstein - Live Ammo (Blang!), 1962

Pop Art Vs. Abstract Expressionism

While Abstract Expressionism works explored art in it’s purest form (authentic, expressive, void of meaning); Pop Art challenged what one can consider to be art by using images appropriated from our culture that exist all around us.

Because of this, some critics were enraged by the Pop Art movement as they did not feel that the image of a soup can, nor comic book images to have artistic merit. (*see this article for more details: http://pages.erau.edu/~pratta/warhol/critics.htm)

So, while abstract expressionism seemed to really irritate people for one reason, pop art had a similar effect, but for entirely different reasons.

One reason we can isolate, perhaps, is that Andy Warhol had the gall to eat a burger and film it. The ending really is the best part here, as those of you with a healthy sense of irony and cynicism will no doubt realize.

Colors That Rankle The Serious Observer

The use of flat bold colours and sharp edge, caused additional criticism to pop art as it looked more like design than any recognizable art at the time. However, Pop Art was providing a much needed commentary on art.

Not only that, it was doing so in a very fun, light hearted way.

In addition to providing commentary, Pop Art moved away from Abstract Expressionism in that by using contemporary images that were familiar to people which in turn made it much more accessible than Abstract Expressionism.

1950s-pop-art

This is not to say that Abstract Expressionism was not without it’s critics, Abstract Expressionism was challenging artistic conventions in its own way, with many critics feeling that the works were overly simplistic, and that it strayed too far from what was what had been established as art.

While both are stylistically divergent, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism can be seen as providing similar artistic catharsis by challenging artistic norms and creating a dialogue.

It is fascinating that they are able to achieve this both while being stylistically and conceptually separate from one another.

We’ll leave you with this for now. Art about art. How postmodern!

Robert Rauschenberg – The Controversy of Being Yourself

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What Is Expressionism In Art?

metropolis-george-grosz-1917

Expressionism is one of a number of art “isms” from the early 20th Century.

The movement developed between 1905 and the 1920s and reflecting a number of crucial themes. Artists were deeply concerned about the state of the world and modern city life.

Despite having some doubts about Modernity, artists were still captivated by the more “immoral” activities of modern life.

Later Expressionist work responded to the aftermath of World War I and its devastating effect on humanity. Most Expressionists were German, although other artists worked out of Russia, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Austria. The movement was adopted in film, music, art and architecture.

Directors like Robert Weine and Fritz Lang used Expressionism in their set design, costume and marketing.

Here’s Robert Weine’s film “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” from 1920. As you will see, the aesthetic of expressionism hints at darker themes, and traces of madness and illusion.

With expressionist architecture, there was a similar leaning as with film in that architects were concerned with new forms, innovation, but also a certain oddness that permeates some of the greatest works.

Architects like Bruno Taut and Erich Mendelsohn also began to explore Expressionism, creating two of the most iconic works of the day.

Perhaps you are familiar with Bruno Taut’s “Glass Pavilion” from 1914 (shown below).

taut_glass_pavilion_exterior_1914

…or Erich Mendelsohn’s The Einstein Tower…

the-einstein-tower

At the turn of the century, a shift in style lead Expressionists to reject Impressionist ideas.

Where Impressionism was a more optical response to art, Expressionist art became more visceral. These artists wanted to capture more than mere fleeting moments in time.

They set about placing spirituality and authenticity back into art.

With Claude Monet’s famous “Bridge Over A Pond Of Water” from 1899, we see an artist who is attempting to visually capture the essence of a place, using light and color, and is arguably the opposite of the type of more symbolic and deeply personal work that the Expressionists would explore not long after this time.

bridge-over-a-pond-of-water-lilies

This desire to look “inward” began around 1890. Post-impressionists like Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh questioned Impressionism’s need to only paint what they saw. Instead, they considered emotions, memories, and their background in order to connect to viewers on a deeper level.

By using colour and shape they expressed how they felt about the world around them. Paintings became more abstracted than before, and the artists started to look at the way paint was applied to the canvas surface.

Take a look at Paul Cezanne’s “Les Joueur De Cartes”, from 1892-95.

paul_cezanne_1892-95_les_joueurs_de_carte_the_card_players_60_x_73_cm_oil_on_canvas_courtauld_institute_of_art_london

So how did the Expressionists set about making their work feel more authentic? One way was to look at different cultures displayed in museums and at world fairs.

Primitive art from both Oceania and Africa influenced the painting of faces and bodies.

19th-century-african-mask

Another way Expressionists made their art more “real” was by tapping into the intensity of their own emotions. Expressionism became an intensely personal body of work for these artists.

Artists began to express their own reactions to the world with swirls and vigorous brush strokes.

New technology and massive urbanization altered peoples’ worldview, and the Expressionists were no exception. This migration to the larger cities brought new social problems that artists showed in their work.

New Schools For Artistic Expression

New schools of creative thought also emerged.

Die Brücke (The Bridge) was formed in Dresden in 1905 continuing until 1913. The renowned artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner became the group’s spiritual conscience, and insisted on artists expressing their inner thoughts.

The work produced in Dresden mashed German art and Primitive African art with post-impressionist and fauvist influences.

die brucke

Other shared studios emerged in Berlin and Munich. Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1911-14) was named after Kandinsky’s painting that graced the cover of the group’s manifesto.

The school was established in Munich during 1911 where August Macke, Paul Klee and Franz Marc were major contributors .

These artists would become some of the most important artists of the movement.

blauereiter

New Objectivity

The third key group of Expressionists ran out of Berlin.

The New Objectivity movement included Otto Dix and George Grosz who added a strong sense of Realism to their art. Their work was often satirical, commenting on wartime and post-war corruption.

This resignation and cynicism is seen in both Dix’s and Grosz’s works. Their “visual commentary” was aimed at the fruitlessness of World War I, and those who profited from the war.

Certain common characteristics are found across most Expressionist work. When you find yourself looking at any Expressionist work consider:

  • Expressionists were more spontaneous than other movements, and this is seen in the wildness of the brush strokes of many artists.
  • Colour – strong, vivid colours were used in much of the work, linking Expressionism to the Fauves’ use of intense colour.
  • Urban subject matter – including responses to migration, and the changes in technology and society at the time. The Expressionists has much to draw upon!
  • Objects were painted from an emotional inner sanctum. The artist drew upon this powerful emotion, often at the sacrifice of accuracy.
  • Figures and objects were often distorted and exaggerated (like that found in Oceanic and African Primitivist artefacts).
  • The importance of achieving harmony of forms was less important. Instead Expressionists concentrated on the highest intensity of expression possible
  • Swirls and the exaggeration of brush stroke create a sense of agitation. These techniques add to the vivid, jarring, distorted and exaggerated appearance of these works.
  • Extreme angles
  • Flattened forms

Themes -The City, Modernity and Alienation

metropolis-george-grosz-1917

The urban landscape of the early 20th Century became food for thought for some Expressionists.

They started to paint their own reactions to the troubles of the modern world. These “painted social criticisms” of Modernity, highlighted the alienation of individuals who lived within the city.

This was seen in paintings by artists like George Grosz. His work commented on the social decay, alienation, and the corrupting force of Capitalism.

Grosz’ paintings of prostitution for example, are visual commentaries on this social and moral decay.

Expressionist Works

Here is a selection of key Expressionist artists and their works. There are many great Expressionist paintings out there. Unfortunately, there are too many to show here.

This is a small representative sample of different artistic styles from leading artists who worked within this movement.

Oskar Kokoschka – The Tempest (The Bride of the Wind), 1914

bride-of-the-wind-1914

(Characteristics: swirling forms, strong colour, spontaneous and exaggerated brush strokes, intensity of expression, flattening of forms)


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz, 1912

kirchner_ernst_ludwig_3

(Characteristics: use of colour, the city as subject, strange distorted angles, exaggeration, flattening of the space)

Also by Kirchner is “Street, Berlin” from 1913…

(Characteristics: use of vivid colour, the city as subject, dense angular forms, flattened forms, influence of primitivism, jagged strokes, urban subject matter – a Berlin Street, including prostitutes)

Emile Nolde, A Long Time

a-long-time-emil-nolde

(Characteristics: use of vivid colour, expressive vigorous brush stokes, flattened forms)


Emil Nolde, The Prophet, 1912

emil-nolde-the-prophet

(Characteristics: the use of the wood cut was often used in Expressionist work. Jagged and distorted angles, Primitivism – a mask-like face, intense emotional impact- shown in the sunken eyes and hollow face, flattened form)


Wassily Kandinsky, Munich Schwabing Church of St Ursula

munich-schwabing-with-the-church-of-st-ursula-1908

(Characteristics: vivid strong colours, jagged angles of the buildings, flattening of form, spontaneous brushwork, urban subject – the factory and modernity)


Wassily Kandinsky, Concert

wassily-kandinsky-concert

(Characteristics: Clear use of bold vibrant colours, flattened space, expression of intensity, exaggeration of brush strokes)


August Macke, St Mary’s with Houses and Chimney, 1911

st-mary-s-with-houses-and-chimney-bonn

(Characteristics: strong use of colour, urban subject matter, distortion flattened forms, angular)


August Macke, Promenade, 1913

macke_promenade_gross

(Characteristics: flattened forms, distortion, bold and vivid colours, urban setting (walking in the Gardens), swirls and exaggerated brush strokes)


Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horse, 1911

franz-marc-the-large-blue-horses-1911-1349034265_b

(Characteristics: bold vibrant colours- purples reds pinks oranges and yellows, swirling motion of brush)


George Grosz, Suicide, 1916

george-grosz-suicide-1916

(Characteristics: Urban setting (alienation of his work seen in the dead man and the prostitute), vivid strong colours, extreme angles, flattened forms, jagged jarring and distorted)


George Grosz, Explosion, 1917

george-grosz-explosion-1917

This painting is also influenced by the Italian Futurists who were trying to capture the speed and violence of the city.

(Characteristics: Urban setting, vivid strong colours, extreme angles, flattened forms, jagged jarring and distorted)


Otto Dix, Picture of the Journalist Sylvia von Hardern, 1926

portrait-of-the-journalist-sylvia-von-harden-by-otto-dix

(Characteristics: Urban subject- journalist, flattened figure, distortion(face) and Primitive mask-like quality, intense use of strong colour, exaggeration of form (hands))

Other Expressionists worth investigating include: Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, Lionel Feininger, Paul Klee, Max Pechstein, and Czech Alfred Kubin …

Expressionism’s Power To Influence

Expressionism inspired the work of new generations of expressionists in the second half of the Twentieth Century, namely Abstract Expressionists and Neo-expressionists.

Abstract Expressionism (AbEx)

Abstract Expressionism surfaced in the USA around 1945 and was particularly strong in New York during the post war period. The emotional outpourings of the artists have often been linked to the feelings of disillusionment, and horror, experienced after two world wars.

Mark Rothko, Light Red Over Black, 1967

light-red-over-black

Characteristics & Background

  • Developed in the U.S. that had now become the centre of avant-garde art in the world.
  • included work by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, amongst others
  • lack of defined figures
  • very gestural strokes of the paint brush, linked to earlier Expressionism
  • use of colour an essential part of the work
  • divided into colour-field painters, (Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman) and the more gestural works (Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning)

Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1952

Characteristics & Background

  • Rooted in German Expressionism and hit the world stage during the 1970s
  • Movement include US artists but also German, Italian and French artists
  • Revival of formal elements of both Expressionism and AbEx
  • Re-establishing subjectivist approach and the return to more personal expression by the artist
  • Flashy textural brush work and distorted figures re-emerge for the Expressionist movement
  • Works by Julian Schnabel and Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Francesco Clemente in particular

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (809-4),1994

gerhard-richter-abstract-painting-809-4

Read our article, https://davidcharlesfox.com/comparing-abstract-expressionism-pop-art/