Expressionism was first used as a term at the 1911 Fauvist and Cubist exhibition in Berlin to describe art which distorts reality through exaggeration, vigorous and visible brushwork, and strong color, in order to express an artist's ideas and emotions. Although these tendencies are apparent in art before the 20th century, the term is primarily associated with the German groups, Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, with post First World War German art, and to a lesser extent with the Fauves in France. There were also a number of individuals, working at the same period, who are commonly linked to the movement, including Kokoschka, Rouault, Soutine, and Schiele.
These artists opposed the naturalism of the Impressionists but were inspired by van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, Ensor, and others. They were among the first to appreciate non-European and primitive art forms and also looked to the folk art of their own countries in the belief that spontaneity of feeling was greatest where intellect and training were least. This exploration led to a strong spiritual element in the work of many Expressionists such as Kandinsky, Rouault, and Nolde. It also encouraged an interest in graphic art, particularly woodcuts. Despite their links with the past, Expressionists were at the forefront of modernist developments in painting: artists like Marc and Feininger incorporated Cubist elements into their work and Kandinsky produced early examples of abstraction. But their sympathies, as reflected in their subject matter, were anti-modernist: the industrial city was a place of danger and immorality, the First World War was a personal and international disaster, politics, especially in postwar Germany were corrupt. For some, this state of affairs led to escapism into landscape or a discovery of the self, others experienced an alienation akin to that expressed by Dada and later by the Abstract Expressionists. Expressionism has continued to be influential in later 20th century art.
Expressionism was not purely associated with two-dimensional art. Sculptors such as Barlach, Lehmbruck, and Kollwitz were motivated by aims similar to those of Expressionist painters. In architecture the language of internationalism was strained and distorted by Mendelsohn, Steiner and in some works by Behrens and Mies van der Rohe. Bertolt Brecht, Sean O'Casey and Franz Kafka also explored comparable ideas in literature. In all its forms the movement stood out against fascism and this, together with its so called 'degenerate' qualities (it was anti-Aryan and anti-naturalism) led to the persecution of many Expressionist artists under the Nazi regime.(read less)
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