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Expressionism (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge)

It is often argued that it’s easier to say what Expressionism was not, rather than to say what it was. Diverse and eclectic, this movement stressed deconstruction rather than building, individuality rather than the communion of feelings and experiences, making it inherently difficult to define.
Some say that rather than being a way to creating art, a distinguished style or method of creations, Expressionism was more of a state of mind. The way artists felt about themselves, their society and the future of that society was more important than the way they expressed that feeling.

Although Expressionists maintain – with a certain amount of truth – that Expressionism had always been present in German arts, no matter how far back one looks. Though 1905 is the generally accepted date of birth of the movement, that is the year when four architecture students established the group of Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden. Their intention was to create something new by looking back at a more authentic life and ways of feeling, one which modern humanity had lost.
The term itself is thought to have been coined by Czech art historian Antonin Matejcek in 1910, primarily to oppose this form of art to Impressionism. Expressionist artists never called themselves such.

German Expressionism was an art that consciously tried to elicit an emotional reaction by creating shock #arts #finearts #modernism #Germany Click To Tweet

In truth, Expressionism had started to manifest even before the beginning of the XX century, in the last stages of Impressionism, to which it consciously opposed itself. While impressionists tried to express the world around them in new, less stylised ways, expressionists sought to express what was inside the human being by projecting it outside. Art came from within them, from their personal experience made universal. They tried to give a visual form to their times of anxiety when German society – like all European societies – was moving from an agricultural lifestyle to new, urban ways of life, with all the sense of alienation, and powerlessness that came with it.
Many expressionist artists took part in WWI. Many lost their lives during the war. The ones who survived turned their attention to the horrors of war, expressing their feelings, their anxiety, their damaged souls with art that consciously tried to elicit an emotional reaction by creating shock.
German Expressionism was primarily a visual arts movement. Its language was one of jarred lines, crooked shapes, violent, unnatural colours. Especially after WWI, it concentrated on the more grotesque physical human characteristics in an expression of the horrors of war that is hard to ignore.

The highest form of Expressionism was probably on stage, in the theatres, but especially in cinema. This medium that was in itself new and unexplored gave the opportunity to create a new language made of the stark contrast between light and shadow and the crocked, alienated, crazy shapes that were common in other expressionist visual arts.
Literature also adhered to Expressionism. It gave voice to the inner feelings of the soul in a hallucinated, often broken narrative that produced stream-of-consciousness pieces rather than true narration.

When Expressionism died is still up for debate. Some critiques say it started to lose steam in the mid-1920s because its abstractedness both of language and concept was difficult to understand to a majority of the public. It is sure, however, that the rise of the Third Reich, which dabbed all modernistic art as degenerated, whipped it away. And so Expressionism, which was the defining visual form of the Weimar Republic, died together with it.


MoMA – German Expressionism
Tate – Art Terms: German Expressionism
Film Inquiry – The Shadow of German Expressionism in Cinema
Owlcation – Impressionism vs. Expressionism
University of Meryland – German Expressionism
The Art Story – Expressionism
Encyclopedia Britannica Online – Expressionism
Artyfactory – Expressionsim
Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism – Expressionism

Expressionism (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge) German Expressionism sought to produce art of the emotions, of frankness and intensity of feeling, and of the deeply personal and spiritual.


  • Kelsey Ketch
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 00:40

    Love learning something new! I don’t even think we covered Expressionism in my 4 years of high school art class.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:33

      Really? Modernism was very relevant here in Europe at that time. Here in Italy, we didnt’ ahve Expressionism, so we didn’t really study it in school. But we had Futurism, which was a kind of equivalent – the forms if not in ideals. We did study that.

    Posted April 5, 2018 at 02:00

    I learn something new every day! But what did I forget to make room for it?

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:46

      Happy you’re enjoying the series, John 🙂

  • Hilary
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 06:31

    Hi Sarah – what an interesting video … I keep mentally going back to an exhibition at the Royal Academy London on Russian art that I saw before I moved over here … for each of your posts on Weimar …

    I’ll need to be back .. cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:47

      Yeah. I’m not very familiar with the Russian art of that period, but I’ve seen a few pieces and yes, there is a connection. Besides, modernistic art movements were florishing all over Europe. We had our own one in Italy too 😉

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 09:45

    Very interesting, to have a form of art bloom and then lose steam in such a short period of time. I love your posts, I am learning a lot 🙂

    The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:49

      Modernistic movements were binded to the time of the war and of that dramatic change. I dont’ think it’s so strange they only lasted as long as the change was happening.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 14:56

    It is fascinating how Expressionism was so closely associated with the focus on the individual that was also part of (or, at least, from my unsophisticated point of view) the whole point of the Weimar Republic. To me, it is reminiscent of the interest in psychoanalysis and the individual’s response to life that was also gaining in popularity at the time. Thanks for this really interesting information!!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 11:21

      It’s ture, eh? If you look at Expressionism in a global way, you see how complex a movement it was and how it touched on so many different aspects of life.

  • Tasha Duncan-Drake
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 15:15

    I’ve never studies the expressionists, I remember doing the Impressionists, Cubists, Pop Artists and Surrealists at A level, but we missed expressionists. I suspect for the reasons you’ve mentioned in that it’s quite hard to define :).
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Movie Monsters

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 14:32

      There were many modernistic movements in Europe at that time. They all had something in common, but were also different. Maybe you only covered a part of them.

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 16:37

    I was watching a programme about Surrealism the other day, which was also talking about the movement being a way of life, a way of thinking, rather than mere art or literature. Two very different art movements, but with dedicated members.
    Ghostly Inspirations – Sophies A to Z

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 14:33

      But then, to some extent, all art movements are also a philosophy of live, dont’ you think?

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 17:24

    Very interesting stuff, that video included. The part where they say that people were feeling isolated despite being surrounded by others, and it made me think that nothing’s really changed since then. And now with the rise of social media, the feeling of isolation might have only deepened.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 14:34

      True. It seems like technology may give us a lot of power, and still it makes us ever lonlier.

  • Kristin
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 20:10

    Edvard Munch and the Scream was what came into my mind when I started reading this post. Then some of the films from you last year A to Z.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 14:38

      There are art critics who consider Munch am expressionist too. But that’s an ongoing debate.
      I think that all art movements at the time moved on the same imputs: reaction to classicism and romanticism, exploration of new forms of producing arts, reaction to the time of the maschine and the loneliness it created in the new urban environment, need to cope with the terrible loss of the war. So, of course, despite their differences, they also had a lot in common.

  • Claire Noland
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 00:16

    Amazing post! Thanks for sharing so much information.

  • Iain Kelly
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 14:57

    From my one trip to Berlin a few years ago there was Expressionism everywhere, both exhibits of earlier work and new modern takes on it. Art wins through in the end.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 14:41

      True 🙂
      Besides, maybe the expressionists were right: Expressionism is an innate German quality 😉

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 17:30

    I love German Expressionism! It’s such a classic manifestation of so many things in the historic German character, as well as an outgrowth of what was happening in that particular era.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 14:44

      You know, I fell in love with German Expressionism (especially the film form) even before I knew what it was. Such striking visulas.
      And you are right. It’s interesting how it expresses something truly and timelessly German and yet a very specific time in history.

  • Evelyne Holingue
    Posted April 7, 2018 at 17:46

    This challenge represents so much research on your part that I really applaud your effort. As you know, it’s often hard to follow everyone when we do the challenge ourselves. This is why you won’t see me every day. But what I do when it’s over is to highlight the bloggers who took the challenge to a unique dimension. I will make sure to showcase yours.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2018 at 09:36

      Thanks so much for the appreciateion, Evelyne.
      And I do understand. This year is particularly hardfor me because work is so hectic. But hopefully I’ll be able to finish the challenge 🙂

  • Birgit
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 05:51

    The expressionist movement was exciting and ahead of its time. Some great artists show here and love it. Of course, I love the movies and how the German Expressionist movement has shownits hold in films like Dracula, Frankenstein and This Old House. I think the film noir comes from this movement as well.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 15:34

      Expressionism was one of my favoruite post from last year 1940s Film Noir series. Such strong visuals.

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