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Expressionism... Convey Solely Inner Life

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Expressionism is an artistic style in which the artist expresses not the objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse within a person.

Although the Impressionists used to produce art related to the physical body, the artists of Expressionist paintings used paint to convey solely inner life.

The tendency towards Expressionism in Van Gogh's post-impressionistic artworks like "The Potato Eaters, Portrait of Père Tanguy, L'Arlésienne, At Eternity's Gate" is obvious.

In Van Gogh's paintings, we see one of the early beginnings of expressionism, which focuses on painting feelings, with remarkably spontaneous Brushstrokes, while realistic color tones are not the challenge for the artist.

At Eternity's Gate, Artist Vincent van GoghYear1890 Medium Oil on canvas Dimensions 80 cm × 64 cm Location Kröller-Müller Museum
At Eternity's Gate, Artist Vincent van Gogh Year1890 Medium Oil on canvas

Expressionism was a dominant style in Germany in the years immediately following World War I, where it suited the postwar atmosphere of cynicism, alienation, and disillusionment.

artists used the expressive possibilities of color and line to explore dramatic and emotion-laden themes and to convey the qualities of fear, horror, and other human feelings.

Expressionists used jagged, distorted lines; rough, rapid brushwork; and jarring colors to depict urban street scenes and other contemporary subjects in crowded, agitated compositions notable for their instability and their emotionally charged atmosphere.

The Night (1918-19) by Max Beckmann
The Night (1918-19) by Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann was a German painter, writer, and sculptor who was known for the dramatized nightlife, and mythical or biblical scenes in his work.

Although he is broadly labeled as an expressionist painter, he rejected the movement and denied being a part of it. Beckmann often depicted his own face in his work, which can be identified by a frowning face with a large head.

The Night was a product of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity movement, which was established as an anti-expressionist rebellion. The piece features sharp angles and chaotic, overlapping figures as an expression of Beckmann’s disenchantment with life in postwar Germany.

The piece portrays gruesome elements of sex, death, and violence, drawing attention to the overstimulation and obscenity of modern society.

Picasso, expressionism, The Old Guitarist painting by Picasso
The Old Guitarist

The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, just after the suicide death of Picasso's close friend, Casagemas.

During this time, Picasso's main focus was on representing the miseries of the poor, the ill, and those cast out of society. This bent and sightless man holds close to him a large, round guitar.

Its brown body represents the painting's only shift in color. Both physically and symbolically, the instrument fills the space around the solitary figure, who seems oblivious to his blindness and poverty as he plays.

At the time The Old Guitarist was painted by Pablo Picasso, the literature of the Symbolist movement included blind characters who possessed powers of inner vision.

The thin, skeleton-like figure of the blind musician painted in The Old Guitarist also has roots in art from Picasso's native country, Spain. The old man's elongated limbs and cramped, angular posture recall the figures of the great 16th-century artist El Greco.

Sleeping Peasants, Picasso, 1919, expressionism
Sleeping Peasants, Picasso, 1919

Having a close look at Sleeping Peasants, The painting's composition is perfectly planned, the interaction between the main subjects and the secondary subjects in the artwork was as it should be, the motion of the hands.

Sleeping Peasants' facial expressions emphasize Picasso's mastery in delivering state of the Sleeping Peasants to the viewers.

Expressionism as an art movement can be very broad and difficult to characterize. It spans different countries, mediums, movements, and periods.

Expressionist art was therefore not defined by a set of aesthetic principles, but rather as a tool of expression and societal commentary.

when you grab a pencil and start to draw from the heart, exerting your emotions on a piece of paper, you are doing expressionism.


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