Expressionism


Expressionism
   Both the chronological parameters and the artistic defi-nition of Expressionism have changed in recent years. Once considered an avant-garde movement identified roughly with the years 1905-1914, Expressionism was deemed a romantic revolt of youth against the bankruptcy of their elders. As a break with traditions tied to idealism and positivism, the pre-1914 spirit of projecting emotion through art was revealed first and most powerfully in German painting: from 1905 in the art of the Dresden-based Brücke (i.e., Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff*, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde,* and Max Pechstein) and from 1911 in the work of the Munich-based Blaue Reiter (Was-sily Kandinsky,* Franz Marc, August Macke, and Paul Klee*). Expressionism s delayed impact on music, literature, and theater,* extending well beyond Ger-many s borders in all these areas, was no less striking. Understood as an artist s deeply personal articulation, the movement was revered by sympathetic critics as the culmination of creativity. The atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg* and Alban Berg, emerging in 1908, and the early writing of Kurt Hiller* and Walter Hasenclever* all predated World War I. Founded in March 1910, Der Sturm,a literary weekly published in both Berlin* and Vienna, was the first mouthpiece for both artistic and literary Expressionism. Die Aktion,* established in 1911, played a similar role. But an internal feud dissolved Die Brücke in 1913, and the war led to the dispersal and death of many once associated with the move-ment—most notably, those involved with Der blaue Reiter.
   Although Expressionism gained public notice in postwar Germany, the con-ditions that gave rise to it (i.e., the materialism and rigidity of the Kaiserreich) had been displaced by violence, suffering, and despair. Since several politically involved artists—for example, Otto Dix,* George Grosz,* and Rudolf Schlich-ter—rejected Expressionism, it became customary to view their postwar work (see Dada) as an entirely new movement. This explanation is no longer judged adequate. Because the total rejection of accepted aesthetic standards is a central feature of Expressionism, the daring political and social art of the early Weimar era (i.e., through 1923) is now more generally seen as the movement's second generation.
   The war-induced trauma depicted in the exaggerated realism of Expression-ism's second generation seemed to run its course in parallel with Germany's great inflation.* Despite the initial approval given Franz Werfel's poetry, Walter Hasenclever's plays, Max Beckmann's* drawings, and Robert Wiene's films* (see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), a new style was demanded by 1924. By this date an estimated 2,500 German authors (essayists, poets, dramatists, and prose writers) had been classified as Expressionists. While many were gifted, most were charlatans with scant ability; few were still writing in 1924. Concurrent with Germany's cruel, albeit necessary, currency stabilization, Expressionism was eclipsed by a harsh Neue Sachlichkeit.*
   REFERENCES:Barron, German Expressionism; Donald Gordon, Expressionism; Selz, German Expressionist Painting; Sokel, Writer in Extremis; Willett, Theatre of the Wei-mar Republic.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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