Exhibited in painting, literature, film, architecture and music Expressionism is the term used to describe any art form that distorts reality to produce a highly emotional effect.

A subjective art form, Expressionism is characterised by symbolic colours, distorted forms, a two-dimensional careless manner, and larger-than-life imagery.

Acting as the opposite of Impressionism, this art movement aims to reflect the artist’s psyche rather than the reality of the outside world.

With its roots in Germany and Austria, the German Expressionist movement began in 1905 when the Fauves’ celebration of colour was pushed to higher emotional and psychological levels and academic traditions were challenged.

Established by such artists as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde, German Expressionism adopted the Fauvist style of bright colours, but added harsher outlines and tended to dwell on the more sinister elements of the human state of mind.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a chief instigator of Expressionism for the way he acted as a mouthpiece for trends in ancient art that were previously neglected.

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzche argued his theory regarding the ancient dualism between two types of visual experience; the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

According to Nietzsche this was a dualism between a world of the mind, order, regularity and refinement and a world of intoxication, chaos and ecstasy.

While the Apollonian represented the well-thought-out ideal, the Dionysian represented individual artistic conception, derived from man’s subconscious. That said the basic characteristics of Expressionism were considered to be Dionysian, based on intense emotions rather than rational thought.

With the Fauves, African and medieval art, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh acting as dominant influences, leading figures of the 20th century Expressionist movement include Heinrich Campendonk, Rolph Nesch, Franz Marc, Ernst Barlach, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Wassilly Kandinsky and Edvard Munch.

There were also a number of Expressionist groups in painting including the Blaue Reiter based in Munich and Die Brucke in Dresden.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the movement influenced the abstract expressionist movement which consisted primarily of American artists such as Jackson Pollack. Soon enough a group of artists in the American South developed a style known as Southern expressionism.

Albert Tucker

In the Australian art world Albert Tucker is regarded to be a pioneer of Australian Expressionism.

Described to have “not dealt in prettiness, but unsettling truths”, the often difficult and confronting work of Tucker represents an overtly political nature, a frustration with the morality of society, and acts as a reactive response to his surrounding environment.

Profoundly influenced by the horrors of war, the Depression and the idea of catching people in the act of life, Tucker sought to use his art to capture the true essence and savagery of the human condition.

Other Art Movements

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