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Nicholas Nguyen
Nicholas Nguyen

The Concise Encyclopedia Of Expressionism

The term "abstract expressionism" dates from 1946, when Robert Coates of the New Yorker first used it to describe the works of several American abstractionists. Because works of abstract expressionism can diverge wildly in terms of structure and technique, art historian Irving Sandler divides abstract expressionists into two categories: gesture painters and color-field painters. Jackson Pollock remains the preeminent gesture painter; in such paintings as Cathedral (1947) and Autumn Rhythm (1950), Pollock eschewed recognizable symbols entirely, composing delicate webs of interpenetrating shapes. Color-field painters, on the other hand, suppressed all references to the past by painting unified fields of varying color. Un-like their counterparts, who often valued the act of painting as much as the finished product, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and other color-field painters strove to reproduce the metaphysical experience of the sublime.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Expressionism

Because each artist emphasized his or her own absolute individuality, abstract expressionists continually rejected the notion that they had coalesced into a school. Nevertheless, by 1943, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, and other future abstract expressionists were becoming increasingly familiar with each other's work. From 1943 to 1945, Peggy Guggenheim exhibited many early works of abstract expressionism in her Art of This Century Gallery. During the late 1940s, many abstract expressionists also congregated in the Subjects of the Artist School, the Cedar Tavern, and the infamous Eighth Street Club to socialize and engage in intellectual debate. Critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg emerged as abstract expressionism's most articulate champions.

Set against a backdrop of Cold War conformity, abstract expressionists often saw their work as the ultimate statement of romantic individuality and artistic freedom. By the early 1950s, however, abstract expressionism was losing much of its initial appeal. Although some abstract expressionists continued to experiment with pure abstraction, others began to reintroduce recognizable subject matter into their canvases. By mid-decade, abstract expressionism was finding a frequent home in major museums and private collections. The United States Information Agency (USIA) even organized exhibitions of abstract expressionism in response to accusations of American "philistinism."

What can be said, however, is that it was a movement that developed in the early twentieth century, mainly in Germany, in reaction to the dehumanizing effect of industrialization and the growth of cities, and that "one of the central means by which expressionism identifies itself as an avant-garde movement, and by which it marks its distance to traditions and the cultural institution as a whole is through its relationship to realism and the dominant conventions of representation."[14] More explicitly, that the expressionists rejected the ideology of realism.[15]

There was an Expressionist style in German cinema, important examples of which are Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920), Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922) and The Last Laugh (1924). The term "expressionist" is also sometimes used to refer to stylistic devices thought to resemble those of German Expressionism, such as film noir cinematography or the style of several of the films of Ingmar Bergman. More generally, the term expressionism can be used to describe cinematic styles of great artifice, such as the technicolor melodramas of Douglas Sirk or the sound and visual design of David Lynch's films.[37]

In around 1911, the painter Wassily Kandinsky wrote a letter to Schoenberg, which initiated a long lasting friendship and working relationship. The two artists shared a similar viewpoint, that art should express the subconscious (the "inner necessity") unfettered by the conscious. Kandinsky's Concerning The Spiritual In Art (1914) expounds this view. The two exchanged their own paintings with each other, and Schoenberg contributed articles to Kandinsky's publication Der Blaue Reiter. This inter-disciplinary relationship is perhaps the most important relationship in musical expressionism, other than that between the members of the Second Viennese School.[citation needed] The inter-disciplinary nature of expressionism found an outlet in Schoenberg's paintings, encouraged by Kandinsky. An example is the self-portrait Red Gaze (see Archived link), in which the red eyes are the window to Schoenberg's subconscious.

Alban Berg's contribution includes his Op. 1 Piano Sonata, and the Four Songs of Op. 2. His major contribution to musical expressionism, however, were very late examples, the operas Wozzeck, composed between 1914 and 1925, and unfinished Lulu.[17] Wozzeck is highly expressionist in subject material in that it expresses mental anguish and suffering and is not objective, presented, as it is, largely from Wozzeck's point of view, but it presents this expressionism within a cleverly constructed form. The opera is divided into three acts, the first of which serves as an exposition of characters. The second develops the plot, while the third is a series of musical variations (upon a rhythm, or a key for example). Berg unashamedly uses sonata form in one scene in the second act, describing himself how the first subject represents Marie (Wozzeck's mistress), while the second subject coincides with the entry of Wozzeck himself. This heightens the immediacy and intelligibility of the plot, but is somewhat contradictory with the ideals of Schoenberg's expressionism, which seeks to express musically the subconscious unmediated by the conscious.[citation needed]

Berg worked on his opera Lulu, from 1928 to 1935, but failed to complete the third act. According to one view, "Musically complex and highly expressionistic in idiom, Lulu was composed entirely in the 12-tone system",[17] but this is by no means a universally accepted interpretation. The literary basis of the opera is a pair of related plays by Frank Wedekind, whose writing is virtually a "reversal of the expressionist aesthetic", because of its complete indifference to the characters' psychological states of mind, and portrayal of characters whose "personalities have little or no basis in reality and whose distortions are not the product of psychological tension".[18] The plainly evident emotion of Berg's music is dislocated from its cause and "deflected onto something else impossible to define", thereby contradicting its own intensity and undermining the listener's "instinctive obedience to emotive instructions", contrary to expressionism, which "tells its listeners pretty unambiguously how to react".[19] In contrast to the plainly expressionist manner of Wozzeck, therefore, Lulu is closer to the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) of the 1920s, and to Bertolt Brecht's epic theatre.[20]

As can be seen, Arnold Schoenberg was a central figure in musical expressionism, although Berg, Webern, and Bartók did also contribute significantly, along with various other composers.[citation needed]

La Berceuse was painted soon after Van Gogh had left the hospital in Arles after an enforced stay in March 1889. While he was there, he had been visited by Signac, but had suffered from the hostility of other patients. In May 1889, after further symptoms of mental disturbance, Van Gogh asked to be temporarily admitted to the asylum at Saint-Remy-de-Provence in order to be under medical supervision - painting was, he believed, his only way of keeping sane. He remained as a voluntary patient at the asylum for a year, from May 1889 to May 1890, during which time he was attacked by several terrible bouts of madness, which left him utterly prostrate. These periods of residence at Arles and St Remy, however, produced many fully developed works, landscapes, flower paintings and portraits. In these Van Gogh used colour in a very personal manner, based on the harmony of yellows, greens, blues and purples (Poplars, 1889, Neue Pinakothek, Munich; The Hayrick, 1889, Kroller-Muller). The broad planes soaked in heightened colour that formed his backgrounds (L'Arlesienne, 1888, Metropolitan Museum of Art NY and Musee d'Orsay), as well as the heritage of Japanese prints and Gauguin's influence, increasingly gave way to a dynamic animation and the broken brushstrokes of Neo-Impressionism (Olive Trees, 1889, Kroller-Muller), although the real origin of the technique was to be found in his drawings done in the Japanese fashion with bamboo or cut-reed (La Crau, View from Montmajour, Arles, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). Although Van Gogh had stated that he aimed to express with red and green, violent human passions, he, in fact, used warm tones very sparingly. Some of his Arles portrait art, for instance, is governed by strong drawing with concise accents and ostentatious but thin colour (Young Man with a Cap, 1888, private collection). Those portrait paintings completed at St Remy, however, are distinguished by sinuous supple handling and a more impastoed surface (Portrait de Trabu, (an attendant at the asylum, 1889, private collection).

Scholars interested in modernism will be delighted to learn that they now have electronic access to The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (REM) through Falvey Memorial Library. Modernism is an umbrella term for a hodgepodge of movements in literature and the arts, among them expressionism, dadaism, cubism, social realism, surrealism, futurism, and Bauhaus. Modernist thinking and ideas influenced architecture, dance, theater, film, literature, music, philosophy, and the visual arts from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. 041b061a72


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