Expressionism and the crisis of subjectivity

Gaiger, Jason (2004). Expressionism and the crisis of subjectivity. In: Edwards, Stephen and Wood, Paul eds. Art and the Avant-Gardes. London: Yale University Press, pp. 13–61.



This chapter explores some of the issues and debates relating to what has come to be termed "Expressionist" art in the period from 1905 to the outbreak of the First World War. It will concentrate on the work of three groups of artists: the Brücke ("Bridge") in Dresden, the Fauves ("Wild Beasts") in France and the Blauer Reiter ("Blue Rider") in Munich. However, it will also be concerned more generally with what is meant by "expression" in art and with the significance that artists and critics have attached to this word. Although the art of all periods and places can be considered in terms of its expressive qualities, the use of the label "Expressionism" suggests a heightened or exclusive emphasis on art's expressive dimension, whether this is by the artists themselves or by viewers and critics. I shall ask why this dimension of art came to be given such prominence at this time and consider how effective the visual arts can be as a medium for communicating feelings and emotions. Many of the artists now classified as Expressionist rejected the imitation of nature as art's primary goal, employing brilliant colour and visual distoritions in order to communicate their responses to the world around them. A pronounced anti-naturalistic tendency was thus combined with technical radicalism and a stress on authenticity of feeling and expression. Members of the Brücke and the Blauer Reiter also sought to establish a new relationship with the viewing public, developing innovative strategies for circulating and displaying their work.

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