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1 INTRODUCTION TO EXPRESSIONISM [Research naturalist movement as socialist-anarchist pastoral utopia beyond class and property.] Robert Baldwin Associate Professor of Art History Connecticut College New London, CT 06320 firstname.lastname@example.org (This essay was written in 1995 and was slightly revised in 2002 and 2007. In December, 2010, I added a short discussion of Marc‟s Large Blue Horses and a paragraph on the fawn in Deer in the Cloister Garden as an animalized Romantic child and kindred spirit.) Expressionism emerged in Germany and Austria around 1910 as a utopian artistic movement encompassing literature, theater, and the visual arts. In the painting, sculpture, and prints, Expressionism injected intense psychological drama into Fauve color and Cubist form. If the Fauves had tamed free color of earlier Symbolist psychological drama, the Expressionists brought it back with none of the inward dreaminess and subtlety of Symbolists like Gauguin and Redon. Expressionist art focused on violent, "primitive" expression, color contrasts, angular lines, raging emotion, and burning hopes for a better future. Many of the Expressionists were Democrats, Socialists, or Communists whose yearning for a modern democratic Germany were fulfilled after WWI when the defeat of Germany triggered the collapse of the central imperial government and local revolutions in the various German states (Prussia, Bavaria, etc.) sweeping away the rule of powerful aristocrats. In 1919, a new alliance of liberal democrats and socialists proclaimed the first democratic Germany, a state known as the Weimar Republic. 1 In the same year, 1919 Feininger designed a woodcut frontispiece for the program of the new Bauhaus architectural school formed in Weimar. Entitled “The Cathedral of Socialism,” it depicted a cubistically rendered Gothic cathedral fragmenting into crystalline forms as it reached into the heavens. To give voice to the yearnings embodied in this woodcut, we might cite the following passage from Transformation, an Expressionist play written in prison by the Socialist, Ernst Toller, which premiered in Berlin in 1919. Now open themselves, born of the world’s womb The high arched doors of Humanity’s cathedral. The youth of every people strides flaming To the glowing crystal shrine they sensed in the night. 2 2 The artistic heyday of German Expressionism was 1910-1920. It began four years before the outbreak of WWI and continued for a few years after the war. The utopian yearnings of German Expressionism are particularly clear in Max Pechstein‟s woodcut inscribed, To All Artists (1919) used as the cover for a Expressionist pamphlet with a manifesto by Pechstein and a variety of other writings. Printed in red, the image shows a fiery young man reaching up in gesture which both signals a loyal oath to the Expressionist cause and calls on all artists across Germany to unite in a movement, which, although artistic and spiritual is also in some ways political. The strident gesturing and oratory comes directly from modern, revolutionary political imagery going all the way back to David‟s Oath of the Horatii. Expressionists were artists, not political theorists, economic planners, or advocates of public policy. As such they lacked any coherent social vision or concrete plans for reform. The vagueness of their progressive thinking is clear in a statement of purpose issued by Brücke artists in 1906. As believers in evolution, in a new generation of both creators and art lovers, we call together the whole of Youth, intending, as youth upon whose shoulders the future rests, to win freedom of life and action against the entrenched forces of age. 3 Expressionists poets were equally vague and wildly idealistic in their Socialist language. Johannes Becher‟s poem, Brotherhood (1916) has numerous outbursts like the following. Join in the march! Write Freedom on our banners!! Our rhythm smash thee, ancient word, for good! A star looms up. Mark above our plan: Paradise of Brotherhood. 4 While this displays the rejection of artistic tradition common among early twentieth- century painters and trumpets the youthful idealism of German Expressionism, it says nothing concrete. While individual Expressionists had more specific things to say about their artistic goals, their utopian social aspirations never went beyond vague comments about a new, more democratic order. It was, perhaps, inevitable, that any artistic movement stressing "free" personal expression and utopian fervor would soon burn itself out, especially after the horrifying disaster of WWI. By the end of hostilities in 1918, Germany was badly weakened politically and economically with hundreds of thousands of its able-bodied men either killed or crippled. Although no foreign troops ever entered native soil, Germany was defeated and had to accept humiliating surrender terms. The terrible inflation which followed the war, along with the great flue pandemic which killed some 20 million people around the world destroyed what little was left of Expressionist utopian fervor in Germany. Those Expressionists who survived the war turned away from the highly emotional forms of the 1910-20 period and either abandoned Expressionism for Constructivism, as did Kandinsky (who had fled to his native Russia as soon as war broke 3 out), or moved into a much more moderated late Expressionist style as did Nolde and Kirchner. Most of the Expressionists in Germany belonged to one of two artistic groups: the Brücke and the Blue Rider. Brücke Expressionism in Dresden and Berlin The Brücke (Bridge), which started in Dresden and moved to Berlin, included Kirchner, Pechstein, Heckel, Mueller, and Schmidt-Rottluff and unaffiliated artists like George Grosz and Otto Dix. After a Fauve period, the Brücke artists moved by 1910 to an Expressionist style drawing on the Symbolists, Munch, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, who were well known in Germany. Kirchner‟s poster for a Gauguin show in Dresden in 1910 resembles the woodcut style of both Munch and Gauguin. Even more important for the Brücke was the discovery of African sculpture which they used to develop an Africanized “primitive” style of jagged forms, mask-like faces, rough surfaces, and starkly carved woodcut forms. Brücke Landscape and Utopian Fervor Most Brücke art from 1910-1920 depicted pre-modern landscape or the modern city, two sides of one coin. Brücke landscape featured a utopian, unsoiled nature imagined outside all contemporary reference and filled with large nudes bathing and romping. In this trend, they had much in common with Fauves like Matisse and Derain, with Symbolists like Gauguin and Hodler, and Post-Impressionists like Cezanne (not to mention earlier Impressionists like Renoir, who died in 1919, and academic painters like Puvis). In German Expressionism, these landscapes with nudes were directly tied to liberal political, moral, and sexual values and found another closely related subject of great interest, the female nude. The Expressionist search for a primeval, authentic, modern humanity in the nude body set into the woods also drew on the new naturalist (nudist), health, dance, and camping movements sweeping Germany in the early twentieth century. The Expressionist landscape with nudes also signaled utopian hopes of a new social order freed of class divisions, religious morality (which was usually ridiculed or condemned by Expressionist writers), and, to a lesser extent, German nationalism. (Despite aspirations to universalizing imagery, the German Expressionists proudly claimed their movement as distinctly German and looked back on “German” traditions all the back to the Gothic period seen as a unique period of “German” cultural greatness, spiritual aspiration, and social solidarity. In this selective, nationalistic reading of cultural history, France and England disappear from the understanding of Gothic art. One German bestseller, Langbehn‟s Rembrandt as Teacher, even hailed the Dutch artist Rembrandt as the greatest German artist of all time and constructed a German cultural tradition stretching back through the Romantics to Rembrandt and the Gothic. Brücke Cityscape and a Distopic Modernity 4 The other side of the coin of Brücke imagery was the modern, distopic city. In paintings and prints, Brücke artists depicted anxious images of modern prostitution, rape, murder, gruesome sex killings, exploited workers, strikes, riots, assassinations, robberies, suicides, corrupt industrialists and bankers, militarists, and the overwhelming horrors of modern warfare at a time when a wide variety of new weapons of mass destruction (tanks, machine guns, long range artillery, poison gas, and eventually airplanes) allowed 10 million people to be killed in four years, many of them in trench warfare fighting for a few hundred yards. In Expressionist art, modern warfare was often as a larger metaphor for other kinds of destruction and, in some artists, utopian hopes for a better future rising from the ashes. . Grosz and the Socialist Image of the Apocalyptic City Grosz was an extreme misanthrope and Communist who used his art to satirize businessman and bankers, the military, the clergy, and the German middle class. His experiences as a soldier in WWI left him with am implacable hatred of the army as an institution governed by the worst sort of mindless regimentation, bullying, and tyranny. Although some Expressionists like Marc were patriotic and quickly enlisted, most had terrible fears of military service since it crushed all of the individual liberty they held dear. Kirchner had a nervous breakdown after his service in the army and painted a Self- Portrait as a Soldier with his right hand amputated and wrapped in a bloody bandage to symbolize the destruction of his artistic abilities. ―It’s true, I’m against war, that is, I’m against every system that cages ME. . . . Every day my hatred of the Germans gets new, highly inflammable fuel from the incredibly ugly, unaesthetic, badly dressed look of the most German of them all. … I feel no relationship to this human stew. … Being German always means being tasteless, stupid, ugly, fat, nonathletic … Being German means being as reactionary of the worst sort; … You really begin to wonder how it can be possible that … millions of people exist so mindlessly, so unable to see what’s really happening, people who’ve had the wool pulled over their stupid eyes since their school-days, whose minds have been stuffed with the attributes of ignorant reaction, such as God, Fatherland, militarism.‖ 5 Grosz, The City, 1916-17 Using a palette of infernal red, orange, and black, Grosz depicted cosmopolitan Berlin as an Apocalyptic nightmare of corruption and violence. Throughout the violently clashing colors and jagged lines, one senses the dislocating horrors of modern warfare with its artillery explosions and fire, an experience Grosz internalized and reconfigured to add to the violence of the modern city. In this living hell, space is fractured in two by the angular buildings and the two large streets which intersect in the foreground, assaulting the viewer visually with a mob of undifferentiated persons who rush out along the violent diagonals of the streets along with careening trucks and trolleys. Faces are 5 grotesquely caricatured and take on monstrous colors of red, green, and blue. Here the city embodies everything which is modern and thus repugnant to Grosz, especially its endless commerce – seen in the French-named department store and the many other stores and hotels depicted here with their signs. Equally disturbing is the city‟s openness to corrupting fashions and ideas from abroad. Thus the French and American names and even the American flag at the upper left, this at a time when American was seen in Germany as the country which embodied the worst aspects of a dehumanizing modernity. Otto Dix, Self-Portrait as Mars, Like Otto Dix also experienced trench warfare, artillery bombardments, and poison gas first hand as a soldier in the German army. In 1914, he painted a powerful Self-Portrait as a Soldier, using harsh versions of Fauve color with a focus on red smeared on like blood. A year later, Grosz had taken up Cubism or rather, Orphism and Futurism, both of which combined Cubist formal structure with rich color. In his painting, War (Ordnance) of 1914, Dix built a massively dense composition around one of the new giant artillery which Germany had unleashed on Belgium fortifications, the whole compositional structure exploding with little bursts of color like artillery shells exploding. The same year, Dix painted his Self-Portrait as Mars, thereby allying himself as a creative artist with the god of an unimaginable destruction. Here we can see the Futurist and Expressionist idea of creativity as a double-edged sword which in one instant made something totally new artistically while simultaneously destroying all traditional notions of artistry, beauty, and artistic purpose. Close inspection of the artist‟s head and shoulders shows three red horses leaping in terror, images borrowed from Franz Marc‟s latest, Apocalyptic landscapes with dying or panicked animals. One might also recall the extended episode of the disemboweled horse screaming on the battlefield all night in the anti-war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. Just below the horse at the upper left are a trio of three dead or dying faces all looking out at the viewer, two of them bleeding profusely from the nose and mouth. Blue Rider Expressionism in Munich In Munich, artists such as Kandinsky, Marc, Munter, Macke, Jawlensky and Klee formed the Blaue Reiter group (Blue Rider). The Blue Rider generally avoided modern urban problems of gender, class, and politics in favor of Romantic landscape imagery painted south of Munich in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Klee offered a more personal imagery tied less to nature than to a private imaginary world. While the utopian values of the Brücke group centered more around "free" sexuality, the modern city, and other topical social issues, some leading members of the Blue Rider group in Munich, especially Marc and Kandinsky, displayed a decidedly spiritual, utopian vision which sheds important light on one recurrent strain of modern painting running from the Romantics to the Abstract Expressionists. This strain sees artistic 6 ambition as a heroic spiritual quest defined against a larger materialism and corruption said to pervade the modern world. Defined in these terms, modern art claims to usher in a new age of spiritual depth, unity, and social harmony. Between 1908-1915, Marc and Kandinsky slowly moved away from representational forms on the spiritual grounds that visible matter itself was material, base, and corrupt. For these two, the search for the spiritual in art required a move into abstraction, though an abstraction carefully configured to suggest intense spiritual longings and dramas of one kind or another. Their greatest fear, in leaving behind the visible world, was that they would end up in a spiritually empty formalism and an art of decoration, something they attacked in modern French art after 1908 (especially later Fauvism and Cubism). The tensions, problems, contradictions, and utopian spiritual hopes of the Blue Rider are clear in the writings of Franz Marc published in the Blue Rider Almanac in 1912. "It is impossible to explain the recent work of these 'savages' [German Expressionists] as a formal development and a new interpretation of impressionism ... The most beautiful prismatic colors [a reference to French Fauvism] and the celebrated cubism are now meaningless goals for these 'savages'. Their thinking has a different aim. To create out of their work symbols for their own time, symbols that belong on the altars of a future spiritual religion... Scorn and stupidity [of the general public and the official art world] will be like roses in their path. Not all the official 'savages' in or outside Germany dream of this kind of art and of these high aims. All the worse for them. After easy success, they will perish from their own superficiality despite all their programs, cubist or otherwise. But we believe - at least we hope we are justified in believing - that apart from all these 'savage' groups in the forefront there are many quiet powers in Germany struggling with the same, high, distant goals and that ideas are silently maturing unknown to the heralds of the battle. In the dark, without knowing them, we give them our hand."6 Here one sees vividly the anxieties of Expressionist artists over what they perceived as purely formal, modernist painting, and over their own sense of cultural and social isolation. They dream of larger movements and silent, invisible partners who are preparing to emerge in public support. At the same time, Expressionists insisted on maintaining the autonomy and spiritual integrity of their new art even at a cost of artistic remoteness and alienation. For these artists, it was too late historically to return to the old vocabularies shared by artist and audience in the past. These languages of theme and style were seen as outmoded, empty, and false for the modern world. In another essay in the 1912 Blue Rider Almanac, Marc amplified these problems. 7 We will make this [project of modern art and spiritual rejuvenation] as difficult as possible for ourselves, never fearing the ordeal by fire that will result from placing our works, which point to the future and are still unproved, beside the works of older, proved cultures. We believe that nothing can illustrate our ideas better than such comparisons. Genuine art can always be compared with genuine art... Time favors such comparisons for we believe we are standing at the turning point of two long epochs. The awareness of this turning point is not new; its summons was even louder a hundred years ago [in German Romanticism]. At that time, people thought they were very close to a new era ... A century intervened, during which a long and exceedingly rapid development took place. Mankind practically raced through the last stage of a millennium that had begun after the fall of the great classical world. At that time the 'primitives' broke ground for a long development of a new art [medieval Christian art] and the first martyrs died for this Christian ideal. Today this long development in art and religion is over, but the vast land is still full of ruins, of old ideas and forms that will not give way, although they belong to the past. The old ideas and creations live on falsely, and we stand helplessly before the Herculean task of banishing them and paving the way for what is new... But style, the inalienable possession of an earlier age, collapsed catastrophically in the middle of the 19th century. There has been no style since then ... what serious art there is had been made by individuals; these have nothing to do with style since they are unrelated to the style and needs of the masses. On the contrary, these works were made in defiance of their times. They are stubborn, fiery signs of a new age and they are appearing everywhere ... What looks unreal today will look real tomorrow. Where are such signs and works? How do we recognize the genuine ones? Like everything genuine, its inner life guarantees its truth. All works of art created by truthful minds without regard for the work's conventional exterior remain genuine for all times." Marc continued by contrasting the popular acceptance of German Romantic art which he grounded in a deep seated, artistic instinct shared by artist and audience - his concept of "style" - to the modern artist's situation in a world lacking such "instincts". "For such a relationship to exist [between artist and public], the necessary basic condition, even today, is that the artist's 'homeland' possess a style. Since this is not the case [today], a chasm must exist between the genuine creation of art and the public. It cannot be otherwise because the artist can no longer create out of the now- lost artistic instinct of his people. But could not this very fact encourage serious thinking ... Perhaps the viewer will begin to dream in front of the new painting and encourage his soul to move onto a new plane? The present isolation of the rare, genuine artist is absolutely unavoidable for the moment. 8 Franz Marc, Deer in a Cloister Garden, 1912 Marc developed a highly personal, spiritual animal-landscape painting drawing on earlier Romantic mythologies of the animal as a pure being living in perfect unity with a surrounding, pure nature. Since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Romantic poets such as Blake (“Tiger, Tiger, burning bright) and painters such as Gericault and Delacroix had idealized certain animals as versions of the noble savage theme, living in harmony with a wild nature. As one of the great animal painters in Western art and the only Expressionist to focus on the animal, Marc continued the Romantic animal-landscape as a Paradise Lost, a nostalgic, pre-human image of a lost harmony with nature. After exploring the animals theme in his earliest works using a naturalist style, Marc‟s art was completely transformed by the impact of Post-Impressionists such as Gauguin and the Fauves, especially Braque and Derain. While adopting their bright, flat colors, Marc developed his own style of 1910-12 with its more radiant colors and compositions formed by rhythmically animated, curved forms as seen in Large Blue Horses (1911). Here Marc‟s favorite animal – the noble horse - appears in hues of deep blue which for Marc symbolized the spiritual. Freed from saddles and riders, removed from time and space in an uninhabited, pre-modern landscape, the blue horses curl in on themselves as if sleeping or meditating, displaying the interiority found in many Symbolist and Nabis works from the previous two decades. The contours of hills flow through the bodies of the horses like giant waves, bending and reshaping the animals with their oceanic flow and giving powerful visual form to Marc‟s idea of an animalized harmony with nature, As he wrote in his first published essay included in a book entitled, The Animal In Art, ―I am looking for a good, pure and clear style . . . I seek to strengthen my feeling for the organic rhythm of things in general, to identity pantheistically with the trembling and the flow of blood in nature, in the trees, in animals, in the air – to make that into a picture with new movements and with colors that pour scorn on old easel painting”. 7 In the second half of 1912, Marc‟s style changed dramatically a second time when he integrated Cubist and Futurist geometrical forms with the harmonious compositional patterning of French Orphist painters like Robert and Sonia Delaunay. This new style appears in Deer in a Cloister Garden (1912). Marc's version of Cubism avoided Cubist intellectuality and formalism and a monochromatic palette in favor of emotionally and spiritually dramatic forms and colors. Cubist and Orphist facets of overlapping, transparent color allowed Marc to imbed and dissolve the animal into a surrounding landscape even more fully than in his earlier Fauve paintings. With its reference back in time to the cloister gardens of medieval Europe, Marc‟s Deer in the Cloister Garden also offered a modern, animalized version of a lost spiritual paradise and human community projected back to the Middle Ages by many Romantics, Symbolists, and Expressionists. As an ex-divinity student with a deeply spiritual bent, 9 Marc was particular interested in developing paintings which could function as “altars” to a new spirituality he hoped would descend on a modern, materialistic Europe. The choice of a deer, or rather a spotted fawn, for this imaginary cloister garden, is also revealing. Unlike the terrifying lion or violent tiger (which Marc would soon paint) or the powerful and noble horse, the deer was traditionally seen as a gentle and timid animal which could even be tamed and kept as pets. Marc and his wife kept two deer as pets after rescuing them from starvation. After enlisting in the German army, Marc often asked after the deer in his letters home from the front. When one deer died in 1915, Marc wrote, ―Poor little Schlick has finished its little deer dream. It really is so: when I think of the short little life of such a small animal, I cannot get rid of the thought that it was just a little dream, this time a deer dream, some other time a human dream; but to the one who dreams, its essence is immanent and indestructible.” 8 On one level, the fawn in Marc‟s imaginary cloister garden animalized the traditional nineteenth-century theme of the innocent, spiritual child seen in Romantic poetry (Blake) and painting (Runge, Hicks) and continued in the sentimental peasant paintings of Millet and Pre-Raphaelite painters, especially Hughes, and in certain Symbolists (Hodler, Mondrian). As a reaction to the increasingly violent social, political, and economic divisions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the peaceful animal such as the horse or deer offered a therapeutic sanctuary from a human world contaminated by greed, ambition, and hatred. We might also see Marc‟s Deer in the Cloister Garden as an animalized self-portrait, or at the least, an image where we can see Marc projecting his own widely noted gentleness onto a creature he identified with as an animalized kindred spirit. Gothic Stained Glass, Modern Crystalline Form In Deer in a Cloister Garden, the glowing animal fuses into a larger colored radiance whose transparence, crystalline purity, and immaterial radiance suggests Gothic stained- glass windows without using traditional Christian imagery. Here Marc went beyond the medieval stained glass imagery of French Symbolists around 1890-1905 such as Odilon Redon and Maurice Denis and developed his own version of an Expressionist utopian imagery of glass, crystals and crystalline structures which took form at roughly the same time in art criticism, poetry, architecture, and architectural writing. The idea of crystalline and glass structures as a utopian spiritual construction was also developed in 1912 by the Jugendstil artist, Wenzel Hablik, who had a vision of crystal structures while walking in the Alps. The idea took on monumental form when the architect, Bruno Taut, built a Glass Pavilion at the 1914 Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne. These ideas were amplified in Paul Scheerbart‟s book, Glass Architecture (1914) dedicated to the glass architectural fantasies of Taut and calling for the end of “the 10 city as we know it” and a new “glass culture,” “a new glass like unto crystal (Revelations 4:6)”. And they reached a certain fruition in Heckel‟s landscape, Glassy Day of 1913 and in Feininger‟s woodcut, The Cathedral of Socialism, already mentioned as the frontispiece of the first Bauhaus program in 1919. Even before these artists, the German art critic, Wilhelm Worringer had called for a new abstracted art resembling the luminous crystal in his 1908 book, Abstraction and Empathy. ―Thus all transcendental art sets out with the aim of deorganicizing the organic, i.e. of translating the mutable and conditional into values of uncontested necessity, But such a necessity man is able to feel only in the great world beyond the living, in the world of the inorganic. This led him to rigid lines, to inert crystalline form. He translated everything living into the language of these imperishable and unconditional values. For these abstract forms, liberated from all finiteness, are the only ones, and the highest, in which man can find rest from the confusion of the world picture.‖ 9 To be sure, Marc‟s handling of crystalline structures are compatible with the organic forms of animals, and occasionally, with human beings. With this difference observed, Worringer‟s formulation comes surprisingly close in spirit to the transcendent world of animals, colors, and crystalline forms which made up Marc‟s vocabulary in 1912-15. Franz Marc, Tyrol, 1914 By 1913, Marc's style had become increasingly dramatic, even violent, in line with a larger European mood of Apocalyptic thinking. At a time of increasing social upheaval, violent Socialist demonstrations, bombings, riots, and assassinations, many people worried that some larger revolution or war was imminent. Two large paintings from 1913-1914, Fate of the Animals (1913) and Tyrol (1914), expressed Marc's apocalyptic yearnings and fears in these years. In Tyrol, a mountainous landscape exploded with jagged, shards of transparent color suggestive of violence, death, and fire. Burned trees and two chalets appear at the bottom, under a dead tree shaped ominously like a scythe. In mid 1914, Marc reworked the painting, adding a Apocalyptic Virgin, standing on a crescent moon, holding a swaddled baby, her head clothed with the sun. She rises above the fiery red zone of destruction, her head appearing in the celestial zone of the mountain peaks. The sun and the moon appear again in the upper corners, adding to the Apocalyptic imagery. It is important to note that Marc used traditional Christian imagery here in a subtle and oblique manner, avoiding any detail or specificity. The viewer discovers the figure only in the course of a prolonged beholding, adding to its visionary and apocalyptic qualities. 11 Marc’s Apocalyptic Imagery of 1913-14 With his background in divinity school and his intensely idealistic imagery of a harmonious, spiritual animal world, Franz Marc embraced the Apocalyptic yearnings felt by many Europeans at the onset of the war in 1914. Initially, he saw the war as redemptive destruction out of which a new, better Europe would be reborn. Enlisting at the outbreak of hostilities, he maintained this idealistic outlook for about a year. ... The great war will also put an end to many things which the twentieth century mistakenly preserved, including the pseudo-art which Germans up to now have good- naturedly tolerated. The urge to give structure to the new in music, poetry, and art was so weak in the last generation that Germans were satisfied by the worst and most shabby repetitions of good older art forms. The Volk [German people] as a whole, however, had a foreboding of the war, more so than any individual, and therefore it was bracing itself for it. During such a waiting period art was not relevant, as a collective Volk effort it was not of tune with the times. The Volk knew that it first had to fight its way through a war in order to shape for itself a new life and new ideals. One could hardly expect the Volk to accept new artistic concepts at the eleventh hour. One does not sow fine seed when a storm is building up. And the storm broke suddenly and destroyed many a delicate seed. I doubt whether many of the new and strange forms which we modern painters in Germany created before the war will take root. We will have to begin working from the very beginning again; first on ourselves in the school of this great war, then upon the German Volk. Because when Germany is able to relax again, it will also ask about its art, something that Germany always possessed in her periods of greatness. In the Gothic age the German was an artist, in the nineteenth century, a poet and musician. Since the Gothic we Germans have become, as builders of form, incredibly weak; we have done other things for the world, and now this last thing: this dreadful war. Those out here who are living through it and are beginning to realize what we shall conquer by it, they realize full well that one cannot put new wine in old bottles. Our will to a new form will restructure this new century. TO HIM WHO HATH, SHALL BE GIVEN. How many of Christ's thoughts nowadays are still unknown and unused, suppressed. Every age has the Christ it deserves and it takes from this inexhaustible spring as much as its jugs will hold. The great Nazarene has intuitively grasped the laws of nature. His speech with all of its rich imagery has not lost any of its power compared to our scientific formulations. His deepest insights are still congruent with our newest discoveries; we still hear the murmuring of this living source close by at our side. In terrible times such as ours all the age old questions are being asked again; many dead, talked to death questions rise out of their graves. All the big experiences of world history are major moments of judgment for humanity. The most venerable notions and 12 dogmas are reconsidered. What was important yesterday is now abolished and ignored. Only the good things remain, the authentic and true things which are rich in meaning; they will survive, refined and hardened by the purifying fire of this war. For centuries we Europeans have been working collectively and earnestly to create such an authentic (authentic in terms of human knowledge) and true treasure, a heritage which has survived every war, pure and without blemish—the "exact sciences." For the first and only time has the "absolute" blessed the human spirit so that a realm was created which also was "not of this world," but nevertheless pervaded everything that is part of this world with feeling and order. The sciences recognize no national boundaries and politics have no place in their realm. All modern people, all good Europeans, are under its jurisdiction. ... Should the war bring us what we desire, and in proportion to our sacrifices—this fantastic equation leaves us quite breathless—should this happen we Germans must shun nothing more passionately than narrowness of feeling and national ambition. This would spoil everything. To him who has shall be given. Only with such a motto will we be a spiritual victor and the first among the Europeans. The European type of the future will be the German type; but before that happens, the German must become a good European. Right now he is not that everywhere and in every case. Germanic qualities will spill over all boundaries after this war. If we stay healthy and strong and do not wish to lose the fruit of our conquests we will need immense power of assimilation and a life force of such power that it will be able to pervade everything without any fear of or consideration for the foreign or the new things which our power in Europe will bring. Just as France was once the heart of Europe, now Germany will play that role—but only if she is not thwarted by a narrow-hearted nationalism. People back home should keep this in mind. We who are at the front breathe an air which is freer and more spiritual. We fight the enemy; he is a soldier to us; we defeat him but we are not trying to exterminate French culture. But many an announcement from back home sounds very much as if that indeed were what should be done. . . . We need be no more fearful and narrow-hearted in spiritual things than in anything else. And the situation should be no different in art. In earlier times we were never afraid of foreign influences. Have Moorish-French influences harmed the German Gothic?. . . Thus it will be well within our power to assimilate Latin art, threatened as it is by overintellectualization and disintegration—not to preserve it but to enrich ourselves out of an awareness of the fresh power, the joy and the richness of our spirit. No foreign treasure dare be foreign to us, not if we wish to remain rich and fertile. In WWI, new technologies and weapons of mass destruction - tanks, heavy artillery, machine guns, aerial bombardment, poison gas and chemical weapons – were all ruthlessly applied in indiscriminate attacks on cities and civilian targets and in a new trench warfare where millions of soldiers died fighting over hundreds of yards with no military value. To take one horrific example, the battle of Verdun lasted ten months and killed 680,000 men, all within a few square miles of trenches. (By comparison, some 52,000 Americans died in ten years of fighting in Vietnam.) Feeding this insane violence was a virulent, all-devouring nationalism deeply rooted in nineteenth-century European political life and identity. 13 By the time Marc published his essay, “In War‟s Purifying Fire” late in 1915, the reality of modern warfare had destroyed the artist‟s naïve ideas about war‟s purifying fire. In writings from the front, he voiced deep pessimism about the war, even abandoning his faith in the spiritual and aesthetic power of animal forms which had carried him up until then. In his final works, executed in 1915 and early 1916, Marc gave up all animal forms, all representation, tentatively embracing the new abstraction of his colleague, Kandinsky, who had fled Germany in days to avoid arrest after war broke out in August 1914. It is impossible to say where this new, abstract manner would have taken Marc. On March 4, 1916, while out riding on a reconnaissance mission, he was killed by an artillery shell in the battle of Verdun. KANDINSKY Russian, worked in Munich between 1908 and 1914 Working primarily within the larger category of landscape, Kandinsky's early works (1904-10) developed rapidly from a fairy-tale like folk art to a radiantly glowing, stained- glass-like Fauve painting (1908-09) to increasingly abstract, violently painted style which sought the maximum drama of explosive, fiery color, sketchy, mysterious space, and dramatic, swirling lines (1909-12). The works of 1909-12 often depicted riders dashing through unspoiled, pre-modern, "Romantic" landscapes. As seen by the many earlier images of riders published in the Blue Rider Almanac including heroic knights and St. George slaying the dragon, the leaping horse with rider became a basic metaphor in Kandinsky's early art for a modern, Expressionist spiritual exploration, journeying, or leaping. Set into "mystical" landscapes whose heroic mountainous settings looked back to the Alpine sublime of Romantics like Turner and Koch and Symbolist artists like Hodler, Kandinsky's rider theme attempted to translate one motif of traditional history painting and sculpture into modern Expressionist terms. Kandinsky‟s Apocalyptic Abstraction In 1910-12, Kandinsky‟s art turned increasingly Apocalyptic with religious titles and imagery such as All Saint's Day, St. George and the Dragon, Deluge, and Last Judgment. Here was an imagery of cosmic religious struggle between heaven and hell, celestial spirit and corrupt matter. Already Symbolist artists like Redon, Moreau and others had made the theme of the equestrian warrior slaying the dragon into a larger archetype of heroic quest, victory, and spiritual ambition (including that of the Symbolist artist). This equestrian warrior slaying a dragon encompassed a variety of subjects including Perseus and Andromeda, St. George and the Dragon, and Rogier and Angelica, all found in Symbolist art between 1880 and 1910. If this theme clarifies Kandinsky's roots in Symbolism, it also exemplifies his interest in Apocalyptic themes of good battling evil. And in so far the killing of a Satanic dragon was a major element in the Apocalypse, 14 Kandinsky's many depictions of St. George fit even more closely into Apocalyptic Expressionism of 1910-1916. At the same time, his art took on a violent, Apocalyptic character in its violent and increasingly abstract style characterized by violent, swirling, volcanic colors, linear patterns, and large, grand compositions. In Kandinsky‟s mind, and in the mind of Franz Marc, abstraction itself was Apocalyptic. (While other artists such as Picasso and Mondrian had very different ideas about abstraction, all modern artists who embraced abstraction saw it as a way forward to a more universal, grand, and serious language grounded in modern experience and conditions.) In his writings, Kandinsky described the shift from the imaginary naturalism of his early, more Symbolist works (1906-09) and early Expressionist works (1910-12) to the abstraction of his works after 1913 as a move from a corrupt, limited, material aesthetic to an art of utopian spirituality capable of breaking free from five hundred years of Renaissance naturalism. In the Apocalyptic imagery of 1910-1914, Kandinsky came to see all matter, all materialism, all naturalism as corrupt and false. As he wrote, these early Expressionist works were "largely unconscious, spontaneous expressions of inner character, nonmaterial in nature". After three years spent gradually abstracting figurative motifs, Kandinsky made the leap into abstract works in 1913 as seen in his Improvisation 30 (Cannon) and in works of the following years such as the required work, Untitled Improvisation, 1914. Even before this, he switched over to abstract titles, especially titles with musical connotations such as Improvisation or Composition. None of this was without problems (any more than it was for the Cubists who moved to the verge of abstraction in 1913 with their analytical cubism only to pull back with a more representational manner of collage cubism or synthetic cubism). For Kandinsky, the movement into abstraction was gradual and troublesome. He worried about giving up figurative elements, fearing his art might become little more than a decorative patterning and lose its serious, "spiritual" significance. To explain the ambitious "expressive" goals of abstract painting as he conceived it, Kandinsky published a short book entitled, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911). This book helps us comprehend Kandinsky's surprising assertion that "there are no formal questions in art". For Kandinsky, all art, or at least, all good art, was about "expression". Expressionism and the Modern Myth of Artistic Expression If Kandinsky's occasional comments about an art of "spontaneous expression" were primarily for external audiences, the reality of his artistic practice exposed the whole myth of spontaneous or natural expression which had gripped Western thinking on art since Romanticism. In actual practice, Kandinsky's wildest, volcanic paintings of the mid teens were actually highly rationalized compositions developed carefully out of numerous earlier studies. It is one of the supreme ironies of his art that the style which took the sketch to a certain violent extreme of "pure spontaneity" beyond all rational control was actually, at least in Kandinsky's hands, an art of the highest deliberation, arising out of a whole series of preliminary studies. What seems to be an art without "preliminary work", 15 an art of the pure "sketch", was in fact the culmination of what was in many ways a rather old-fashioned method of working gradually up to the final work. Analogies to jazz or dance may help clarify this apparent paradox. Improvised jazz or dance depends not on any pure, "spontaneous" expression arising naturally outside of conventions and earlier knowledge. On the contrary, the best improvisation is only possible if the musician had a solid technical command over her instrument and has fully internalized a variety of musical cultures. The same is true for painting which is why modern artists still learn through the fundamentals of life-drawing. As the Dada/Surrealist, Man Ray noted, "it sometimes takes years of study to know how to recreate unaffectedness". For Kandinsky to produce any kind of art that looked "spontaneous" in a way which was also interesting, complex, and compelling as art, he had to work in a rational, controlled manner. In the end, he produced not so much "spontaneous expression" but rather the effect of spontaneous expression. To see the effect rather than the reality of "expression" is to look more critically at all "expressive" art since Romanticism and to distinguish between the highly staged effects of "expression" and the false rhetoric of "spontaneous expression" employed routinely by modern artists and viewers since 1790 to legitimize larger cultural mythologies of artistic autonomy, freedom, authenticity, untrammeled heroic individuality, and higher truth. The End of Expressionism Like many Expressionists who survived World War I (1914-18), Kandinsky abandoned Expressionist fervor in favor of Constructivist rigor in the years immediately after the war. Though its legacy would live on in important ways in Surrealism (1920-45), Abstract Expressionism (1945-60), and certain painters and artistic movements of the 1980s, Expressionism had burned itself out as a major movement by the end of WW! (1918). It was all too easily dismissed as exaggerated, emotionally self-indulgent, histrionic, wildly unrealistic, and politically impotent, a style of youthful passion and wild idealism. Kandinsky himself joined the Bauhaus movement and took up its love for impersonal geometric orders as seen in Composition 238: Bright Circle of 1921. Other Expressionists like Dix and Grosz developed an alternative to “Expressionist” emotional fervor with a naturalistic imagery grounded in sharp observation of German social conditions after the war. Still others like Nolde and Kirchner retreated into imaginary landscapes far from the chaos of modern Germany. Modern Artist Groups, Expressionism, and the Problem of Audience Artist associations, organizations, and groups had multiplied across Europe since the early nineteenth century. In part this reflected the growing number of artists and the natural tendency of large professional groups to form regional and national organizations. But we can also explain this trend, in part, as a response to a number of new internal and external problems which came with modern art. With Romanticism's enshrinement of individual artistic freedom and expression as primary signs of artistic quality, there was a 16 new danger of artistic fragmentation on the one hand and loss of audience on the other. By banding together into groups and professional associations, nineteenth-century artists increased their sense of solidarity, strength, and cultural legitimacy and improved opportunities for exhibition, patronage, and sales. The tendency to form groups went hand in hand with a tendency to form artistic movements as seen in the Pre-Raphaelites in England, the Barbizon School of realist landscape painting in Paris, the Impressionists (who first painted and exhibited together), Van Gogh's dream of a modern art colony in the south of France, the Rosecrucian Salons exhibiting Symbolist art in Paris in the 1890s, the Futurists in Italy with their manifestos, the Dada groups in Switzerland and Surrealist groups in France, the Constructivists in Russia, various women's artist groups, and so on. As painting abandoned representational techniques in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (1885-1925) in favor of more radically subjective, "free", visionary styles (Symbolism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, Surrealism, etc.), the social, cultural, and economic isolation of the modern artist increased considerably. Thus the need to band together into groups and movements became ever more important to promote solidarity, coherence, direction, purpose, and cultural impact. A group effort was harder to dismiss than that of an individual. Group efforts also facilitated public exposure through the funding of short, privately-staged exhibitions, often in non-traditional spaces such as rented factories and warehouses, and the publication of group yearbooks such as the Blue Rider Almanac, portfolios of prints, and posters advertising temporary exhibitions. In this way, artistic groups made it easier for individual modern artists to reach small audiences and transcend the self-imposed isolation of the modernist painter. Since Expressionism took the Romantic-Symbolist tradition of strong individual expression and feeling to a new, deliberately primitive, violent, culturally aggressive extreme (made worse by the sexual "freedom" flaunted in the art of the Brücke), it was almost inevitable that this movement had to form groups to survive. On the other hand, the very thrust of Expressionist art toward individual expression and the considerable differences between individual artistic personalities made the very idea of an Expressionist movement or group effort tenuous from the start. At best, these groups were rather loosely defined, vulnerable to internal conflicts, and short-lived. Some were already break-away groups from other short-lived avant-garde groups like the Blue Rider which lasted two or three years after breaking away from the New Artist's Association of Munich (early 1909-late 1911) which was itself a modernist realist/impressionist group which had broken away from a more traditional artist's association. These modernist groups cohered for a few years and mounted a few exhibitions, print portfolios, or yearbooks. (The annual Blue Rider almanac appeared only once in 1912 thanks to the subsidized publication of a wealthy supporter who could afford to lose money on the venture). 17 Some of these groups existed more fully on paper and in the artistic imagination than in reality. It has even been suggested that the Blue Rider was more the title of an almanac, a brief artistic rallying point of sorts, and a marketing tool used by art dealers selling modern German art in 1914 and later. Kandinsky himself wrote in 1935, "There never really was a Blue Rider society, not even a group, as is often incorrectly stated. Marc and I took what we thought was good; and we selected freely without considering certain opinions or wishes. ... So we decided to run our Blaue Reiter 'dictatorially'. The 'dictators' of course were Franz Marc and myself." The nature and history of the Blue Rider as an artist's group sheds light on larger cultural problems. Here one can see how the greater trend toward individual expression and "freedom" within modern art after 1900 made it increasingly difficult for modern artists to form lasting movements of any sort. And the failure of these group efforts to last more than a few years only increased the social isolation of modern art and increased the desire of individual artists to temper "free" expression and autonomy with coherent artistic vocabularies which were stable and internally legible. The one exception to the short-lived nature of early modernist groups and movements was the Bauhaus (1919-1933) which began with an Expressionist arts and crafts movement tied to socialist ideals and eventually spawned the International Style in design and architecture. Here modernist practice was institutionalized as an art school against considerable public opposition. Though exceptional, the long life of the Bauhaus compared to other modernist groups was not entirely accidental. Their success owed a lot to the fact that Bauhaus artists rejected Expressionistic fervor and individual expression in favor of an impersonal aesthetic beyond national borders and ideologies and tied to notions of a universal architectural language, modern technology and a stripped down aesthetic of form as function. 1 The new political freedom unleashed a tidal wave of cultural critique from all sides and political activism. The attempts by the centrist Social Democrats to hold the radical parties of the left and right in check proved unsuccessful when a disastrous inflation between 1919 and 1923 wiped out most of the middle class economically. The political center collapsed and Germany plunged into extremist violence. A new president stabilized the economy in the mid-1920s but the world-wide depression of 1929 created such unemployment, poverty, hunger, and political violence that Adolf Hitler came to power on a campaign promising to restore security and economic health. Fourteen years after it started, the Weimar Republic was over. 2 Cited in John Willett, Expressionism, 1970, p. 156. 3 Quoted in John Willett, Expressionism, 1970, p. 63, without any citation of the source. 4 John Willett, Expressionism, 1970, p. 113, from Becker‟s Verbrüderung. 5 Letter of 1916, quoted in Matthias Eberle, World War I and the Weimar Artists, New Haven: Yale Un Press, 1985, p. 56. 18 6 Marc, “Germany‟s „Savages‟, in The Blue Rider Almanac, 1912, ed. by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, modern English edition ed. by Klaus Lankheit, trans. by Henning Falkenstein, New York: Viking Press, 1974, 61-64. 77 Quoted in Helmut Friedel and Annegret Hoberg, The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich: Prestel, 2000, cat. No. 47 8 Letter to his wife, December 6, 1915 quoted from Franz Marc, Letters from the War, ed. Klaus Lankheit and Uwe Steffen, trans. Liselotte Dieckmann, New York: Peter Lang, 1992, p. 90. 9 Donald Gordon, Expressionism. Art and Idea, p. 51.
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