modernist art movement

Expressionism is an art and cultural movement of the 20th century. Expressionist artists try to express a feeling with what they create. Colours and shapes are not used in a way people see them, but as the artist feels them.

Expressionism emerged as an 'avant-garde movement' in poetry and painting before the First World War. In the Weimar years it was appreciated by a mass audience,[1] peaking in popularity in 1920s Berlin.

Expressionism presents the world as subjective: how the artist feels it, not how it is scientifically. The art looks to get an emotional effect, and transmits personal moods and ideas.[1][2] Expressionist artists sought to express the meaning of "being alive"[3] and emotional experience rather than physical reality.[3][4]

Expressionism is exhibited in many art forms, including: painting, literature, theatre, dance, film, architecture and music. The term often implies emotional angst. In a general sense, painters such El Greco could be called expressionist; in practice, the term is applied only to 20th century works.

The Expressionist stress on the individual perspective was also a reaction to positivism and other artistic movements such as naturalism and impressionism.[5]

Typical modern expressionists are Edvard Munch (The Scream), August Macke, Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Marc Chagall, and others. The First World War, with the many young men who died, left deep impressions on artists' minds.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bruce Thompson, University of California at Santa Cruz. lecture on Weimar culture/Kafka's Prague
  2. Chris Baldick Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, entry for 'Expressionism'
  3. 3.0 3.1 Victorino Tejera 1966. Art and human intelligence. Vision Press, London. 85, 140
  4. The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary. 1976, 294
  5. Garzanti, Aldo (1974) [1972]. Enciclopedia Garzanti della letteratura (in Italian). Milan: Guido Villa. p241