German Expressionism


German Expressionism was part of a larger, early-20th-century tendency in art, literature, music, and theater throughout Europe, which explored subjective experience, spirituality, and formal experimentation. Within the socially conservative environment of late 19th- and early 20th-century Germany, groups like The Blue Rider and Die Brücke were shocking for both aesthetic and cultural reasons. Their spontaneous brushwork and distorted figures, borrowed from so-called “primitive art,” defied conventions, as did their anti-authoritarian cultural practices: independent exhibitions, sexual liberation, the production of fringe publications, and political activism. After the First World War, the utopian and spiritual elements of this tendency gave way to the more political ideas of groups like the Dresden Secession and the Novembergruppe, many of whose members later became associated with Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). Expressionism was a lightning-rod issue for Communists and National Socialists alike, for whom it often became a stand-in for Modern art at large. Considering it to be at odds with his program of classically inspired “Great German Art,” Adolph Hitler vilified the movement, holding it up as an emblem of cultural degeneration and persecuting its practitioners.