Expressionism is a complex and often contradictory movement. It encompasses the excavation of the psyche while liberating the body. Expressionism generally refers to anything that was not impressionism; it could even include anti-impressionistic work. Up to the outbreak of World War I, the term “expressionism” was used to describe any art work that was fauviste, futurist, modern, or cubist. Expressionism has qualities that are a more sensitive perception of the world. It attempts to portray the mind of the artist, shaping the figures which an artist paints or writes about.
(“Expressionism (literature)”) Subjective human experience plays a large role in expressionist art. Because of this, expressionism has potential for despair and anguish, which is quite unlike any artistic movement that came before it. (Bassie, 7-10) Expressionism was not a strict movement; unlike surrealism or naturalism in literature or impressionism in painting, expressionism was the offering of ideas, not techniques. (“Expressionism in Literature”) For example, after World War I, people were anxious and aware that they were vulnerable.
Expressionists worked through these emotions, through the fears of atomic war, creating art that was based on their own experiences and feelings. They refused to set limits on the emotional content of their work. (Sandler, 29-30) Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Max Beckmann’s Departure are both expressionistic, however, Kafka’s story is the more powerful example of the qualities of expressionism. In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, there is a passage where Gregor describes the horrors of his daily, a job he never wanted. Gregor mentions that he travels for a living, that that it is “much more than working in the home office.
” He goes on to describe what he experiences and wishes that “the devil take it all! ” (Kafka, 688) This passage from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis exhibits expressionism because it expresses Gregor’s human feelings, even though he has been transformed into an insect. It shows how he really feels, including anxiety and despair. For example, he speaks of his job, even the smallest detail. He detests his job, only working at it because his father owed Gregor’s boss money. He details the commute, the sub par room-and-board, and the fact that he does not have any intimate friends, only acquaintances.
However, later in the story, Gregor does begin to lose all of these feelings in favor of his feelings of being an insect. He begins to enjoy rotten cheese and climbing the walls of his bedroom. When his family forgets, or rather begins to not care, about him, transforming his bedroom into a storage area that he has to live with, Gregor realizes his feelings as an insect. According to Gustav Janouch, Kafka himself described The Metamorphosis as his own idea of horror. (1477) This transformation, like that of his physical being, is the embodiment of expressionism.
This passage, as well as the entire story, is a telling of change, from one state of being to another, from one process of thinking to another. It shows the human experience not because it deals with changing into an insect, but because each individual questions the nature of their existence; their job, their family life, and their inner purpose. Max Beckmann’s Departure exhibits expressionism because it shows human suffering and peace. In the first panel, people are tied up, perhaps being tortured, but clearly in agony. In the second panel, there are three individuals on a boat, seemingly at ease, catching fish.
In the third panel, two individuals are tied together, bodies flush against each other, one upside down, the other right side up. It also looks as though a bird is pecking at one of the individuals. Some believe that Beckmann’s work is obscure, dense, and beyond understanding (Finch), however, that is not true of any work of art. Two out of the three panels show human suffering, which holds the majority in the world. Human suffering is experienced by more individuals at more points during their lives than any other feeling. That is the nature of life, the nature of the world.
However, peace is also experienced, although not as frequently. For the individuals in the second panel, they seem content with where they are. Everyone experiences contentment in their lives, but for some it occurs so infrequently that those peaceful moments are overshadowed by suffering. This painting could also express Beckmann’s move from Frankfurt to Berlin when the Nazis came to power in the 1930s. (“Departure”) For example, the individuals in the second panel could be traveling. The first and third panels could represent where they came from and where they were going.
Beckmann did not want to leave Frankfurt, but he was forced to leave, and Berlin held nothing for him. In both the first and third panels, individuals are shown as suffering. Perhaps this is what Beckmann was feeling due to his forced move. Expressionism manifests itself in different ways between literary and visual art works. In literary works, feelings are told as well as shown. One can show despair through description of detail and character development. The reader knows somewhat of a character’s past, and perhaps how they got to where they are in a story.
One does not experience this is visual art. One can only look at a painting and contemplate and interpret what happened before and what would happen after, but there is no definite answer. The feeling interpreted from a painting are perhaps those that the viewer has imposed on it, not the feelings that the artist wanted to convey. Everyone has their own vision and opinion; with writing, feelings and experiences are laid out clearly, with paintings, feelings and experiences are more the viewer’s than the artist’s.
Because of these reasons, the literary arts can be more expressionistic than the visual arts. For example, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is more expressionistic than Beckmann’s Departure because Kafka’s story is straightforward about the characters’ feelings, while Beckmann’s painting is left too much up to viewer interpretation. Feelings expressed through art, if any, should be those of the artist who created it, not of the patron. – Bassie, Ashley. Expressionism. New York: Artists Rights Society, 2005. – Bloom, Harold. Franz Kafka.
Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003. – “Departure. ” Online Design Museum. 21 May 2009. http://www. cs. wayne. edu/~zhw/csc691/tour1pic1detail. html – “Expressionism. ” Abstract Art. 21 May 2009. http://abstractart. 20m. com/expressionism. html – “Expressionism in Literature. ” Dictionary of the History of Ideas. 1 May 2003. 21 May 2009. http://etext. virginia. edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi. cgi? id=dv2-24 – “Expressionism (literature). ” Tiscali. 2009. 21 May 2009. http://www. tiscali. co. uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0097410.
html – Finch, Charlie. “Deciphering Beckmann. ” Artnet. 2004. 21 May 2009. http://www. artnet. com/magazine/features/finch/finch7-17-03. asp – Janouch, Gustav. “Kafka’s View of ‘The Metamorphosis’. ” The Story and Its Writer. 7th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. – Kafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis. ” The Story and Its Writer. 7th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. – Sandler, Irving. The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc. , 1970.