Expressionism in our Classrooms

This should be a very individualised project.  A project you can sink your teeth, brains and brush into.




We all have walked into a classroom and been aware of the overwhelming sense of boredom, or lethargy or on those rare days even excitement.  We walk through the halls seeing faces a blank, with long faces and far away eyes.

schmidt rott

Image source by Schmidt Rott



Image source By Nolde



Image source By Pechstein


This passage by J.P. Hodin is a helpful description of expressionist art:

“Expressionism” is in fact a universal style which appears in times of great spiritual tension. Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pièta and the Descent from the Cross in Florence Cathedral both belong to this type of expression, as do the works of El Greco, the aged Rembrandt, the late Goya, Mathias Grünewald, the master of the Isenheim Altar in Colmar, or the artists of the Baroque….


Image source By E. Munch

[O]ne of the characteristics is a profound religious emotion. It is a somber, passionate art—the art of Van Gogh, Lovis Corinth, Edvard Munch, Ernst Josephson, the late Turner, James Ensor, Oskar Kokoschka, the painters of Die Brücke, Rouault, the early Chagall, Jack B. Yeats, Soutine, Max Weber, Francis Bacon—in which spiritual experience asserts itself against the tyranny of mathematical thought and technical progress, in fact against the dehumanization and mechanization of culture (Edvard Munch).

Ya get it?

No, well try this:

Image By Karl schmidt rottluff

Image By Karl schmidt rottluff

The stylistic premise of Expressionism was that the artist’s response to the environment was so intense that it affected the form of the art. Surface elements are distorted or exaggerated by subjective pressures. As a reflection of the time, Expressionist painting tended to be vivid and violent, with jarring images. In expressionism, it is considered more important that the work depicts the subjective, personal emotions accurately, than that the subjects drawn are an accurate, external presentation of reality. Despite this one, unifying motivation behind expressionism, there is no single, particular style associated with the movement. In a general sense, painters such as Matthias and El Greco can be called expressionist, though in practice, the term is applied mainly to 20th century works.

The goal of Expressionism was to evoke the subjective responses that the artist has to objects or events. It contrasted with impressionism, which sought to capture the outward impression of an object or scene. And of course Expressionism did not attempt a realistic portrayal of the world.

Expressionism was an art movement associated mainly with German painting and film of the early 20th century, particularly following World War I. Hitchcock, a lifelong art collector, was familiar with German expressionist filmmaking from his work in Germany during the mid-1920s.

felix muller

Image source By felix muller

Expressionism found its roots in two groups of German painters, Die Bruecke and Der Blaue Reiter. Die Bruecke, meaning “the Bridge” was centered in Dresden and included artists Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Otto Mueller, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. The group held formation from 1905 to 19

13.The group set up their studios in a working-class neighborhood on the edge of Dresden’s boundaries. Their isolation led to their shared stylistic and thematic development. Die Brucke’s art was typically

violent and emotional in its imagery. They favored themes that explored the relationship difference between city and country. Finding some of their inspiration from the art of tribal cultures in Africa and the South Seas, Die Bruecke favored distorted lines and enhanced forms, vibrant color, and flattened perspective. They rejected conventional gallery procedures and organized a series of traveling exhibitions in order to present their work to the public. The group fell apart due to artistic differences and the onset of World War I.

German Expressionist Prints, June 17th – July 12th, 2008,. exhibited at the Rex Irwin gallery.

A nice read

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Project Criteria:

Over the next 10 classes you need to produce a series of 5 works.  I care not to limit you on the material aspects of your work but I remind you that we have been playing with Ink, washes and line for the last two weeks.

Here, are my project criteria:  [but remember you are welcome to think through what I am asking you to do, rework it so it suits you and then come see me, show me your sketches and tell me about your idea. ]

Project criteria:
size at least 18″ x 24″ …
Material up to you, canvas, wood, paper…
Ink, Paint, Dyes or a combination.

Project Process:

You have already listen to me talk about Expressionism, the European social strata turn upside down and how the artist tried to capture the hollowness, and the many faceted primitive emotions of the people around them.  We talked a bit about African masks and the visual vocabulary the artist drew inspirations from.

Now Please read the secions below on African masks
Watch the videos
Take a look at the galleries of images I have included

After getting a feel for the where and what Expressionist art is all about I want you to start looking at the people in your classes, in the halls, and in the cafeteria.  What emotions are they exhibiting?  What can you draw out from their faces? their body language, the vibe in the halls.

Now open your sketchbooks and start to sketch, to write, and to conceptualize your project.

In a whole class conversation:
Present your ideas/sketches and listen to the feedback.

Go away and write and draw.
Bring your 5 drafts [4×6]

Once approved get to work!!!

9 classes = work periods

Last class we have a whole class crit.

German Expressionist Art and its roots in Africa

Unkowen Artist

Image source Unkowen Artist

The seemingly straightforward nature of African masks disguises their wide variety, ability to transform the wearer, and system of shapes to convey specific traits.

  1. Versatile: Each mask is sort of a “mix and match” of different elements – location, tribe, occasion, shape, and which entity the mask represents. Location: masks were made in many parts of Africa, especially in western and central parts. Occasions: they were used for all sorts of events, from celebrations to rituals to rites of passage. Shape:masks could cover just the face, be a full helmet, or be in between.  Representation:they could represent a variety of entities, such as ancestors, deities, animals, or women.  Closer look: To get a sense of how varied African masks are, see below for a sampling of different types of masks or click here.
  2. Metamorphosis: The mask enables the wearer to take on the persona of the entity the mask represents, the wearer “becomes” that ancestor, animal, or deity. The mask is just one of many components of the transformation – full-body costumes, live music, dance, community members, etc. What we now consider African art includes objects that were not made to be displayed in a museum isolated behind glass, but rather to be used in a specific social context. Closer look: The short video below shows how the mask is part of a larger, dynamic performance. This would be interesting to bring to a quiet museum gallery!
  3. Windows into the soul: The shape of the eyes are often used to convey a certain quality or emotion. The shapes often reflect how our faces actually show those emotions! Each group has their own “code” for a shape and its corresponding meaning.  Closer look: In some Punu communities, slitted or half-open eyes indicate tranquility (see below) while in Grebo communities, small, round eyes indicate anger.     [taken from art snap]
Image source Unkowen Artist.   Kenya Tribal Masks

Image source Unkowen Artist. Kenya Tribal Masks

Image Gallery

Great Site for information on African Masks