1. Overview:

  1. The meaning and essence of expressionism in art

  2. The traces of German expressionism its significance and varied definitions

  1. What the paper will cover:

  1. Break the ambiguity in defining expressionism.

  2. Comprehensive evaluation and analysis of relevant literature.

  3. Thesis Statement: Today, expressionism has become synonymous to modern art in general. The desire to infuse expressionist ideas is widespread in drama, stage design, dance, film, and architecture. It is by no means limited to fine art, even though its significance and influence in other areas should not be over-estimated.

  1. The Issue: German expressionism in contemporary art

  1. The history of German expressionism

  2. The interpretational challenges of expressionism in relations to its historical foundations

  3. The impact of expressionism on the society: Focus is on techniques of expressionism in contemporary and how it impacts on the society.

  4. Possible solution to interpretational problems of different props that represent modern expressionism: More research and application of new technologies in art.

  1. Literature Review

  1. Explanatory Literature

  1. Elger, Dietmar, and Hugh Beyer. Expressionism: A Revolution in German Art. Köln: Taschen, 2002. Print.

  2. Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner`s Art Through the Ages: A Global History. Boston, MA: Thomson, 2009. Print.

  1. Empirical Literature

  1. Ingo Petzke. An Introduction to Expressionism. University of Applied Science Würzburg, Faculty of Design, Emeritus, n.d.

  1. Recommendations

  2. Conclusion

  3. Assessment of the Research Paper Writing Process

  1. The steps followed in the research were:

  1. Finding the basic meaning of expressionism

  2. Writing a summary of different authors’ perspectives on the subject

  3. Use the authors assertions to demonstrate how German expressionism still influences contemporary art

  1. What was learned from the research

  1. Expressionism continues in contemporary with a focus on different issues from those of German expressionist artists

  1. The impact of the assignment on my career goals

  1. I will participate in further research to find out and document more underpinnings about German expressionism in contemporary art.

Artis an important aspect of human development for the society andindividuals. Growth of art normally follows a path already set inplace by earlier primitive versions of art. Plato denigrated art asimitation of the phenomenal world and as a semblance of semblance.Through his theory of forms, Plato formed the basis upon which modernexpressionism grew in art. Plato explained the theory through hisallegory of the cave. He thought of a cave that housed prisoners thathad been incarcerated all their lives and all they could see on thewall inside the cave were the images of workers as they walked along.They could only hear the echoes of their voices. Now that all theprisoners knew were the shadows of the prisoners and the echoes oftheir voices, it acted as their mirror of how the outside worldlooked like. The prisoners did not know that the forms mimicked thereal objects outside the cave. However, their perception of theimages and echoes were not wrong because represented what washappening outside the cave. Similarly, expressionism in art simplydepicts what is going on the society.

Artdoes not just represent the realities of life in terms of physicalfeatures or the concrete environment of human beings, but it has adeeper meaning than the superficial features that an artist uses inpictorial terms. In fact art is part of human emotions, experiences,perceptions, economic, social, and political development. It isworth noting that when a society develops every aspect of itssocio-political institutions or the economy and the enhancements thatcome with such progress, art also moves along with it. An example ofan important thematic aspect of art that is attributable to humandevelopment throughout history is expressionism in art. Thus, howdid German expressionism grew to become integral to modern art,especially in the United States and other western countries? Today,expressionism influences to modern art in different ways becauseartists use works of art communicate essential themes in society. The desire to infuse expressionist ideas is widespread in drama,stage design, dance, film, and architecture. It is by no meanslimited to fine art, even though its significance and influence inother areas should not be under-estimated.

TheHistory of German Expressionism

Abstractexpressionism began to influence art in the 1940s and 1950s in NewYork. Abstract expressionism depicted the work of painters thatfilled their canvases with color and abstract forms. This essay,therefore, focuses on abstract expressionism as an art form thatcontinues to influence modern art. Gestural expressionism is theantagonistic form through which other artists attack abstractexpressionism. The opposing views of gestural artistsnotwithstanding, abstract expressionism has grown to be the mostaccepted description among artists that did not have much in common. Expressionist art began in the post-war period when there was immenseanxiety and trauma. German expressionism found its way intomainstream art during the same period. All artists during this timefocused on emotional and universal themes that could fit intosurrealism. New York painters began to include abstractexpressionist forms into their art, which grew in influence thanParis which had previously been the leader of modern art.

Expressionismbegan as a movement in 1905, where art become the means express andstress inner emotions and personal or social experiences rather thanpresent reality as it had traditionally been. Art was increasinglyforming a platform for artists to communicate the emotional aspectsof the society through which political dissent, nature, and humanitywere the main aspects of the society that artists paid utmostattention. It was also a platform which was used to solve conflictsamong other vices affecting the society. It was during and after WWIthat expressionism transformed into a movement with pre-definednotions and emotional connotations that represented differentpolitical and socio-cultural aspects of the German society. The mainthemes in early expressionism in art revolved around the negativeenergy that was common in the pre-WWI and post-WWI Germany. Expressionist artists concentrated on the psychology of a nation thathad been defeated where feelings of betrayal, anger and humiliationtook centerstage. The hyperinflation that rocked the economy, thechaotic political environment, and disintegrated society aligned theold values of art with social classes, cold logic, and unachievablebeauty that embodied the revolutionary aesthetics that reflected thestate of the mind of Germany as a nation. For example, from 1919 to1920, artists came up with works that communicated anti-bourgeois andanti-modernist values as a means to express the exiting social andpolitical order. The period provided conditions for thetransformation of expressionist art in Germany to motion picturesthat expressed the revolutionary feelings that typically embodiedwhat the Germans yearned to achieve to change the social order.Thereafter, expressionism was not just a preserve of the aestheticartists. It gradually spread to the film industry.

WassilyKandinsky is one of the most prominent expressionist artists becausehis expressionist works of art just before the onset of WWI in 1914became the abstract art in a series of consistent stages. WalterGropius, on the other hand, had his own remarkable contribution tothe entrenchment of expressionism in art through his Bauhausmanifesto through which he started a school of art that stressed andtaught functionality and clarity of form in the production of art. In doing so, Gropius’ infused modern expressionism in at that thatgrown to influence contemporary art. Expressionism did not stopunfolding in art, literature, and architecture in 1920. The periodbetween 1905 and 1920 simply represents the period when politicalevents and the social climate of Germany found their appropriateartistic expression.


Kandinskyis an important modern artist that demonstrated how modern abstractexpressionism as a close relationship with tenets of Germanexpressionism (Short,2012). Inhis discourse on spirituality, Kandinsky expounded on the role of thetheosophical society, which has been in existence since 1975, onabstract expressionism as a form of presenting paintings and othertypes of contemporary art. According to Kandinsky, spiritualityforms the nucleus of modern abstract expressionist forms and theTheosophical Society whose core objective has been to show that alllife has converge in the oneness of all living beings as a naturalphenomenon. He defines spirituality as relating to the soul throughphysical nature of any work of art or possessing abstract featuresthat have universal meaning. According to Kandinsky, the creation ofart and how it is perceived can be described as internal necessityand external necessity. He considered external perception of art isnot valid for future purposes, but only relevant for the past. This,abstract expressionism, which is still influential in modern art,focuses on touching human soul of reader or the audience of artrather than just fulfilling aesthetic value of art.Kandinsky’sview further reiterates that internal necessity, which is animportant aspect in abstract expressionism has its roots in Germanexpressionism, arises from three spiritual beginnings which include:1) the artist expresses their peculiar self to the audience. 2) Theartist expresses the peculiar aspect of their time. 3) The artistrepresents art in general by embodying essential aspects of art inthe song, painting or other works of art. One of the ways throughwhich modern artist infuse abstract expressionism in art is throughcolor.

Kleiner(2009) observes that expressionism is still alive in contemporaryart. He considers the main social issues that motivate expressionistart as different from the issues the sparked German expressionistart. In Kleiner’s view, the new issues that are major topics inexpressionist art are work, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation(Kleiner, 2009). In contemporary art expressionism communicatesideals of multiculturalism, diversity, and issues of equality in theworkplace and the society (Kleiner, 2009). Many decades after theend of the revolutionary German expressionism, modern artists decidedto use the same strategies that expressionist artists used tocommunicate their views about different social issues such as thefeminism, equality among races and ethnic communities, and sexualorientations.

Kleinerdiscusses various artists, but Kiki Smith and Faith Ringgold aremajor ones that use expressionism extensively. Kiki smith’ssculptures expressed his views about who controls the human body.Smith developed her views from her experience and training asemergency medical service technicians in New York. Through hersculptures it is evident that her argument was that the human body issocially constructed. Smith encouraged viewers of her sculptures tounderstand that external forces shape people’s perceptions of theirbodies. Smith suspended two life-size was figures of a male and afemale, form metal stands. Both wax figures were nude. Hersculptures showed how human beings lose control of their body toexternal forces such as law, medicine, religion, and ideologies.Another example of an artist that Kleiner describe his assertions ofmodern expressionism is Faith Ringgold, whose work as an artist wasan expression of her views on African American Women. Ringgold wasinspired by the civil rights movement to produce a lot of artisticpaintings that reflected the realities of racial and gender prejudicethat were common in the 1960s. Kleiner successfully describes howmodern artists are similar to German expressionists except that theformer has moved from addressing other issues such as politics, classstruggles, and the economy, to significant social issues incontemporary America and the world. He describes many other artistsas an indication that German expressionism did not end in 1920s, butcontinues to the means through which artists of all kinds communicatetheir views about different social, economic, and political issues inthe modern society.

IngoPetzke’s article, AnIntroduction to expressionism, providesdetails about the specific aspects of the expressionism in modernart. Petzke focuses on modern paintings and graphics, sculpture,architecture, music, and stage drama, poetry and prose, and film. Inmodern stage art, directors change and modify plays based on theirindividual subjectivities and personal visions that mostly setthematic aspects of the plays. They usually understand the intentionsof the author of the play and therefore, they ensure that they bringthe characters and events to light as much as possible. Pitzkeobserves that expressionism in modern drama lies through changes inlocations where the visual takes a dominant role over the dialogueand intellectuals aspects. Expressionism in contemporary poetry andprose is manifest through an increase in short, condensed writingstyles that do not stress the rule of syntax. Pitzke considers themodern use of mimic, ballet, music combination and sampling, costumesand words as a continuation of German expressionism. In modernarchitecture, the structures are designed with modern sensitivity toaesthetics or social and political groups. Architects synthesizedifferent arts in a way that cooperates with masses and the masterdoes that with inner visions rather than external influences.


Althoughit is agreeable that German expressionism has a huge influence ofmodern abstract expressionism, there is need to find the link betweencolor and form in modern art. Kandinsky considered color and form asthe two basic ways that an artist can achieve spiritual harmony indifferent areas of artistic composition. Form in this case, is thedelimitation of different surfaces of a painting or, in modern terms,a graphical representation of art, which has an impact on the innerinterpretation by the audience.

Thus,the following recommendations are relevant to art researchers to findmore information on how modern innovations in technology can helpadvance the culture of expressionism in art:

  • Research and document a how form and color interact in modern art to form modern abstract expressionism and the explain its relationship with the history of expressionism

  • Artists in different fields such as painting, graphic designers, and architects should make their works of art simpler in terms of color, but still maintain the main objective of eliciting the abstract emotional or spiritual message underlying its tangible features.

  • There is limited literature about the link between German expressionism and modern abstract expressionism. More resources should be committed towards creating more information about the relationship the former and the later so that artists can use it improve artistic products


Germanexpressionism in contemporary art is a very important topic. Itprovides one with the chance to understand, in detail, the historicaland modern aspects of expressionism. Expressionist art is embodied inthe German expressionism due to the fact that, it grew at the time ofone of the difficult period in Germany’s socio-economic times. Forexample, the expressionism grew to become integral to modern art,especially in the US as well as in other Western country. The mainthemes in early expressionism in art revolved around the negativeenergy that was common in the pre-WWI and post-WWI Germany. It isclear that, it was during and after WWI that expressionismtransformed into a movement with pre-defined notions as well asemotional connotations. This represented different political andsocio-cultural aspects of the German society among other notableaspects. A chronological analysis of the development of art showsthat expressionism has been growing throughout time. Furthermore, itis evident that modern art has many aspects of expressionism withlittle literature that expounds on their application in modern art.

Theonly difference between German expressionism and abstractexpressionism are the issues that motivate artists to produce theirwork in a particular way. In both cases, the artists communicatetheir inner feelings and emotions about a societal issue rather thanrely on external forces that informed impressionist art. Artists usematerials and techniques to break away from traditional artisticmethods that depended on reality rather than the inner feelings aboutissues. There is subtle vagueness and open-endedness to the termexpressionism. There are different understandings of the term atdifferent levels that make it to lack a precise definition. Atfirst, the term was used as an antonym of impressionism when theBerlin art dealer described Edvard Munch’s art as expressionist asa way to stress its differences with impressionist art that wascommon in Germany. Nonetheless, the definition has grown beyondbeing the opposite of German impressionism.


Elger,Dietmar, and Hugh Beyer. Expressionism:A Revolution in German Art.Köln: Taschen, 2002. Print.

IngoPetzke. AnIntroduction to Expressionism.University of Applied Science Würzburg, Faculty of Design, Emeritus,n.d.

Kleiner,Fred S. Gardner`s. ArtThrough the Ages: A Global History.Boston, MA: Thomson, 2009. Print.

Short,C. (2012). Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art and Painting inParticular [Uber Das Geistige In Der Kunst Insbeondere in DerMalerei] First Published by R. Piper.