expressionism Style

Expressionism is an artistic style that prioritizes subjective emotions and responses over objective reality. Artists achieve this through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy, often employing vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic elements. This approach is a main current in late 19th and early 20th-century art, marked by highly subjective, personal, and spontaneous self-expression. Expressionism also has roots in Germanic and Nordic art, often emerging during times of societal change or spiritual crisis.

Visual Expressionism

Expressionist art, characterized by intensely emotional scenes, utilized bright, unnatural colors and highly textured brushwork. It focused on emotional impact rather than historical accuracy or technical precision. The goal was to evoke powerful emotions in viewers. Notably, it addressed the impact of war on European societies.

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Works Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” exemplify Expressionism’s use of bold colors and emotional intensity. While often associated with post-Impressionism, these pieces influenced later Expressionist works.


Expressionism extended its emotional experience to printmaking. It allowed for the mass production of artistic content, reflecting the psychic and intellectual unrest of the early 20th century.

Expressionism in Literature

In literature, Expressionism emerged as a reaction to materialism, urbanization, and family dominance in pre-World War I Europe. It was a dominant literary movement in Germany during and after the war. Expressionist writers sought to convey social protest through a new style, emphasizing general truths over specific situations. Their plays explored the mental states of representative symbolic characters. The inner world, not the outer, took center stage.

Leading Figures

Expressionist drama was pioneered by August Strindberg and Frank Wedekind. “Der Bettler” by Reinhard Johannes Sorge is considered the first full-fledged Expressionist play, while other prominent playwrights include Georg Kaiser, Ernst Toller, and Fritz von Unruh.

Expressionist Poetry

Expressionist poetry, emerging alongside drama, used nonreferential, ecstatic, and condensed language to delve into feeling. It often expressed horror over urban life and apocalyptic visions. Georg Heym, Ernst Stadler, and Gottfried Benn were principal Expressionist poets.

Decline of Expressionism

The movement’s decline was hastened by its vague longing for a better world, highly poetic language, and intensely personal presentation. The rise of political social realism and the Nazis’ ascent to power in 1933 marked the end of Expressionism. Many artists went into exile.


remains a significant period in art and literature, reflecting the tumultuous emotions and societal changes of the early 20th century.

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