Salvador Dali’s melting clocks and watches are the best known examples of surrealism, one of art’s less rational movements. (Image: Wikipedia)
When we look over the highlights of that artistic tradition, we see that it constitutes a kind of progression as one major art movement superseded another, often reacting against the one that went before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given our rather eclectic times, all of them persist in one form or another. For example, in writing, the Gothic, fantasy, and science fiction genres draw heavily from the ideas and conventions of one of the oldest and most colourful movements – romanticism.
Expressionism is a style of painting, music, or drama in which the artist or writer expresses an inner emotional response rather than merely depicting an external reality. A deliberately exaggerated or altered rendition of reality allows the portrayal of subjective inner feelings. As an art movement, it was popular in Germany early in the 20th century. Edvard Munch’s familiar painting, ‘The Scream,’ was a precursor to the movement and the renowned canvas gives some idea of the technique.
Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, gives some idea of the emotional expressionist technique. (Image: public domain)
The German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder provided expressionism with a powerful new philosophical underpinning. This was the idea that self-expression is a primal need of human beings. Moreover, unless they cripple themselves with inhibition or self-constraint, whatever a person does expresses their whole nature. A new attitude toward works of art themselves arises from the view that an artist reveals himself in what he does. Philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin has pointed out that, prior to the advent of expressionism, works of art were valued primarily as objects. Their value had nothing to do with the artist who made them or why they had come into being. In fact, for most people today, this view of art objects still prevails. Herder believed that, since a work of art is an expression of the whole being of the artist, including his cultural identity, it must be valued within that larger frame.