Skip to comments.Art Appreciation/Education "class" #4: Expressionism
Posted on 06/16/2005 8:02:07 AM PDT by Republicanprofessor
Okay, today our theme, for this fourth "class," is emotional expressionism. This developed in the first decade of the twentieth century and features Matisse, as a French Expressionist (or Fauvist, if you want to get really picky) and the two branches of German Expressionism: the Bridge and the Blue Rider. They are all inspired by the work of van Gogh and Cezanne which we saw in the last lesson: the emotional power of van Gogh and the strong composition of Cezanne.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) dropped out of a career as a lawyer. He became a leader of the Fauves (which also included Derain, Braque and many other more minor artists). His Joy of Life is the quintessential Fauve painting. (This was posted earlier on a thread dealing with the Barnes Foundation, which is where the painting is located, and for many years it was only reproducible in black and white, a very frustrating fact for the art historian.)
What parallels do you see between the works below? What values do they show? How does Matisses use of brighter colors, simplified line and shape exaggerate his meaning?
Joy of Life 1905 by Matisse vs. Titians Bacchanal of the Andrians from 1522.
Note the flat women in the middle. Matisses contemporaries (including Seurat, whose pointilistic--or dotted--paintings were very much on the cutting edge) were shocked at the flat treatment. Seurat was not shocked at the fact that nudes were in the picture, because nudes in these suggestive pose go back to Titian, Giorgione and others of the Renaissance in Venice, as in that right painting. But the fact that Matisse chose to exclude modeling (or shading) of the bodies to make them flat is what appalled Seurat. But does Matisse still convey their curvilinear and seductive shapes? Surely, with that wonderful, sensuous line around them. Matisse is an expert at line. He is also a master of color: notice the wonderful bright colors, popping out and celebrating everywhere. And what is going on? Have you ever enjoyed music and dance at a picnic? Thats what we see. And a rapturous kiss in the lower right, with figures absorbed into one (like Klimts Kiss that Liz posted a few weeks ago.)
And for those who would say that he cant draw, let me enlighten you. Matisse would draw from the live model for several hours every morning. But then he would go into his studio and extract the essence of certain poses to emphasize the joy he wanted to convey. Look at all the steps he went through to create Le Luxe I and Le Luxe II below. This example is not as good as the 20-30 steps he went through to develop his Pink Nude on the far right below, but I dont have that slide here. Matisses work must be the most deceptively simple in art history.
I could go on and on about Matisse, but lets jump to Germany (and let FReepers add which are their favorite Matisses on the thread below). There were two movements of Expressionism in Germany: the Bridge (Die Brucke) which included Kirchner, Nolde and others in the cities; and the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) which included Marc and Kandinsky in the country. What comparison of values and forms can you see below? Do they use different shapes and colors to convey their meaning?
I am a country person, so you have to take what I say with a great deal of salt. But I always find the city images by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) racked with tension. These ladies are crowding me out of the street and remind me of the adage that You cant be too rich nor too thin. (Say that in a really high and snotty voice). The bright red-pink background presses forward to make the space even more claustrophobic. Nearly all of Kirchners work has these angled shapes and tension throughout. And he did have a mental breakdown of sorts after being in WWI, and he retired to Switzerland to paint and to get his act back together again. But even those paintings in Switzerland have his tell-tale angles and tension.
But Franz Marc(1880-1916) has such a sense of joy and peace in his work. Like Matisse, his colors are bright and appealing. He wanted to see nature from the perspective of the animals. Have you ever seen a yellow cow dance? The curves of the Blue Horses are also the essence of horsehood, if there is such a word.
One other Bridge artist is Emil Nolde (1867-1956). He was actually very religious and tried to bring that emotionally into his works. I love his dance around the golden calf, below, because it really captures that cravenness that drove Moses to break the commandments. See the golden calf in the central background? Nolde also did some touching images, such as letting the children come to Christ (below, right).
Now to the most difficult artists of this section. Open your minds for a new concept of art, because we are definitely moving into non-objective art. The cool thing is that in four different countries in 1911, four artists were independently working towards art that was no longer based in the real world (as in no-objects). These included the Russian Kasimir Malevich, the Dutch Piet Mondrian, the American Arthur Dove and the German Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).
One evening Kandinsky came home to his studio and had a new vision. As it turns out, one of his abstract (but recognizable) early paintings was on its side, so he saw it through completely new eyes. He didnt see clouds, a hill, or whatever. He saw that puffy shapes of white, textured greens and independent lines could create feelings without having to represent anything in this world. At nearly the same time, he went to a concert by an avant-garde composer called Arnold Schoenberg. This music did not use the normal traditions of music: there was no major or minor key (any note could be used), no traditional use of theme or harmony, etc. (I think early atonal music is much more difficult to get than the paintings.) Kandinsky did some paintings of this concert and he and Schoenberg began a long correspondence about modernism that is fascinating. See the yellow piece below. (The Jewish Museum in NYC had a great exhibition on this a year or two ago, and the catalogue, complete with CD, is awesome.)
So, here are four works by Kandinsky. Can you tell the earliest work? Its the first one. Imagine it on its side and the liberating effect this had on him. Now see if you can discern a difference in mood between the other pieces? How is he using color, line and shape differently? Now dont just dismiss it as a bunch of squiggles a kindergartner could do. Look carefully.
Kandinskys early work (I dont know this title: train perhaps?) c. 1911 1911 Black Spot 1912 Ravine 1914
Now, what Kandinsky did (in more intellectual terms) is the following: he freed color and line from each other (as Pollock would do so even more later on). Up until now, line has always defined the outer border of a form, be it a flower, a nude, or whatever. But now the line can do its own thing in a corner, and the color can flow freely. Kandinsky said that he did not really paint music, but to emphasize the musical connection in class, I ask if one can perhaps hear different instruments. Does that huge black spot perhaps remind one of cymbals crashing, drums or low bass? Or maybe a tuba. The ravine image, on the far right, is really dark and scary. Was he communicating an experience during a walk? I see a waterfall in the lower right.
At this time, the meaning in these paintings is often the joy of discovering abstraction and non-objective art. Different people might see different things: a mountain or a body or a waterfall. But you cant go off into a long story about this mountain or person climbing it. These paintings are meant to be enjoyed for their visual pleasure: the contrast of line against color, very much like the sound of a clarinet with a violin. Music is not representational. Mozart did not write with a little story in mind (although later composers did write program music about the course of a river or whatever). Kandinsky wanted to create this same, absolute pleasure that we feel in music: one theme against another, the pure sound of instrument against another instrument, color against line.
This stuff is not easy to get; but this is (again) a short introduction to some of these wonderful ideas. I love Kandinsky, but he is not easy to understand.
By the way, a few images by the other non-objective artists.
Malevich Compressed 6 Mondrian and Dove Nature Symbolized all about 1911 or soon thereafter. Notice how Dove is a bit different? What has he added to his works that the other Europeans dont have?
Instead, criticize because you don't like what the artist did to the tree, the nude, the flute, the waterfall because......
Ooops, pushed that Post button a wee bit too early. The earliest Kandinsky did not come through, so here we try again. Sorry for the confusion.
Art Appreciation/Education ping list.
Let me know if you want on or off the ping list.
I love Franz Marc and have a Kandinsky (just a framed poster) in my livingroom.
I am bookmarking it. Will be returning later when I have more time.
Bump for later.
Thanks again for posting these threads - they're like an oasis - very refreshing.
Art appreciation bump. Thanks again Republicanprofessor.
Ah Hah - now I know where the monopoly game people got the idea for the design of the board game in that second from last painting in your post #1.
Mondrian: Gray Tree, Apple Tree, Line and Color, Composition and Broadway Boogie-Woogie (which may look the most like that Monopoly board). Some love the energy in this one, inspired by a move to NYC in the late 1930s. But I don't like the yellow lines as well as the black ones.
MOndrian has written quite a bit about the theory behind these paintings. But the reading is difficult. Essentially, he is interested in a stable balance of forms, thus no diagonals (which add dynamism and energy). Each shape is different and there is such a subtle balance between the lines, white, and colors that curators can spot a fake immediately.
While these might be easy to copy now, remember he is one of the first to create such new works in the 1910-20s.
Just in case anyone wants to see any previous "classes" in this vein, the posts are:
class 3 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1419876/posts
class 2 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1414727/posts
class 1 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1410117/posts
They look like any grade school child who was strung out on LSD could do them.
Instead, criticize because you don't like what the artist did to the tree, the nude, the flute, the waterfall because
All of these have the same features and characteristics (with the exception of the Titian which, while not exactly my style is infinitely better than the rest). They all seem to have fallen out of a drug induced haze. The mind rebells at the loudness and unreality of the colors, shapes etc.
These paintings are meant to be enjoyed for their visual pleasure: the contrast of line against color, very much like the sound of a clarinet with a violin. Music is not representational.
That's just it, they give no visual pleasure. While music is not necessarily representational (Although the best music is) it does have harmony and structure and flow. Else it is not music.
These paintings have no structure. They are just seemingly random splashes of paint on canvas. (This applies mostly to the later pictures in the post) They have no harmony, the colors and shapes clash more than fit. Compare the Titian where everything seems to fit together with the Matisse where nothing seems to fit (even though all the 'people' are nude). Matisse was obviously tripped out when he painted this and it was a bad trip.
All of these fail the sofa test. In fact, if it were not for the fact that some sucker would pay big bucks for them I'd burn the lot to make the world a better place by removing the ugliness. (get the feeling I don't care for these at all?)
BTW. In all fairness the tree lined street is the only one of the non-Titian paitings that's not a total waste. (although I'd bet the artist was still wasted when he painted it)
I didn't realize Kandinsky painted landscapes like the one posted of the street in a village. I like this and I like his later work that use a lot of white for negative space between shapes.
I am so glad that there are so many types of art--classical, abstract etc, because losing one would devalue the whole. The abstracts make the realism so much more sweet where the realistic can where on me the abstracts I can look at and appreciate for the moment.
I'd like to post a section of an email that I sent to another freeper:
"I have been fairly careful to say on these threads that theoretically, there is no reason I see that abstract art cannot be great art. I say this because representational art is abstract in itself, being nothing more than compositions of color shapes (painting). And it follows that the way in which the shapes are arranged (the "abstract" part of the art) is more important to the "art" of the thing than the accuracy of representation."
I mean to say that even with great representational art, it must be the abstract qualities which contribute most to that greatness.
Having said that, it is representational art which is my personal love, has been since I was a child. The artist I am currently enthralled with is Edward Hopper (Thanks to seeing his painting "Groundswell" on one of your threads, Professor). Who freely takes license with reality.
As for the Matisses and the others, it is hard not to like them...even so, I am not yet convinced that they go beyond good art to being great art.
Well, I agree that his figures, abstract as they are, are wonderfully lifelike. Full of movement and charm. I'm glad to know he can draw, it gives me assurance that he made things happen on purpose without total reliance on style. Whether or not he could draw accurately, he was surely successful in his purpose.
I think it very possible that Haals, Velasquez and others would take issue with the assertion that line and color were not freed from each other until the 20th century.
My painting instructor, while no particular fan of modern art, particularly dislikes Matisse's use of color, which he refers to as being "acid."
While I personally am inclined to like and enjoy all of the artists in this thread, I can't get over the feeling that they are almost more like fabric designers.
The Matisse paintings would make wonderful "tropical" Hawaiian type shirts (wouldn't surprise me if you can actually buy a Matisse shirt) while Kandinsky's stuff would look nice on a couch or drapes.
I think you're right. They do remind me of the cheap and gaudy upholstery fabrics one sees on poorly reconditioned antiques
I'll just have to keep working on your appreciation of abstraction. You've made the following comment about represenational art and abstraction before, and you are absolutely right.
I mean to say that even with great representational art, it must be the abstract qualities which contribute most to that greatness
Piero della Francesca's Flagellation and Resurrection from the mid-to-late 15th century.
These works are about as abstract as "representational" artworks become. Notice the incredible geometric composition: all rectangles, triangles, circles. He also balances colors in a very abstract way. The Resurrection here is a bit on the purple side, but otherwise notice how colors are repeated and placed next to each other many, many times. I still remember an art history lecture, on site in Italy, from 1976 that noted all these qualities. I was amazed. (He was a great professor.)
Hopper is also awesome. I'm so thrilled with each name you mention of artists you love. There are so many out there.
What I do with some students who think like this is to suggest that they create an abstract painting (if it's so simple). Usually they find that the layering of color, composition and freedom of line is not so easy as it looks. (If you like what you do, take a picture and post if for me!)
I have to take issue with another statement of yours(especially since I'm getting involved with the classical music ping list too).
While music is not necessarily representational (Although the best music is) it does have harmony and structure and flow. Else it is not music.
Have you listened to Schoenberg? It does not have harmony nor flow. The woman's voice doesn't even really sing, it kind of slides (it's called sprechtstimme....making up fancy words to justify art?).
Listen to a clip here:
But have your ear plugs ready. Maybe you'll appreciate the paintings better after listening to what the music is doing at the same time. I know all the intellectual rationalization for Schoenberg; I still don't enjoy it. It doesn't pass the "play me at the next party" test. (And even the music professors I know don't race to play Schoenberg at any opportunity.)
But I'd take a Kandinsky to hang in my house any day. I'd take and treasure any of the works I post!! May I win that lottery some day...
Of course it as as easy as it looks. I've got some used paint trays that look remarkably like some of these types of paintings. Take some paint. Apply to canvas in random fashion. Sell for big bucks to people who've been snookered. Since it doesn't have to look like anything it doesn't matter how good your technique or talent is (after all, how would anyone know that you didn't want it to look exactly like that?)
(If you like what you do, take a picture and post if for me!)
I wish I had the time to try But I can guarantee that I wouldn't like anything that looked like anything on this thread so far. (I think I'd really enjoy painting/drawing although I have no talent in that direction at all. I can 'see' what I want but have never been able to translate that on to paper or other media. I send in those "learn to draw bambi' tests and they write me back telling me not to quit my day job. See, even the scam schools don't want me.) I have to take issue with another statement of yours(especially since I'm getting involved with the classical music ping list too).
me->While music is not necessarily representational (Although the best music is) it does have harmony and structure and flow. Else it is not music.
Have you listened to Schoenberg? It does not have harmony nor flow. The woman's voice doesn't even really sing, it kind of slides (it's called sprechtstimme....making up fancy words to justify art?).
I listened to "Columbine". My wife is laying in the hospital right now recovering from hip replacement surgery. There's a senile lady down the hall who sounds just like that.
Schoenberg is not music. It does however fit with the expressionistic type paintings as he had to be tripping out when he put the sounds together. (of course IMHO anyone who actually paid for that tripe would be accused of being on drugs also)
I stand by my statement. Music has structure and harmony and flow. Shoenberg has none. Therefore it's not music. Would fingernails on a chalkboard be music? Would the moanings and groanings of a senile old lady in pain be music? Sometimes a chain of ugly sounds is just a chain of ugly sounds. (Other times its rap)
Hmmm. I might take you up on that, since I pretty much concur with John O's comments. But for the moment, how about comparing a non-abstract work with a Kandinsky you posted?
Note that my rose pic is done with colored pencil and pen & ink, not paint, which would require more skill to do effectively. And I will freely acknowledge that the subject matter is both trite and pedestrian. Great art, it ain't.
However, I would argue that it is *better* art than the Kandinsky. And not just better, but objectively, measurably better. Cliche' that it is, at least my picture actually bears some resemblance to physical reality. And as such, my artistic skill can be judged by seeing how accurately I can represent the subject; a critical eye can point out the flaws, e.g., there should be darker shadows under the petals to show realistic lighting. The Kandinsky, on the other hand, makes no serious attempt to look like anything, so it eludes the application of such standards. Paint can be smeared on a canvas and called great art, because it is impossible to identify any flaws -- since there's nothing really there in the first place. It is valued because there are no standards for it to meet.
I am not ashamed to show people my picture. But if I somehow produced the other one, I'd burn it before anybody got a glimpse.
You would love the "music" of John Cage. He has one piece I can actually play. It's called 4' 33". The pianist, with music, sits at the piano and plays NOTHING for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. It's the ambient sound of the audience that's the "music:" the coughs, the "what's going on?" etc.
I only play a section of that in class. It's fun. Is it profound? I doubt it. It derives from Duchamp's Fountain, the use of ready-made objects. How do you like it?
This is the beginning of the stress upon new ideas, rather than traditional form and content. I knew you'd love it. :)
Your rose is fine and reproduces well online. Yes, it is a bit "trite and pedestrian." And that's exactly what the more adventurous artists react against.
Now, Kandinsky is at a concert in this work. Can you see a musical instrument in this? I can. (Hint: it's big and black.) On the left are impressions of people: the audience, the other musicians, it doesn't matter. What is neat is how the rounded arcs could represent their heads, their chairs or even the melodic line (if you can say that about Schoenberg's music....see the clip on my answer to John O.) I like abstract art because the content can work on those different levels.
And Kandinsky is searching for new kinds of expression: new, brighter uses of color, freer line with out outlines, flat space. Some of the colors could be said to clash; so do the sounds in Schoenberg's music.
I love teaching this in an interdisciplinary class, where the hands-on connection with students is a bit better than on the internet.
BTW, I didn't "get" this stuff right away. It took some reading, looking and listening. Now I love it. Different art for different folks, eh?
I disagree so very strongly with the bolded portion of your statement. Your rose is the best looking thing on this entire thread. Great art takes you past the image to experience more of life. I can almost smell your rose. That is great art. Of course the hoity-toity set will downplay it because it actually looks like a rose.
These are the people who give art a bad name. Scrap metal or construction waste thrown together is not art. It is scrap metal and nothing more. Music with no notes, or anything remotly like Schoenberg is not music. It's just noise. And yet these are the things that NEA funds get spent on while good artists can't get a sponsoirship at all. It infuriates me.
Art has been so abused that anyone who identifies themselves as an "artist" immediately gets classed as pretentious leftist scum until they prove otherwise.
BTW, when you originally posted it, I thought this was the one you were unsure of the title, and said 'train', so I thought maybe I was looking down a train platform. But clearly, the Kool-Aid Man (below) can be spotted enjoying the performance in the upper left portion of the scene.
Yes, it is a bit "trite and pedestrian." And that's exactly what the more adventurous artists react against.
I'm sure that many modern artists would be willing to forgive my realistic/representational approach, if I showed Christ being sodomized with a chainsaw, or something.
Now, to show I'm not a complete reactionary, I'll give an example of someone modern who often uses what looks like formless blobs of paint, but can actually produce worthwhile art with them: Chuck Close. His work takes real effort & talent, because it matters what the final product looks like when seen from a distance. (Sort of pointilism on a macro scale, I guess?)
I know you are probably just kidding, but it is still worth noting that Andrew Loomis (who was something of a genius at illustration during the first half and middle of the 20th century) was told by the professors at his art school that he should give it up and go home.
I have to say that I don't like Chuck Close too much. I find imitation of photography unworthy of a painter, even if embellished with clever patterns or enlarged out of all proportion.
OTOH, I like your rose quite well.
I like the Kandinsky a little better now that you have pointed out that it is representational after all ;-)
now that is a beautiful painting. Of course the wife wouldn't let me hang it over the sofa (social mores and all).
please add me to your ping list. Terrific threads. Thanks.
Rex Harrison war Sprechstimme, als Sphrechstimme nicht kühl war.
It's not the lack of understanding but the lack of understanding the lack of understanding.
Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer. -- John Ruskin
In response to your next post, #37, I remember a concert I went to in NH. They played Beethoven's 5th, I think, during an incredible thunderstorm. They had to put buckets to catch the drips. Somehow the noise of the storm seem to echo the power of Beethoven more than distract from it. I guess that's the thing about taste. I obviously do not agree with Ruskin.
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