If the Impressionists can be said to have established a delicate equilibrium between observation and sensation, the Expressionists, by way of contrast, tipped the scales to the side of the subject, its desires, and its emotive domination of objects. If the... [more]
If the Impressionists can be said to have established a delicate equilibrium between observation and sensation, the Expressionists, by way of contrast, tipped the scales to the side of the subject, its desires, and its emotive domination of objects. If the former cultivated the passive aplomb of the eye, the latter exploited the erratic passion of the entire body. The Expressionists assaulted the canvas with ecstatic strokes and inflicted a vast, tumultuous array of figural distortions.
The Austrian brand of Expressionism had its origins in Gustav Klimt, but wouldn't come to fruition until Egon Schiele and Oscar Kokoschka began to manifest the power of mood on canvas. While the painting of Klimt retains a certain delicacy and transparency, Schiele and Kokoschka's canvases explode with dense, voluminous strokes, seemingly thrown down in a frenzy. The Kokoschka's sensibility is akin to that of Van Gogh: here emotional tension erupts in vibrant whorls, covering the entire canvas in heartfelt palpitations. Schiele, on the other hand, evoked a sense of awful, disconcerting weight, expressed in heavy horizontals that flatten a face or hold down a hand.
The only feature that unites the Austrian Expressionists artistically is their emphasis on emotional power over the natural propriety of objects. Indeed, a stylistic consistency would contradict the sense of their project -- in order to be truly expressive, their art must rely on nothing more than the force of a singular encounter and the emergent vision that imposes itself on the object. Even the work of an individual artist can lack a unitary style -- Kokoschka moved between many, allowing his emotive states to determine his mode of composition. In other words, he expressed his different emotional states as so many differences in style.
Nietzsche said that all life is will to power. By this, he meant that life is the continuously unfolding expression of energy, which emanates from direct, affective encounters with reality. The Austrian Expressionists bring Nietzsche to painting. Moving away from the more formalized techniques of Art Nouveau, they bring the violence of affective experience to the surface. Translating subjective interiority into distortions and inflections of objects, Austrian Expressionism tangles subject and object together in a passionate embrace. [show less]