Extreme angles, flattened forms, garish colors, and distorted views are distinctive features of Expressionism, an international movement in art, architecture, literature, and performance that flourished between 1905 and 1920, especially in Germany and Austria. Starting in 1905, as industry grew in Europe, the Expressionists migrated to cities.
The Expressionists revolted against Impressionism, with its faithfulness to rendering nature as it appeared, a view expressed by Austrian writer Hermann Bahr, who stated, “Impressionism is the falling away of man from spirit. Impressionism is man lowered to the position of a gramophone record of the outer world.” The Expressionists’ goal was to depict the world as it felt viscerally rather than how it looked on the surface and, by doing so, to reinvigorate art with authenticity and expressive force.
In their quest for authenticity, Expressionists looked for inspiration beyond European art and culture to native folk traditions and tribal art. They frequented ethnographic world’s fairs, where they encountered collections of African and Oceanic art. Reflecting a common attitude of the time, Expressionists perceived non-Western art as “primitive” unevolved, and therefore closer to the origins of humanity. They borrowed stylistically from what they encountered—including geometric ornamentation, decorative patterning, and flattened planes. As Germany neared the onset of, World War II, more elements of the grotesque appeared in Expressionist work. Expressionists embraced printmaking as a way to quickly distribute work to a larger audience and as a means of promoting or criticizing social or political causes.