Expressionism vs. Romanticism

Expressionism vs. Romanticism

Art is a form of human realization. Artists and people of culture illustrate trends of the society and reflect processes which take place in the world. During different periods of history different art styles reflected different needs, desires and interests of people. Romanticism and Expressionism are two art styles which have one common ground. Both, Romanticism and Expressionism count on human feelings and emotions as a source of inspiration. Using one source, Romanticism and Expressionism use different means of realization.
Expressionism appeared at the end of the 19th century but it got official recognition and popularity only in the 20th century.
Romanticism flourished in the 19the century, in the period from 1800 till 1850. This art style was expressed in painting, architecture, literature and music.
The expressionism is a term used to depict an artistic style that centers on the depiction of emotions rather than objective reality. The main goal of expressionism is not to depict a reality. In this artistic style artists try to depict their reaction on the world around them. They depict their emotions and reaction on the external objects. The term expressionism derives from the verb “express”. Expressionism centers on the emotional side of reality and personal reaction of an artist. Expressionism appeared as a reaction to Impressionism. Impressionism was marked by desire to give objective truth and objective depiction of reality. Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Ensor, Munch and Hodler are among the pominant expressionist painters. “Expressionism in its dual aspect - social and physical - took firm root in the Brucke group, nurtured by Munch, Van Gogh and Negro sculpture (the most Expressionist of all the arts), and in a general way permeated the various currents in Germany on the eve of the war up to the Blaue Reiter of Munich” (Behr, 139). Subjectivism and dramatic themes presented in their works make the distinguishing features of expressionism.
Romanticism is another artistic style. It appeared in the 19th century as a reaction to rationalism which dominated art and culture in the 18th century. In contrast to rationalism which put rational accent on art, romanticism turned to human feelings and strong emotions. Artists were looking for new artistic means which would differ from limited rational art and they finally found them in Romanticism.
Expressionists use intensive color, new shapes and other means of expression which aim to pass the inner state of the painters. Expressionism is characterized by comparatively simple techniques and simplified engraving. This again underlines the importance of inner filling of the works in comparison to techniques use. Accent on internal prevails in all expressionist works.
Expressionism is highly subjective, personal art. It centers of spontaneous self expression. It does not have narrow limits and there are a lot of artists whose works can be attributed to expressionism. Expressionism became a distinguishing feature of the German art. Friedrich Nietzsche had great impact on the development of expressionism. He formulated ideas which became the basis expressionism in the famous book The Birth of Tragedy. The Birth of Tragedy was the first book written by Nietzsche when he was only 24 but it’s a very interesting work which presents the perception of Greek culture and prophesy by the philosophers of the 18th-19th century. In this book Nietzsche tried to explain the phenomenon of Greek tragedy – it’s birth, development and the reason of its blossom and popularity. These views later became the origin of expressionist ideas in art. The book covers the period starting with the Dionysian festivals with their first attempts to perform drama and ending with the Apollonian rationalism of the 5th century. The ideas proclaimed in The Birth of the Tragedy will appear in the later works by Nietzsche.
Nietzsche uses terms Apollonian and Dionysian to define and contrast two main principles of the Greek culture. Apollo is the god of the Sun and the representative of light, clarity and well-defined form. Apollonian distinguishes everything analytical, unique and individual. Expressionists used to this division following Nietzsche’s ideas. Forms and shapes belong to Apollonian type as the are strictly structuralized and give the pattern of the established order. Everything Apollonian corresponds to Schopenhauer’s “principle of individuation”. Sculpture was the incarnation of everything Apollonian as it was a mere form and influenced spectators thought the form and build. So, everything rational, analytical, external and well-structured was defined as Apollonian by Nietzsche.
The Dionysian is a notion, opposing the Apollonian. Dionysus is a Greek god of wine, frivolity, madness, feast and bacchanalia. So, free will and realization of the individual without limits and restrictions are the fullest manifestation of the Dionysian part. Darkness and madness, enthusiasm and ecstasy belong to Dionysian also, as they present the personality without rational control and outer limitations. Nietzsche stated that the part of the personality which was individual and different for every person was the Apollonian part and the part common for everybody, part which went out of the restrictions of individuals was the Dionysian one. In expressionism bold colors, the absence of perspective represent Dionysian approach. In general expressionism illustrates Dionysian approach the way Nietzsche described it. Spontaneous art and free flow of emotion peculiar to expressionism fully reflect Dionysian nature of people. In contrast to sculpture, music is the most Dionysian art as it appeals directly to the senses, intuition and feelings of the person. Emotions put into music can not be perceived by the rational part of the mind. Nietzsche even saw the hope to revive the Dionysian part of culture through the contemporary German music of his time as he wrote in the conclusive part of his book.
Nietzsche stated that both, Dionysian and Apollonian features were present in Greek culture in general and in Greek tragedy in particular. Forces of order, organization and clearness contradict the spirit of spontaneous thought and action, madness and freedom. The first forces and the demonstration of Apollonian aspect of drama and the latest and Dionysian’. And only the tension between this forces and opposition between them gave birth to the best Greek tragedies. Nietzsche sees the culture as a unity of these forces also. He defined life as the one full of grief and tragedy and sees the function of the art to give the ray of hope in this dark tunnel. Art itself was this ray of light which was supposed to make our life better. Nietzsche stated that ancient Greek new this sad true about our life and they never gave up and tried to transform their life with the help of the art. Nietzsche liked Greek view on art as on the source of happiness, inspiration and fun.
Accent on feelings made romanticism a kind of humanitarian movement. It tried put social attention on the problems of poverty, slavery and demerits of industrialization. Trying to fight rationalism Romanticism put under doubt rational ideas or the 18th century. New ideas and approaches emerged during the period. The entire idea of history was put under doubt during this period. New alternative versions of history of Western culture appeared. Industrial revolution and other social realities resulted in the attempt of artists to create cultural movement which would stand against extreme rationalization.
Some specialists call Expressionism the successor of Romanticism. There are several common features which unite this art styles. In Romanticism emotions prevail over reason. This tendency can also be noticed in Expressionism. Optimism and flexibility are other distinguishing features of Romanticism. It also centers on emotions and personal feelings. This tendency can also be traced later in Expressionism. Romanticism rejected rules and order peculiar for Rationalism. It was looking for the new ways of expression. It counted on imagination and intuition as its main sources. Accent on intuition and imagination is also peculiar to expressionism. Romanticism regards nature not as a stable unite. It views nature as an alive and ever-changing object which has its own life. This life can be explored with the help of art and adherents of Romanticism make an approach to understand this alive and ever-changing nature.
Romanticism and Expressionism reflect popular trends in art. Despite these styles are different and have different characteristics there are several features which are common for them. Both, Romanticism and Expressionism make an accent on personal experience, count on feelings and emotions. They both are interested in the inner world of each person and believe an art to a mean to express this inner world and share it with other people. Expressionism and Romanticism both serve to one ultimate purpose. They help people to uncover their feelings and to realize their true nature. Both of them count on inner world and deep, intrinsic feelings of each person. They both belong to form of art which appeal directly to the feelings of the audience. Artists who work in these art styles appeal directly to the emotional side of people. They try to make people free of rational control and make them uncover their deepest feelings. Both, expressionists and romanticists try to appeal to emotional side of people. These art styles help people to free their emotional side, discover imagination and intuition.

Works Cited
Simmel, Georg. 4Art in Theory (1900-1990) An Anthology of Changing Ideas, 1999.
Nietzsche, Frederick, The Birth of Tragedy. trans. Walter Kaufmann, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New York: Random House, 1967.
Kaufmann, Walter From Shakespeare to Existentialism: An Original Study, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.
Brion, Marcel, Art of the Romantic Era: Romanticism, Classicism, Realism, 1966.

Raabe, Paul, ed. The Era of German Expressionism. London: Calder and Boyer, 1974.

Behr, Shulamith. Expressionism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.