When it comes to bashing modern and contemporary art, expressionism and its inheritance generally seems to take the most brutal walloping. A fact both understandable and restrictively short-sighted.
Understandable, because, well, for the longest time artists had stuck to painting, chiseling, sketching and eventually photographing what they saw — the objects, vistas, faces that surrounded their daily reality. Or they recreated unseeable mythological, biblical or historic moments in lifelike and relatable ways, full of those same familiar objects, vistas and faces. Illusionism is appealing and admirable, for it shows us what we know, and we coo over an artist’s ability to replicate the recognisable just so.
Kandinsky’s wholly abstracted planes, Rothko’s static blocks of pigment, Frankenthaler’s girlish stains, Klee’s parti-coloured patchworks, Pollock’s paint can explosions and his wife Lee Krasner’s swirling geometries…none look much like anything glimpsed in the natural world without some psychedelic assistance. And to many, none look like they took much natural aptitude for the visual arts, lacking any semblance of perfect perspective or academic varnish.
Though to write off expressionism and abstract expressionism as naught is short-sighted, as those who turn their nose up at the genres usually spit out purely cosmetic complaints. Seeing is only a fraction of living, people. What’s going on inside, raw emotions, dark nights of the soul, unrestrained joy, blasé days, metaphysical uncertainties. The way we feel is just as fair game for spilling out across a canvas.
And so I turn you over to Theory in Motion: Expressionism, a short animated and narrated video by Mindy Bollegar which takes viewers back to the intellectual roots and paint pushing beginnings of the movements. In just over five minutes’ time, you’ll be thoroughly more convinced that art is allowed to be as puzzling as a sudden bad mood, that the person who created it and their process matters — that ideas matter — and that art can haul us together in empathy for our very common human condition.
Torrence Whelks

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