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Expressing subjective emotions and personal responses to subjects and events was called Expressionism. This movement emerged in Germany about ten years before WWI (1905). Expressionism began as a group of young artists who were previously rejected by the German arts establishment.

The first group Expressionists were called Die Brücke (The Bridge), which formed in 1905. This group's members had studied architecture together in Dresden, Germany. Members of this group include; Dix, Grosz, Heckel, Kirchner, Kokoschka, Mendelson, Pechstein, Schmidt-Rottluff, and Nolde. The Bridge artist's believed that, "individualism was essential to artistic renewal." The artists came to believe that painting was of greater value than architecture for social usefulness. They wanted to express their inner imaginative expression not their impression of an object. The emphasis with The Bridge, was on the human figure. The artist's favored Gothic art and ignored the traditional idea of what classic beauty was – "pure expression had little to do with beauty."

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The second major Expressionist group was called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), this group was established in 1911-1912. Members of this group include; the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, Munich-born Franz Marc, and Swiss artist Paul Klee. This group was more concerned with the abstract – using symbols and signs in their expression rather than the human figure.

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Characteristics of the Expressionist movement are; pronounced line and color, thick paint, loose brushwork, few but strong colors (neutrals), bold contour drawing, and distinctive geometric maze-like graphics. Woodcuts and lithographs were commonly the artist's means of expression.

The Expressionists believed that their art could be a force in the improvement of the human race. Before WWI the Expressionists work was primarily philosophical with political or cultural criticism implied. During the war, many of the artists became prowar or nationalist. After the 1918 German Revolution Expressionists became activists allying themselves with the left-wing parties – producing graphics, posters, and publications defending the revolution.

Expressionism's final years, from 1918-1922, were a period of great excitement, because the artists believed that they could actually contribute to the shaping of a new society. Art made valuable contributions to the political spirit, and politics were the core of Expressionism. But Expressionism was rejected by the same group they were supporting. The Nazis included Expressionists in their famous Degenerate Art Exhibit, making Expressionism now known as a symbol of protest and revolt. Even though the Expressionist movement ended around 1922,  for a number of years after WWII the philosophy and graphic style of Expressionism  dramatically influenced art and design.

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