Down with Expressionism

Culture is antecedent to politics, we are told by the people who have noticed, and religion in the broadest sense (including every religious impulse from the saintly to the satanic), is antecedent to that. Faith, of some kind, can be found, inspiring, throughout the diagram, but to say this is misleading, for we would have to include many kinds of faith that are false.

Expressionism, as an art movement, is associated with northern Europe, but expressionism as a universal, raw tendency also came from the northern wastes. Our non-expressive classicism is from the Mediterranean and Byzantium, not because they are geographical South, where the sun rises higher year-round, but because they were constitutionally anti-barbaric. The North can be anti-barbaric, too, but frank sentimentality and emotional excess — romanticism, at its most depraved — may be interpreted as a spastic effort to stay warm.

By contrast we have Piero della Francesca: the painter who was also a mathematician. He depicts the character of his subjects, in preference to their “narrative,” to the point where the innocent observer who has never heard the story will not guess what is going on.

If, as a young man (as I once was) you are mysteriously and powerfully attracted to, let us say, Piero, and C├ęzanne, it is because of this quality of “ineloquence” (Berenson’s term). They impress me as the most articulate expression of this anti-expressive quality, which has nothing to do with the history of art, per se. One may find it in every era when art has aspired to substance.

Yet the XXth century was home to the “Expressionist” movement, and the XXIst century continues from its bottom. The Wickedpedia uses Edward Munch’s panel, The Scream, to illustrate this in one glance. It is a spectacularly neurotic painting, infected with angst, that disturbs the viewer.

A notion, taught in our junior schools, that the purpose of art is to “express oneself,” must be condemned in any mature society. Ditto, the sort of poetry written by adolescent girls. Trash needs no encouragement.

The rightful artist, even when employed in self-portraiture, presents character in preference to feeling. The “selfie” impulse denies even the possibility of art.