It can be argued that all art, no matter the style, is a form of expression. But artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who focused exclusively on conveying emotions and their inwardness claim title to Expressionism.
The unseen world and the way they felt about what they saw is Expressionism‘s distinguishing characteristic. Rather than depict how, say, a distraught woman looks, the Expressionist will show how it feels to be distraught in order to move the viewer to experience the emotion rather than merely see the manifestation of it.
Printmaker Kathe Kollwitz is a typical Expressionist. She shows how an experience feels rather than how it looks. Her picture titles say a lot about her experiences. Her sympathetic stands for the underdog laborer and their poor working conditions are everywhere in her works.
Thirteen infrequently shown woodcuts and lithographs by Kollwitz – among them her fearsome “War” cycle and “Death” series – can be seen at the Brooklyn Museum on March 15 through September 15
“War” not only came out of her running up against WWI, but also out of suffering the death of her son Peter, who lost his life on a Flanders battlefield. That loss, and the loss of her grandson in WWII, kept the pacifism going in all her work, which can be seen in ominous shadows and storytelling scratchy line.
Kollwitz’s pictures of grief are the most despairing. tapeunit.com/article/a-role-for-artists-awaits-takers Notable is her diary entry about a night that her ten-year-old son Hans nearly lost his life to diphtheria: “An unforgettable cold chill caught and held me: It was the terrible realization that [at] any second this young child’s life may be cut off, and the child gone forever.”
Later, with her other son Peter as a model, Kollwitz created her “Mother and Child” image, saying, “I drew myself in the mirror while holding him in my arms. The pose was quite a strain, and I let out a groan. Then he said consolingly in his high little voice: ‘Don’t worry, Mother, it will be beautiful, too.’”
Exhibits of Kollwitz’s take on the conditions of the time were banned in Nazi Germany in 1937. But visitors found their way to it anyway. This reminiscence comes from Mina and Arthur Klein, authors of Kathe Kollwitz: Life in Art:
“If someone came into the shop asking for the Kollwitz exhibit, he
was told that unfortunately it had been closed – but the artwork was still upstairs in the gallery. Silently, one by one, the visitors approached the drapes, moved them aside, climbed the small stairway, and looked at the works of their great blacklisted friend.”
Visitors to the Brooklyn Museum can see what worried Nazis.