The Historical Background
If, as has been said, Expressionism is a "revelation of the profoundly problematic condition of Europe at the turn of the century"1Germany had more problems than many other countries, some native to the period itself but more stemming from the past. In the early twentieth century, France and Germany both were subject to powerful expansionist and industrial drives, to the same threats of war and destruction that colored their violent cultural reactions. Whereas the rational and logical artistic tradition of the French, enhanced toward the end of the nineteenth century by the mechanistic viewpoint, brought forth various Cubist and post-Cubist forms of expression, German art took a different course. Conditioned by mysticism and ardent religious feeling and affected by both philosophical and actual revolt against an ultra-mechanized world, there now arose a new intuitional seeking of the nonmaterial, the otherworldly, that lies beyond everyday reality.
While the French destroyed form in a deep desire to analyze its properties as form, the Germans destroyed form and color emotionally, to find the universal significance of what lay behind the reality they had just negated. The disparity between the logical fragmentation of Cubism and decorative distortion of Fauvism in France and the strong emotive and mystical distortions of Expressionism in Germany would indicate more qualifying background differences than similarities. These historical differences in their social, political, cultural, and religious forms were the determinants of the German artists' conscious and subconscious reactions.
Although the economic aspirations of Germany at that time were essentially those of its chief rivals, France and England, the latter were longer established in industrial organization, commercial success, and democratic development. Germany, born late into the family of nations after the War of 1870, had been forced into an accelerated change-over from agrarian to urban life, from handicrafts to manufacturing, from loose federalization to centralization. Whatever degree of success accompanied these efforts, they left their mark in social, psychological, and cultural shock.
The lateness of Germany's development was due to factors in its earlier history. When most countries were occupied with unification during the seventeenth century, Germany had been in the throes of the permanently debilitating Thirty Years War with its violent religious conflicts and cruelties, which were perpetuated in a medieval intensity of feeling and religious striving that affected German culture. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, a climactic period for modern centralized nations enjoying the first cultural and social benefits of the Industrial Revolution, found Germany still a loose federation of principalities.
The humanists and philosophers of Germany's later eighteenth century: Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Herder, Kant, and Hegel, sensing the chaotic state of their country, had wanted to escape from the tyranny and confusion of their age. But they had offered a unity of language and thought, a unity of culture, instead of actual physical organization. Unlike the philosophers of Britain and France who lived in the exciting milieu of a new-found
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Publication information: Book title: The German Expressionists:A Generation in Revolt. Contributors: Bernard S. Myers - Author. Publisher: Frederick A. Praeger. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1966. Page number: 11.