Graphics of the German Expressionists

Sabarsky, Graphics of the German ExpressionistsIt occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of my art in terms of the line. The approach to German Expressionism, for example, I think was to focus not on the line but on how colors fill up space, particularly black; even how the lines fill up space, as they are so thick.

I happened to have the book, Graphics of the German Expressionists (1984), by Serge Sabarsky, on my book shelf. (I found this gem in a used book store.) The historical context (1910’s – 1930’s) from which this kind of work arose helps to understand the intent and approach of the artists.


The confusion and disorientation of modern man at the turn of the century created a need for immediate and tangible meanings. As a result the arts moved in the direction of a new primitivism. This opened the way to the rediscovery of graphic techniques. In… their woodcuts, the German artists, especially the members of the Brücke, developed a style that used crudely simplified… forms….

… The printing of manifestos especially was almost exclusively done with carved woodblocks. These… were characterized by an immediacy that makes them… as modern today as they were six or seven decades ago. (pp 9 – 10)

I want to emphasize this idea of “immediacy.” In terms of the line, thicker lines are bold and slower to move. It’s not about how well the elements flow but standing one’s ground. Wood blocks, in particular, can be described as emblematic. Or that’s one interpretation.

If I only think in terms of the line, I will be inclined to be guided by how well the lines flow. With the thicker lines you get from a brush, I should think not of how it flows, but how it fills up space. Or, if I want to continue to be guided by the “flow” of elements, I should focus not on two-dimensional depictions of line, but on three-dimensional depictions of how the “line” seems to fill up the illusion of space.

But this moves us away from German Expressionism, as the flatness of their work is another quality the artists commonly used for effect. Their work was intentionally made simple, in order to be emotionally accessible.

Below is a video that looks at specific examples and is not so much a book review as some first impressions of this movement and graphic art in general.

I start talking about the book at 1:26. 


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