The essay "Primitivism in Modern Art" concerns the modern art and primitivism. “Expressionists” differentiate themselves from other art movements by defining themselves as artists who are “expressing” themselves because their painting and production of artworks involves their own perceptions, personalities and interests. Foremost of the “Expressionist” artists were the group called Brücke which was founded in 1905 by architecture students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Beyl, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff and Erich Heckel and later joined by remarkable artists such as Emil Nolde, Cuno Amiet, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller. Thru the efforts of the group in its first eight years, the world was able to witness the greatest development of the first period of German expressionism which went through various stylistic phases inspired by the stylistic objectives shared by its members. The movement had one very important tendency and that is propensity to look into ‘primitive’ culture for inspiration on the form of their artwork. While they were belonging to the modern era, German expressionists Brücke explored into non-European, tribal cultures to try to distinguish their works of arts with others and gave rise to the term ‘Primitivism’. ‘Primitive’ art was considered to be closer to unmediated expression and more ‘authentic’ than the civilized. The idea of ‘nature/culture’ was most appealing to German expressionists because ‘nature’ was considered as being direct, unfettered, non-intellectual etc.
The 'woman' was also considered to be belonging to the primitive group.
In this paper, I will be looking into how primitive art inspired modern artists by exploring the concept of primitive art and how it influenced modern artists such as the Brucke in their artworks. A case study involving the analysis of how African sculptures inspired Erich Heckel is provided for a more specific and clear discussion of how primitive art influenced modern artists.
2.0 Exploring the Primitivism Concept
2.1 What is 'Primitive'
Whenever one hears of the word 'primitive', there is a tendency to associate it with the word 'barbarian' or 'uncivilized' which connotes untamed and direct expression. While the definition of the term is a major issue in art historical writing, central to the term is the concept of the 'other'. The concept is derived from postmodern theory that describes a tendency to misrepresent another culture, society, social group or object as different, even alien and speak of it as 'other' to the artist's own culture and experiences.
The primitive is often associated with tribal and Oriental (those from the East) people but Expressionists also associates it with the nude particularly the nude female. The woman is considered to be a creature of 'primitive' textile prone to 'natural' impulses as opposed to the notion male rationality. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, the Brucke's leader, is particularly fond of nude women and his works is said to display the affinity between culture/male rationality and nature/female impulses (Lloyd, 1991). This is shown in his work displayed in Figure 1:
Figure 1. Nude. Kirschner (1910).
The sight of Nude