The presence of art as a cultural trait is common to both popular and folk culture. Expressionism, the idea of using simplified shapes and distortion of physical features, has considerably influenced modern art practices. Oceanic art is a widespread part of traditional South Pacific Islander culture, and also distorts human features. Expressionism and Oceanic art share many aspects of style, but differ greatly in aspects of origin, diffusion, and purpose.ExpressionismArtists in the early 1900s commonly utilized techniques of distortion and exaggeration, characteristics of expressionism, to establish the element of emotion. According to Wolf (2017), expressionist artists often incorporate “swirling, swaying, and exaggeratedly executed brushstrokes to convey the turgid emotional state of the artist reacting to the anxieties of the modern world” (p. 1). Amplification of the human figure often evokes strong emotions for audiences of many different cultures. Additionally, the style reflects the consequences of urbanization, such as the alienation of individuals in society (Wolf, 2017). Expressionism allows artists to surpass realism and reflect the tribulations of living in a modern society.The BeginningsThe expressionist movement emerged in two separate cultural hearths in Germany. Centered in Dresden, a group of artists known as Die Brücke (The Bridge), “wanted to create a radical art that could speak to modern audiences, which they characterized as young, vital, and urban.” (“Expressionism, an Introduction,” 2017, p. 1). Die Brücke deemed expressionism a bridge from the past ideas of realism to the present. Furthermore, Boyle describes their rebellion against impressionism, the standard custom of European artists which displays the world in its natural appearance. Originating in Munich, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) took a less direct approach to executing symbolism, using the elements of color and line to convey hidden meanings. (“Expressionism, an Introduction,” 2017).DiffusionIn spite of expressionism’s progressive and dynamic features, it was originally isolated in Germany due to Hitler’s censorship of art. The Nazi regime frequently rejected modernist ideas, such as art and literature. As Farago (2014) states, “the Expressionists of the Dresden-centered movement known as Die Brücke (The Bridge) were condemned as sick, poisonous artists” ( p. 1). Furthermore, the commencement of the Second World War significantly impacted the diffusion of expressionism. Before the war, European immigration to the United States was slowed by the Immigration Act of 1924 (Zong, 2017). With the exception of mild relocation diffusion, expressionism remained confined to Germany. Despite the style’s dissipation, the “core idea that art should express a subjective perspective have informed the work of avant-garde artists around the world” (Farago, 2014, p.1). Portions of the original expressionism style are still present in other forms of art, suggesting the occurrence of stimulus diffusion.Oceanic ArtA common portion of folk culture in Oceania, art frequently depicted the human figure, reflected the local environment, or served a practical purpose. As Guampedia mentions, “exotic looking pieces made of natural materials like plant fibers or wood, stone or clay, feathers, shells, teeth, or even human hair” (“The Power of Pacific Art and Interpretation,” 2016, p. 1) characterize Pacific Islander art. Moreover, Oceanian sculptures allow communication with ancestors. The Pacific Islanders often believe that a sculpture or carving allows the deceased to manifest, rather than representing their features (“The Power of Pacific Art and Interpretation,” 2016). Consequently, the artists customarily exaggerate human characteristics.The Beginnings Although the origin of Oceanic art is unclear, historians trace the oldest surviving works to Australia, approximately 40,000 years ago. These works include simple rock paintings illustrating “stick-figure humans, land animals (such as kangaroos), and freshwater fish” (“Oceania, 8000–2000 B.C. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” 2000, p. 1). Progressively, the art gained complexity, separating into different styles. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the earliest stone sculptures in New Guinea often appeared “in the form of stylized mortars and pestles,” possibly having “ritual functions” (“Oceania, 8000–2000 B.C. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” 2000, p. 1). Art maintains an important role in cultural traits of the indigenous Oceanians.Diffusion The islands of the South Pacific possess a rich history of immigration, and therefore, a strong history of the culture’s relocation diffusion. A group of Southeast Asians, the first settlers of Oceania and the ancestors of Melanesians and Australian Aboriginals, arrived in New Guinea and Australia approximately 40,000 years ago (“Oceania, 8000–2000 B.C. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” 2000). The age of the oldest surviving Oceanic art dates back to the arrival of the first settlers, indicating cultural diffusion from Southeast Asia to New Guinea and Australia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art mentions that, gradually, the settlers ventured east into the northern Solomon Islands, and then into the distant islands of the South Pacific, creating a vast cultural region (“Oceania, 8000–2000 B.C. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” 2000). Additionally, the Metropolitan Museum of Art expresses that “Austronesian languages, art, and other cultural practices are also ancestral to the present-day cultures of Polynesia and Micronesia” (“Oceania, 8000–2000 B.C. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” 2000, p. 1).Compare and Contrast Though expressionism and Oceanic art possess distinct stylistic traits, the expressionists adopted multiple elements of Oceanic art. As the Museum of Modern Art mentions, the expressionists visited ethnographic collections of Oceanic art and “borrowed stylistically from what they encountered—including geometric ornamentation, decorative patterning, and flattened planes” (Boyle, p. 1). Likewise, both styles utilize exaggeration and the human body to illustrate hidden meanings that appeal to human understanding. Conversely, while expressionism reflects suffering and anxiety, Oceanic art displays connections to ancestors. Similarly, the expressionists decided to paint using striking colors, as opposed to the neutral tones in Oceanic statues and tapestries. Despite their many shared principles, expressionism and Oceanic art manage to remain unique. Expressionism and Oceanic art occupy similar artistic styles, but maintain distinct origins and methods of diffusion. Although expressionism was regarded as modern, the censorship of art contributed to its lack of diffusion and eventual demise. Alternatively, the primitive Oceanic art remains a notable part of Pacific Islander culture, diffusing to numerous islands. Overall, art is a defining characteristic of all types of culture, and provides insight into cultural ideals
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