What Is German Expressionism? A Crash Course on the Cinematic Tradition That Gave Us Metropolis, Nosferatu & More

German Expressionism: we've all heard of it, and though only some would even try to define it, we all, like old Potter Stewart, know it when we see it. Or do we? The movements under the umbrella of German Expressionism bore vivid and influential fruits in architecture, painting, sculpture and especially film — The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariNosferatu, and Metropolis, to say nothing of their countless descendants, will come right to the minds of most movie-lovers — but the circumstance from which it first arose remain not particularly well-understood by the public, or at least those of the public who haven't seen the brief Crash Course video on German Expressionism above (and the even shorter No Film School explainer below).

Though it also stands perfectly well alone, this primer comes as the seventh chapter of the sixteen-part Crash Course Film History, which we first featured back in April. Here host Craig Benzine addresses the question of just what makes The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariNosferatu, and Metropolis in particular so memorable by examining each film and its auteur director — Robert Wiene, F.W. Murnau, and Fritz Lang, respectively  — in turn.

The creativity of German Expressionist film, like so much creativity, arose from limitations: Germany had just lost World War I, most of its film industry had undergone state-sponsored consolidation, and independent filmmakers who didn't want to make large-scale costume dramas (the genre of choice to distract the public from the country's poverty and disorder) had to find a new way not just to get their movies made, but to give audiences a reason to watch them. With 1920's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (which you can watch below along with Nosferatu), a small studio named Decla led the way.

"Written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer," says Benzine, "this film was thematically based on their experiences as soldiers in World War I and their distrust of authoritarian leadership." It innovated by presenting its story "expressionistically, rather than realistically. That is, instead of making things like the sets, costumes, and props as realistic as possible," the filmmakers "deliberately distorted everything within the frame," all "designed to look deliberately artificial and throw you off balance." This "highly subjective" cinematic sensibility, developed in Germany and then elsewhere (especially the countries to which German artists moved in flight from fascism) throughout the 1920s, still appears in modern film, well beyond the work of avowed fan Tim Burton: Benzine finds that, "from Silence of the Lambs to Don't Breathe to anything M. Night Shyamalan has ever put on film, the techniques of German Expressionism are creeping us out to this very day."

You can see 10 classic films from this tradition in our post: Watch 10 Classic German Expressionist Films: From Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

10-Story High Mural of Muddy Waters Goes Up in Chicago

Image by Terence Faircloth, via Flickr Commons

If you find yourself near State and Washington streets in Chicago, look up and you'll see a mural of bluesman Muddy Waters rising 10 stories high. It was painted, the Chicago Tribune tells us, by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra and fellow painters. And it was officially dedicated yesterday, at the beginning of the Chicago Blues Festival. Respect.

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via Ted Gioia

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Download 2,500 Beautiful Woodblock Prints and Drawings by Japanese Masters (1600-1915)

No one art form has done more to shape the world's sense of traditional Japanese aesthetics than the woodblock print. But not so very long ago, in historical terms, no such works had ever left Japan. That changed when, according to the Library of Congress, "American naval officer Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) led an expedition to Japan between 1852 and 1854 that was instrumental in opening Japan to the Western world after more than 200 years of national seclusion." As travelers, materials, and products began flowing between Japan and the West, so did art.

This flow happened, of course, by sea, and so Japanese artists working in woodblock and other forms soon found that the port city of Yokohama had become "an incubator for a new category of images that straddled convention and novelty."

In their depictions of modern Yokohama, "bewhiskered men and crinoline-clad women were shown striding through the city, clambering on and off ships, riding horses, enjoying local entertainments, and interacting with an endless array of objects from goblets to locomotives." This new genre in an established tradition took on the name "Yokohama-e," or "pictures of Yokohama."

Hundreds of years earlier, during the Tokugawa Period that began in the year 1600, that tradition had already produced the now well-known genre of "Ukiyo-e," or "pictures of the floating world," woodblock depictions of the pleasure districts of Edo, now called Tokyo. "Various forms of entertainment, particularly kabuki theater and the pleasure quarters, lured monied patrons who were eager in turn to acquire the vivid images of celebrated actors and beautiful courtesans." Later, "travel became a popular form of leisure and the pleasures of the natural environment, interesting landmarks, and the adventures encountered en route also became favorite Ukiyo-e themes." Ukiyo-e also looked to "Japanese myth, legend, literature, history, and daily life" for subjects, and so its prolific artists captured the culture nearly whole.

You can come as close as possible to experiencing that culture by viewing, and downloading, more than 2,500 Japanese woodblock prints and drawings at the Library of Congress' online collection "Fine Prints: Japanese, pre-1915." It includes work from such prolific Ukiyo-e artists as Hokusai Katsushika (whose Teahouse at Koishikawa the Morning After a Snowfall appears at the top of the post), Andō Hiroshige (Minakuchi below that), Isoda Koryūsai (Kisaragi, third from the top), and Utagawa Yoshifuji (whose Amerikajin Yūgyō, one of his depictions of Americans, appears just above). As much as Japan has changed since the heyday of the Yokohama-e, much less the Ukiyo-e, any visitor to the country in the 21st century will first notice not how much the surfaces of Japan's real urban and natural landscapes, domestic interiors, and public scenes differ from those in classical woodblock prints, but how deeply they've remained the same.

Enter the collection here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Everything You Need to Know About Modern Russian Art in 25 Minutes: A Visual Introduction to Futurism, Socialist Realism & More

Few things fascinated me as a child more than Russia. I wasn’t alone in this. Everyone experienced it. And it wasn’t only the Soviet Union---though it played the bogeyman in Cold War films, loomed over history textbooks, and seemed to exist in a forbidden parallel universe in Reagan’s America. But what came before it was equally outsized and tragic: the Romanovs, Rasputin, Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible.... Russia’s modern history came into focus through its novelists—the intricate social distinctions and complicated family dynamics, the palace intrigues, the gallows humor, discontent, and resignation of ordinary Russians….

After 40 years of uneasy détente with the world’s other superpower, Americans found the pieces of their view of Russia falling into place almost imperceptibly. But nothing—I repeat, nothing—prepared The West for Russian modernism. It drove the CIA to such distraction that they secretly funneled money to jazz artists and Abstract Expressionists to fight a culture war. It made no sense to us. “This is completely ridiculous!” says Brian Cox above, expressing a sentiment shared by many when they encounter Russian Formalism, or Suprematism, or Futurism, and other avant-gardisms.

Cox, narrating the “Quickest History of 20th Century Art in Russia,” does an excellent job of conveying the shock, excitement, and bewilderment we feel when we encounter Malevich and Mayakovsky, the startling folk Neoclassicism of Russian Art Nouveau—where the film begins—the Conceptualists of the Thaw, and the outrageous performance artists of the post-Soviet era. None of this, to quote Tristan Tzara, is art made to “cajole the nice nice bourgeois”—with the ironic exception of Socialist Realism, which outlawed the Russian avant-garde and said “look, everything we have is so grand, abundant! We have everything aplenty!”

Socialist Realism resembles nothing so much as American magazine advertising of the Life magazine and Norman Rockwell eras, a reminder of one way the two belligerent empires came to increasingly resemble each other over time. “Socialist Realism,” says Cox, “is almost a caricature, only with incredible pathos.” It is “the first tendency to rule out criticism completely.” It absorbed critique and turned it into celebration and denunciation, both of them noble acts of State. Where American didactic art sold hundreds of products and a handful of ideological poses, the Soviet variety sold one thing: the Party. This does not, however, mean that Socialist Realism is “bad”—not entirely. It is, instead, like so much modern Russian Art to non-Russian eyes… uncanny.

The 25-minute “Quickest History of 20th Century Art in Russia” comes from a series of “Crash Courses” from Arzamas Academy that includes “Ancient Rome in 20 minutes” and “Ancient Greece in 18 minutes.” All of them feature the wry, mellifluous voice of Cox, and I highly recommend them all.

via Coudal

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Gestapo Points to Guernica and Asks Picasso, “Did You Do This?;” Picasso Replies “No, You Did!”

History remembers Pablo Picasso first as an innovative painter, and second as an uninhibited personality. The latter especially generated many an anecdote in his long life, some surely apocryphal but most probably true. A short Guardian editorial on one of his most famous canvases begins with the story of when, "in occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer who had barged his way into Picasso’s apartment pointed at a photo of the mural, Guernica, asking: 'Did you do that?' 'No,' Picasso replied, 'you did', his wit fizzing with the anger that animates the piece" — a piece that took no small amount of boldness to paint in the first place.

Guernica, much more of a visceral experience than the average painting, resists straightforward description, but the article offers one: "In black and white, the piece has the urgency of a newspaper photo. Flailing bulls and horses show that the visceral horrors of war are not just an affront to human civilisation, but to life."

Painted in June 1937 at Picasso's home in Paris, in response to the bombing by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy of the Basque village from which the work would take its name, Guernica raised awareness of (as well as relief funds for) the Spanish Civil War when it debuted at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris and subsequently toured the world itself.

Calling Picasso's painting "probably the most successful artwork about war ever created," Slate's Noah Charney cites playwright Bertolt Brecht's use of Verfremdungseffekt, or the “alienation effect,” wherein "the idea was to no longer encourage the traditional, Aristotelian approach that the audience of a play (or viewer of an artwork) should engage with the artwork/performance with a 'willing suspension of disbelief,' voluntarily pretending that what is happening on stage is real. Instead, Brecht wanted to make it clear that the audience was looking at a work of art, an artificial performance that nevertheless touches on real human emotions and issues." Both Brecht and Picasso used this technique to effect social change with their work.

Guernica also challenges its viewers in the best way, looking almost playful at first glance but almost immediately demanding that they confront the horror it actually contains. "A realistic image of the bombing of the town of Guernica, with corpses and screams in the night, would likely have felt melodramatic, saccharine, difficult to look at," writes Charney. "It might have been Romanticized or it might have been so gritty that our reaction would be to shut down our ability to sympathize, as a defense mechanism. The figures are almost cartoonish, but then of course, when you look more closely, when you know the context, they are not. But the childlike abstraction pulls us in, whereas the same subject, handled as a photorealist blood-fest, would repel us."

You can learn more about Guernica, the events that inspired it, and the artist that turned those events into one of the most enduring images from the twentieth century with the short BBC News clip above, and also this chapter in Khan Academy's online art-history course, this video primer and 3D tour, and Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens' 1950 short film, almost as haunting as the painting itself. After all that, the only step that remains is to go see it in person at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, where it has resided since 1992. And though Guernica may now be safe from prying Gestapo hands, the need for vigilance against the kinds of destructive ideology that fired Picasso up to paint it will never go away.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“A Brief History of Goths”: From the Goths, to Gothic Literature, to Goth Music

The history of the word ‘Gothic,’” argues Dan Adams in the short, animated TED-Ed video above,” is embedded in thousands of years’ worth of countercultural movements.” It’s a provocative, if not entirely accurate, idea. We would hardly call an invading army of Germanic tribes a “counterculture.” In fact, when the Goths sacked Rome and deposed the Western Emperor, they did, at first, retain the dominant culture. But the Gothic has always referred to an oppositional force, a Dionysian counterweight to a rational, classical order.

We know the various versions: the Germanic instigators of the “Dark Ages,” early Christian architectural marvels, Romantic tales of terror and the supernatural, horror films, and gloomy, black-clad post punks and their moody teenage fans. Aside from obvious references like Bauhaus’ tongue-in-cheek ode, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the connective tissue between all the uses of Gothic isn't especially evident. “What do fans of atmospheric post-punk music,” asks Adams, “have in common with ancient barbarians?” The answer: not much. But the story that joins them involves some strange convergences, all of them having to do with the idea of “darkness.”

Two significant figures in the evolution of the Gothic as a consciously-defined aesthetic were both art historians. The first, Giorgio Vasari---considered the first art historian---wrote biographies of great Renaissance artists, and first used the term Gothic to refer to medieval cathedrals, which he saw as barbarous next to the neoclassical revival of the 14th-16th centuries. (Vasari was also the first to use the term “Renaissance” to describe his own period.) Two hundred years after Vasari’s Lives, art historian, antiquarian, and Whig politician Horace Walpole appropriated the term Gothic to describe The Castle of Otranto, his 1765 novel that started a literary trend.

Walpole also used the term to refer to art of the distant past, particularly the ruins of castles and cathedrals, with an eye toward the supposedly exotic, menacing aspects (for Protestant English readers at least) of the Catholic church and Continental European nobility. But for him, the associations were positive, and constituted a kitschy escape from Enlightenment rationalism. We have Walpole to thank, in some sense, for ersatz celebrations like Renaissance Fairs and Medieval Times restaurants, and for later Gothic novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the weird tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

We can see that it’s a rather short leap from classic horror stories and films to the dark makeup, teased hair, fog machines, and swirling atmospherics of The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux. In the history of the Gothic, especially between Vasari and Walpole, the word moves from a term of abuse---describing art thought to be “crude and inferior”---to one that describes art forms considered mysterious, and darkly Romantic. For another take on the subject, see Pitchfork's  music-focused, animated, and  "surprisingly light-hearted" short, "A Brief History of Goth," above, a presentation on the subculture's rise, fall, and undead rise again.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Big List of Free Art Lessons on YouTube

It may seem like a dubious honor to belong to a select group that includes some of my favorite creative people: art school dropouts. But while a failed endeavor can be painful, many a dropout learns that the experience is valuable not only because failures can fuel future success, but also because the skills, techniques, and ways of thinking one picks up in the first, “boot camp,” year of art school are widely applicable to every creative endeavor.

My favorite art school class was simply called “Foundations.” As the name implies, it dealt exclusively with basic materials and techniques—for joining, painting, sculpting, building, etc. One learns to think of large, complicated, potentially overwhelming projects of as reducible in some sense to materials and techniques. What am I working with? What is the nature of this material and what are the best ways to shape it? What does it want to become?

These are practical, fundamental questions artists ask themselves, no matter how big or high concept their ideas. These days, the materials are likely to be more virtual than physical, or some creative mixture of the two. Still, similar considerations apply, as well as the basic skills of using color, perspective, shadow, and line effectively. In the free video tutorials here, you can learn many of those skills without attending, or dropping out, of art school. They may not provide a complete arts education, but they offer high quality lessons for artists needing to supplement or refresh their skill sets.

At the top, Ahmed Aldoori explains the color wheel and color palettes in Photoshop. In other videos on his YouTube channel, he gives tips on drawing hands (a particular challenge for every artist), artist anatomy, digital painting, and more. Another channel, Draw with Chris, offers free and premium content for both digital and traditional artists, such as the long video on shading technique above. He also has a popular two part series on life drawing (part 1 - part 2).

For artists and animators interested in “semi realistic, manga, and anime style characters, environments, and concept art,” the Lapuka channel features many free short videos on the basics, such as their short intro to "1,2, and 3 point perspective" above. Other videos teach “Multiplying and scaling in 1 point perspective,” “Cutting in 1 point perspective,” “Drawing with a mouse,” and rendering certain popular anime characters.

All of these tutorials come from a list compiled by Deviantart user DamaiMikaz, who has helpfully divided several dozen YouTube instructional series into categories like “Art Fundamentals,” “Tutorial & How to,” “Digital art software,” “Traditional Art,” and others. Whether you’re an aspiring artist, dabbling amateur, working professional, or an art school dropout picking the craft back up, you’ll find what you need here. Know of any other free video resources not listed in this archive? Let us and our readers know in the comments and we'll add the primo picks to the list.

Below find the list created by DamaiMikaz:

Art fundamentals

People that teach you the fundamentals of art. Anatomy, color, perspective, etc
Ahmed Aldoori
CG Cookie Concept

Tutorial & How to

How to's and tutorials on various subjects
Ahmed Aldoori
Art of Wei
Art Prof

CG Cookie Concept
DRAW with Chris
Draw with Jazza
Drawing Tutorials Online
Happy D. Artist
Imagine FX
Javi can draw!
Jesus Conde
Kienan Lafferty
My Drawing Tutorials
Sinix Design
The Art of Aaron Blaise
The Drawfee Channel
Tyler Edlin
Will Terrell
Xia Taptara

Digital art software

Channels geared towards creating effects in digital art software
Photoshop Training Channel

Traditional art

Channels doing traditional art
Baylee Jae
Happy D. Artist
James Gurney
Lachri Fine Art
Michael James Smith
Robin Clonts
Sara Tepes
Stanley Artgerm Lau
Super Ani
Zimou Tan

Manga / Anime

Channels geared towards drawing manga/anime style 
Nuei Neko
Whyt Manga

Timelapse paintings

Just stare in awe
Alice X. Zhang
Apterus Graphics
Asuka111 Art
Atey Ghailan
axel torvenius
Chris Cold
Concept Art Sessions
Daniel Wachter
Draw With Rydi
Ilya Kuvshinov
Ilya Tyljakov
James Gurney
Jesus Conde
Jordan Grimmer
Kienan Lafferty
Kim-Seang Hong
Lina Sidorova
Nuei Neko
Sara Tepes
Scott Robertson
Stanley Artgerm Lau
Super Ani
Xia Taptara
Zimou Tan

Critique's & Overpaints

People painting over other people's painting. Great to get insight
Ahmed Aldoori
Art Prof
CG Cookie Concept

via Metafilter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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