Teaching Students About Expressionism

As art educators, fostering creativity and encouraging students to explore different styles and movements is our mission. One of the most dynamic and impactful movements in art history is Expressionism. This article aims to assist K-12 teachers in introducing Expressionism to their students and incorporating its concepts into their classroom activities.

Definition & Characteristics

Expressionism is an artistic movement that originated in Germany around the early 20th century. It focuses on portraying emotions and subjective experiences rather than replicating objective reality. Expressionist artists tend to use intense colors, distorted forms, bold brushstrokes, and abstraction to express their feelings and state of mind. This concept offers students an opportunity to explore unique artistic expressions without boundaries or limitations.

Notable Expressionist Artists

It’s essential for students to learn about influential Expressionist artists to see how these creatives used groundbreaking techniques in visual art, music, literature, and theater. Notable artists of this movement include:

1. Vincent van Gogh

2. Edvard Munch

3. Egon Schiele

4. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

5. Emil Nolde

Introducing Expressionism in the Classroom

To introduce Expressionism in your art classroom effectively, follow these steps:

1. Begin with a brief history of Expressionism – When did it start? What were the social and political events that influenced this movement?

2. Discuss the characteristics – How does expressionism differ from other artistic styles? What are the notable elements of this movement?

3. Examine notable artists’ works – Show examples of famous expressionist paintings and discuss their meaning.

4. Encourage personal expression – Have students create artwork inspired by expressionist artists, focusing on feelings or experiences they want to express.

Classroom Activities

To engage your students further in exploring Expressionism, consider these classroom activities:

1. Art interpretation – Display expressionist artworks and have students interpret the emotions and feelings depicted in each piece.

2. Collaborative mural – Encourage students to work together to create a large-scale expressionist mural, allowing each participant to contribute their unique emotional experiences.

3. Color exploration – Study how color is used to evoke emotions in expressionist art, then have students experiment with different color combinations in their work.

4. Mixed media expressionism – Invite students to produce expressionist art using various materials, such as collage, printmaking, or sculpture.


Expressionism offers students a chance to tap into their inner world and reflect on the relationship between art and emotion. As you incorporate this movement into your K-12 curriculum, you’ll provide a rich artistic environment where students can discover their creative voice and be inspired by the many possibilities of self-expression.

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