Why does the fearful face emoji seem so familiar to us? The simple answer? Because it’s the modern reincarnation of a classic expressionist painting—it’s Art History 101.
The emoji is part of a long history of imitating The Scream. Check these out:
But how could a painting from 1893 become so famous that we’re still using it all day everyday 126 years later? We’ll tell you in a minute, but here’s a hint for now: the power of expressionism. Let’s discover what expressionism is, and how you can harness its influence in your own designs. Read on, friends!
- What is expressionism?
- Immortality through expressionism
- Expressionist logos
- Expressionist web design
- Expressionist illustration
- Expressionist album covers
- Expressionist book covers
- Expressionist packaging
- Expressionist posters
- Conclusion: Express your emotion
What is expressionism?
Expressionism is an art style which came out of Germany and Austria around 1912. Emphasizing emotion over realism, expressionism employs a non-realistic portrayal of objects and events to arouse emotion in viewers. This was a rebellion from the tradition of Realism which started in France during the mid-19th century.
There were two main expressionism groups: Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Both groups used distortion, primitivism, fantasy and formal elements in a vibrant, clashing, violent or dynamic way. The members of Der Blaue Reiter saw expressionism in an even deeper way. They portrayed their subjects’ spirituality rather than merely what could be seen on the surface. The expressionists were adventurous with color, and their dramatized forms expressed the exotic qualities of their subject matter. Heavy brushstrokes, use of shadow, and deep color in order to convey a feeling are hallmarks of the style.
Immortality through expressionism
Now, back to The Scream. What makes the art form timeless is what’s at the core of expressionism: an appeal to the emotions. If you want to make a sale, you’ve got to tap into the emotional part of your customer’s brain before you hit their logical part. Expressionism’s ability to appeal to the emotions of a viewer makes it the perfect style for selling.
Edvard Munch used the techniques of expressionism, blood red sky contrasting with bluish-black sea, thick swirling brushstrokes, primitive shapes, and dramatic expression, to depict a panic attack. It’s unrealistic yet effective—you might start feeling anxious just looking at it.
Everyone from Macaulay Culkin to Snoop Dogg can dig The Scream. You don’t have to be part of any particular culture, religion, political affiliation or nationality to get this painting. Emotion is universally accessible, which is why Edvard Munch’s Scream has become a timeless emoji, I mean icon.
Your brand may or may not become timelessly iconic, but you can use expressionism in your design to evoke an emotional response in your audience. We’re going to take you on a tour of a bunch of inspiring designs which employ expressionism to enhance their brands. Come on guys, let’s express ourselves!
Companies who have a spiritual, nonconformist or existential element should strongly consider using an expressionist logo. Customers can instantly feel that your connection goes beyond skin deep when they see your third eye, ethnic colors, war paint or confident poses. These elements will show that your brand has depth, as opposed to your shallow competitors.
Expressionist web design
Emotion was a key watchword for the expressionists. It was often missing in realistic art, but in expressionism, you can’t accurately depict a subject if you don’t show the emotional dimension. That means you can’t just see, you have to feel!
These next examples show how expressionist techniques can be used to amplify the emotional content of a design. Viewers are swept into a friendly fun science lab, an electrifying sound party, the adventures of learning, and the ambiguity of art. Businesses who want their customers to feel a certain “vibe” can achieve that through expressionist design.
Fantasy is a staple of expressionism. After all, it takes imagination to figure out how to show a feeling. So what better way to explain a subject than to show the fantasy elements around it?
From a teen’s creative poppage, a fantastic fish in white space, a space jam, an elegant alternate dimension, to a time travel into the modern primal world of Keith Haring, the possibilities are endless. If you’re hoping to take your audience into another world, get inspired by these examples!
Expressionist album covers
Music and dramatic expression need to go hand in hand. It’s only logical that musicians use the visual drama of expressionism for their album covers. It’s all happening in this sound garden! A musician cries rainbow tears! The woman in red is made of stardust! And Jimi Hendrix is, well… Jimi! Check out they ways these brands deliver the drama!
Expressionist book covers
Books that focus on issues of inner violence or turmoil can utilize the violent clash of color and images that expressionism provides. When shapes, colors, and images clash, it has a jarring effect on the viewer. This effect can communicate the essence of your story to readers at a glance. In expressionism, confusion, isolation and the frantic nature of life can be effectively explored.
Brands looking to communicate a feeling rather than a literal idea will do well with expressionism. Just as a realistic portrait of your best friend might not fully capture her vim and vigor, expressionist design also shows things as they seem, rather than as they actually are. The following packaging examples offer consumers the experience of a feeling rather than the practicality of a specific product or service. Dance the night away with your long-lost lover! Be energized by the tropical vibe while drinking a cup of Joe!
Expressionism in poster design often keeps things simple, using just enough of the fundamental shapes to get the point across. When you’re learning to sketch, you learn that every object breaks down into basic shapes. But even basic shapes can have a lot of impact and create powerful visuals. See how these next examples use simple, expressive elements to various degrees!
Express your emotion
What emotion do you want to convey through your expressionist design?
If you’re having trouble pinning it down, imagine your brand as a person. List the qualities and behaviors your brand embodies, identify what makes it different.
Then ask yourself what emotions you want to convey to your customers. What do you want them to feel when they think about your brand and your products or services? Passion, warmth, impatience, power, trust, excitement or joy? To complete the picture, imagine your customers all in one room. How would you greet them? “Whasuuup!” Or, “greetings precious ones.” Or, “Good afternoon.” Do they get the three-part street fist bump? A long deep hug? Or a standard firm handshake?
Have some fun with these exercises and get ready to create your own expressionist design!