[ ik-spresh-uh-niz-uhm ]

  1. Fine Arts.

    • (usually lowercase) a manner of painting, drawing, sculpting, etc., in which forms derived from nature are distorted or exaggerated and colors are intensified for emotive or expressive purposes.

    • a style of art developed in the 20th century, characterized chiefly by heavy, often black lines that define forms, sharply contrasting, often vivid colors, and subjective or symbolic treatment of thematic material.

    • German Ex·pres·si·o·nis·mus [eks-pres-ee-oh-nis-moos]. /ɛksˌprɛs i oʊˈnɪs mʊs/. modern art, especially the experimental or nonacademic styles of contemporary art.

  2. (often lowercase)Theater. a style of playwriting and stage presentation stressing the emotional content of a play, the subjective reactions of the characters, symbolic or abstract representations of reality, and nonnaturalistic techniques of scenic design.

  1. Literature. a technique of distorting objects and events in order to represent them as they are perceived by a character in a literary work.

  2. (usually lowercase) a phase in the development of early 20th-century music marked by the use of atonality and complex, unconventional rhythm, melody, and form, intended to express the composer's psychological and emotional life.

Origin of Expressionism

1905–10; <German ExpressionismusSee expression, -ism

Other words from Expressionism

  • Ex·pres·sion·ist, noun, adjective
  • Ex·pres·sion·is·tic [ik-spresh-uh-nis-tik], /ɪkˌsprɛʃ əˈnɪs tɪk/, adjective
  • Ex·pres·sion·is·ti·cal·ly, adverb
  • an·ti·ex·pres·sion·ism, noun
  • an·ti·ex·pres·sion·ist, noun, adjective
  • an·ti·ex·pres·sion·is·tic, adjective
  • non·ex·pres·sion·is·tic, adjective
  • pro·ex·pres·sion·ism, noun
  • pro·ex·pres·sion·ist, noun, adjective
  • pro·ex·pres·sion·is·tic, adjective
  • sem·i·ex·pres·sion·is·tic, adjective

Words Nearby Expressionism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use Expressionism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for expressionism


/ (ɪkˈsprɛʃəˌnɪzəm) /

  1. (sometimes capital) an artistic and literary movement originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, which sought to express emotions rather than to represent external reality: characterized by the use of symbolism and of exaggeration and distortion

Derived forms of expressionism

  • expressionist, noun, adjective
  • expressionistic, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for expressionism


An artistic style that departs from the conventions of realism (see also realism) and naturalism (see also naturalism) and seeks to convey inner experience by distorting rather than directly representing natural images. The highly personal visions communicated in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh are early examples of expressionism. Edvard Munch and Georges Rouault are considered expressionist painters.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.