Comparison of French and German Aesthetics in the Early Twentieth Century

Inner emotions of the individual were becoming the most important part of artistic expression at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the question at hand is whether the individual is to represent only themselves or a more universal concept that everyone can genuinely connect to. The German aesthetic was that of the expression of their individual self, whereas the French aesthetic was that of the expression of emotions that are shared throughout humanity by means of nature and universally felt emotions. These two approaches to aesthetic beauty were achieved through the concrete means of music and art.


French art in the twentieth century attempts to capture things that are universally known: Things seen in nature or everyday life, but also in every life. Painters create to capture an image, but the intent of the painting is not merely to show what the object looks like. The intent is rather to show something that is universally inside of everyone that the particular object brings out. Because of this intent, the objects are never painted with even remote accuracy to the way the object physically looks. The way the painter portrays the subject of the painting is dependent on the way he perceives it emotionally. If the painter wants to paint a tree, but also wants to portray the tree in the way one would perceive it when he is sad, it is not enough to simply paint it. Thus, the French aesthetic of the twentieth century is that of expression of the inner human based on the world around him.

German art was more focused on self going outwards towards the world, turning an object (real or not) into emotion rather than representing how it looks to a certain person. The idea is to make a tangible representation of a mind rather than to view something that is already tangible in a different way. The main difference is that French aesthetic deals with different interpretations of the same outward beauty through a particular mind and its emotional state. The German aesthetic deals with the mind itself being portrayed. To put it simply: Portraying the mind (German), or portraying its perception (French).

This concept also applies directly to the music of this time period in Germany and France. In France, impressionist music attempted to capture objects through to filter of emotion as well. Just as the French painters painted according to the way their mind currently perceived something, the composers painted objects onto the soundscape through the filter of the mind and its emotions. The German composers on the other hand put their raw emotion and mentality into their compositions.

This difference in aesthetics resulted in two very different styles of art. German art was much more obvious, attempting to make self significant possibly through exaggeration. French art was more reserved and subtle, not needing to make self significant but only to help other minds to see what the artist sees.

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