Expressive Theory

Formerly “Expressionism” is a German movement in painting but later on, it extended its access to other literary arts too. Expressive criticism treats a literary work primarily in relation to the author. It defines poetry as an expression, or overflow, or utterance of feeling, or as the products of poet’s feelings.

The theory tends to judge the work by its sincerity to the poets’ vision or the state of mind. Such views were developed mainly by the Romantic critics and remain current in our time too. Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility” is taken as the ground idea of the expressive theory of art.

The most powerful impetus in expressive critical thought was the Romantic Movement that began in late eighteenth century. This movement has deeply affected our modern consciousness and the common sense discourse of literary commentary. The three key concepts associated with this movement are: imagination, genius and emotion. Expressive theorists firmly stick to these three key terms. They believe that authorial individuality is something to be conveyed by a literary work, and to go beyond objectivist theorists’ prescription that a poet’s effort should be to flee personality and that criticism should focus on the poem not on the poet. Wordsworthian notion that “a poem is inner made outer” puts an emphasis on the poet in a poem, and this emphasis has never eased.

Despite Eliot’s effort to reintroduce the idea that intellect should be equally important for poetry, Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility” remains a common sense and popular attitude. Two Romantic concepts are foreshadowed in Edward Young’s “Conjectures on Original Composition”. Firstly, there was a shift of interest from the work and the reader to the author and his work. Secondly, the emphasis was given more to originality and innate genius than literary rules and conventions. He submits to the opinion that the proper object of imitation is not the ancient author’s work but his ‘spirit’ and his ‘taste’. Thus, Young takes the expressive mode of thinking.

Blake believes that imagination is truly creative and man does not come in the world with Lockean tabularasa. He considers the creative act to be unified, and agrees to some extent with Croce that intuition and expression are similar.