Paradigms of the Arts in 19th-century German Aesthetics
A major premise of art making in the twentieth century is based on the notion of an irreparable rupture in the systems that previously governed the knowledge and production of the arts (architecture, sculpture, painting, music, literature). Moreover, the attempt to devise new forms of expression in the twentieth century destabilized the very concept of art (one thinks of Conceptual Art, Performance Art, or Land Art). This focus on the theme of rupture in the twentieth century, however, obscures the fact that the nineteenth century had already witnessed a decisive reconfiguration in the arts, which had lasting effects on artistic production and reception.
The central thesis of this project is that literature, once considered the most complete and perfect art, was displaced through this reconfiguration of the hierarchy of the arts in favor of music, which came to be viewed as the apex of art (art par excellence). The desire for an »absolute« art – that is, an art whose qualities contain aspects of all of the other arts and which thereby manifests itself as art writ large – is predicated upon a claim that conjoins numerous, diverse impulses and concepts. On one hand, we discern in it tendencies drawn from romanticism (Schlegel) and idealist philosophies of art (Hegel, Solger, Schelling) and, on the other hand, facets of the aesthetics of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wagner. In this redefinition of the system, or hierarchy of the individual arts, opera plays a key role in the guise of the Gesamtkunstwerk.
This project aims to describe and analyze the causes, aims and also the dynamics of this shift in paradigms within the arts. This examination of new formulations of the hierarchy of the arts in the nineteenth century, which proved foundational for the aesthetics and art production of the subsequent century as well, aims to also provide answers to enduring questions about the status and definition of art today.
Image (above): Set design for the Götterdämmerung by Josef Hoffmann (1876), Source: Wikimedia
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