The Total Work of Art or the Total Way of Life Essay

The Total Work of Art or the Total Way of Life Essay

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The Total Work of Art or the Total Way of Life
Gesamtkunstwerk is a term that literally means the total work of art. However, it contains too many conceptions in itself. First appearance of this term is in Richard Wagner’s Die Kunst und die Revolution [“The Art and Revolution”], dated 1849. Roughly, Gesamtkunstwerk is a notion that “heaping together the various arts – architecture, landscape painting, dance, drama and music” (Daverio, 1986). However, this Wagnerian concept brought a discussion around the totality of an art work. In other words, the definition of this concept has been extended to a wider aspect, even a wider geography or contrarily constricted to so much narrower scope, which Wagner, maybe, could not imagine. To understand the Gesamtkunstwerk, one must refer to these various definitions and conceptions. Roberts (2005) argues in his essay that, “the term may be German, but the concept refers to a recurrent dream of European modernism, aesthetic nature but religious and/or political in intent”. At this point, partly wider than John J. Daverio’s definition, Roger Formoff, gives 4 different definitions to the Gesamtkunstwerk in his book The Total Work of Art:
“1. an inter- or multi-medial union of different arts in relation to a comprehensive vision of the world and society;
2. an implicit or explicit theory of the ideal union of the arts;
3. a closed worldview, combining a social-utopian or historical, philosophical or metaphysical-religious image of the whole with a radical critique of existing society and culture;
4. a projection of an aesthetic-social or aesthetic-religious utopia, which looks to the power of art for its expression and as the aesthetic means to a transformation of society. However important t...

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...rk has become a social model or tool apart from being a music-based dream. On the other hand, one must note that, the musical aspects of this concept still lives in Opera houses, concert halls, however, with modern colleagues, cinemas. In this sense, Wagner made an invaluable contribution to a deeper understanding of the total work of art with building the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk on top of the prior conceptualizations of the total work of art.

Works Cited

Daverio, J. J. (1986). "Total Work of Art" or "Nameless Deeds of Music" Some Thoughts on
German Romantic Opera. The Opera Quarterly , 4 (4), 61-74. Retrieved August 19, 2008 from Oxford Journals Online (
Roberts, D. (2005). Book Review: The Total Work of Art. Thesis Eleven , 83, 104-121.
Retrieved August 19, 2008 from SAGE Publications Online (

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