Gesamtkunstwerk Today

by asmallberg

I found the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk really interesting. The idea of a “total work of art”, incorporating and integrating music, poetry, dance, and other visual effects to a story sounds like a near impossible task, yet fascinating nonetheless. Indeed, after watching parts of Wanger’s the ring cycle, it’s a clear example of Gesamtkunstwerk and worthy of the title of a “total work of art”. However, this got me thinking to modern examples of what would be considered a total work of art. In film, there are certain directors I associate would associate with Gesamtkunstwerk, such as Quentin Tarentino and the Coen Brothers. For example, I would consider the Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Though a modern example of Gesamtkunstwerk. It is filled with Ancient Greek mythology and allusions to the Odyssey and many other myths, stories, and other films. With great music and a fantastic soundtrack, it’s pretty close to what we could call a modern example of Gesamtkunstwerk. Interestingly, I also read on Wikipedia that there was a movement of Gesamtkunstwerk in early 20th Century German architecture, where the architect would be responsible for the total design and overseeing of the building’s shell, accessories, furnishings, and landscape. It rose out of the fear of industrialization and what it would mean for the future of architecture, and whether the architect’s role would be diminished.

Can you think of any other modern examples of Gesamtkunstwerk, whether in film, plays, and music? Also, do you think the term “total work of art” is legitimate? By coining the term Gesamtkunstwerk, Wagner was putting down what he called ordinary opera. Thus, does the term Gesamtkunstwerk put down other forms of art? Can a painting not be a “total work of art”? Is Beethoven’s fifth symphony not a “total work of art”?

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