Weltgeist is a German word that describes a sort of world spirit, perhaps it can be best explained as a sort of awareness of your own consciousness. The artistic weltgeist experience is not uncommon, especially for a painter and many have recorded experiencing it at one time or another during their lifetime, i.e. Van Gogh, Rouault, Gauguin, Malevich, Chagall, Pollock and Rothko, just to mention a few. I guess another way of describing the ‘weltgeist’ of an artist is arriving at a state of mind of a momentary spiritual connection, whilst simultaneously creating art. What that connection point is, or what that spiritual link is for, remains a mystery. But it seems to depend on the personal history or the deeply held beliefs of the Artist themselves. Be that of a religious nature or of a wider secular view of what humans are here on earth for, where we come from and where are we going. Summed up in modern language as, “what’s life all about?” Answers to the basic questions that humanity have been seeking to discover from the very beginning of time. Gauguin was probably the first artist to make visual that question in his famous painting of 1897 (see header photograph).
A weltgeist or inner awareness, could also be explained as an Artistic epiphany.
The American art critic Donald Kuspit mentioned the word when discussing his book, “The End of Art” (2004) in an interview that was critical of contemporary Art at the time. Much of what he outlined in the interview reinforced many of my thoughts about the ‘Post Modern Art’ movement of the late 20th and into the early 21st century. Kuspit’s book insistence that the “End of Art” had arrived was not a new idea. The (UK) Art Review magazine published an essay written by Brian Ashbee in the January issue of 2000, which had exactly the same title. Although the front page did show the ‘End of Art with a question mark. At that time it the magazine was Edited by David Lee who is well known as the creator of the term ‘Art Bollocks’ In his splendid article, Brian Ashbee questioned the validity of the philosophy of Post Modernism and its application to the Art World. The Art Review’s front page illustrated the ‘End of Art’ by a rather horrific yet gripping [detail] of a painting by an artist who I came to know quite well over the years. In the interview Kuspit pointed out that he avoided using ‘spiritual content’ as a description for Art. “I hate that word (spiritual] and prefer the German word weltgeist, because it holds a greater width to explain the artistic process.”
Although Kandinsky was obviously unconcerned at using the term ‘spirituality’ in 1912 when he published his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” Perhaps it did not hold the same narrow understanding that it probably does today, i.e. ‘spiritual = religious.’ – To describe an artwork as ‘spiritual’ these days is still a bit of a turn off for many in the contemporary art world. Perhaps that’s a reaction to the over use of the term that was used by the masters of 20th century Art, of which Kandinsky and Rothko are a very good examples.
By the late 20th century terminology for the ‘creative force’ had become cerebral, not spiritual. Art is innovative by nature and it has been common for one movement or terminologies to give way in favour of another. For example, the Dada movement, was a reaction to a perceived stagnant and corrupt culture. The Dadaist art ‘innovation’ was to present totally banal unscripted artistic absurdity to ridicule the establishment. Futurism, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism and other such terms were put forward to categorise the various ‘weltgeist’ of artists throughout the 20th century. Indeed, manifestos of Art, at one time, seemed to be raining from the skies. Art works were categorised, labelled and bought by museums, which inevitably resulted in their acceptance and absorption into the annuals of Art History. Once accepted as: ‘of real Art Historical value’ – these movements lost their street cred and the uptake of the ideals by other artists evaporated as quickly as they had appeared. Perhaps a more dogmatic movement that has had a high uptake with the support from Art institutions in recent decades is post Modernism.
‘Post Modernism.’ Is an open-ended theory, one which is wide enough to allow anyone to make anything they so desire and call it Art. Be it banal, absurd, sexual, political, beautiful, naive or totally mundane, a non-art or art created by someone else. The term Post-Modernism covers all modes of Art with a large un-bigoted cultural umbrella, one that the Art Institutions and the culture media open at regular intervals. For the Art World Post Modernism seems to be the answer to eliminate, “that old Modern Art”. And the intellectual elites, who prophesied to understand it – far better than anyone else possibly could.
Full article in issue #2 – available on line soon click below for information on date of release.