Art as the Zeitgeist



Wassily Kandinsky theorized that art was the essence of an era.1 Due to this idea, he believed that the observer of an art piece should not just casually look at art, instead he or she should really try to understand its meaning.2 He writes that because the masses just look at “art for art”, the artist becomes focused on the materialistic benefit of creating art, making his work greedy and vain.3


Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with being the first modern artist. He wrote On the Spiritual in Art just after the height of the industrial revolution, when the consumer class was really emerging. He was watching a materialistic world emerging as he wrote his theory on art; he began to see the masses consume art as they would food or clothing. This consumption of something he believed was so sacred, and so integral to a society and time period, must have upset him deeply and led him to write On the Spiritual in Art.

If Kandinsky’s theories are valid, and art is the essence of a time period, then is art today a good example of today’s zeitgeist? Have we becomes further involved in a consumer culture? If so, how does this show in today’s art, music, and live performances?

  1. Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911 []
  2. Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911 []
  3. Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911 []

One thought on “Art as the Zeitgeist

  1. The connection between the industrial revolution and the materialization of art is key to Kandinsky’s piece. Art was becoming a commodity in the emerging consumer culture, forcing artists to focus purely on aesthetics rather than imparting their personal emotions and experiences. I think that this trend has continued specifically in mediums such as film and performance art. Film has degraded to simplistic plots and expensive, showy effects that dazzle the eye rather than force the viewer to think about underlying messages. This tendency is also clearly shown by modern plays and theater. Specifically in America, plays being shown by big companies such as Broadway are extremely viewer-friendly in order to increase consumption and profit. New productions are often taken from pop culture; for example, the Spiderman and Lion King Broadway productions were created for the sole purpose of profit and completely lack the message which Kandinsky believed to be an integral part of art.

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