Art as the Zeitgeist



Wassily Kandinsky theorized that art was the essence of an era. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911)) 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. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911)) 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. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911))


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?