Josef Vojvodík

"Artwork" as Metaphor and Artifact

pp. 9–21 (Czech), summary p. 21 (English)

While Roman antiquity regarded an "artwork" as an absolute entity, as visualisation
of the essence of art and its rules - "opera absoluta," as Pliny the Elder calls the
works by Apelles and Polykleitos in his Naturalis Historia (praef. 26) - Renaissance
saw the focus shift towards "artwork" as the very meaning of artistic creation. The
art theory thinking and artistic practice of early modern Italian art distinguished
between the terms "ars" and "opus." From the end of the 18th century at the
latest, a process began (partly as a result of fateful political and revolutionary
upheavals) that led to the disintegration and fragmentation of the metaphysical
religious image of the world. Fragmentation as an aesthetic theory and historical or
historical philosophical discourse (Friedrich Schlegel, etc.), which was promoted by
early Romanticism, seemed to become a compensatory concept for the impossibility
of achieving unity and wholeness in the 19th century. A monumental fragment took
the place of a monumental work. Through early Romanticism, the aesthetics and
theory of fragment, discontinuity, fracture and rupture, partiality, etc., continued
to develop in conjunction with the notion of the unified whole and totality. In this
paper, "artwork" is viewed against the background of the process of modernisation
in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was accompanied by contradictory tendencies: on
the one hand, there is the dynamic of the meaning and goal of historical events,
and on the other, there is their relativity. The questioning of one of the main
concepts of artistic creation of Symbolist Modernism appears to have played an
essential role in discussions about the crisis of art and work of art: the creation of
a work of art that would synthesise not only all art forms and media, but also all
areas of culture and life into a monumental "Gesamtkunstwerk," created through
"organic development," analogous to life itself. Fragmentation, "unnaturalness,"
deformity, artificiality, disorder and partiality were emphasized as a negative
opposite of this holistic model of artistic creation as early as the first decades of the
19th century. From this perspective, modernism as a macro epoch encompassing
the 19th and 20th centuries appears also as an epoch of constant tension between
the fascination with the fragment and the (secret) desire to achieve wholeness and
unity, as well as the unity of artistic and life practice with the utopia of turning
life into an "artwork".

Keywords: Work - vivacity - modernism - Richard Wagner - August Rodin - Marcel Duchamp


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