“There’s a nice German word, gesamtkunstwerk. It means the entirety is a work of art.”
A few days back I chanced upon this work while researching on anthropology and design…here’s to dissecting it.
Etymology - gesamt meaning total, whole, entire; Kunstwerk meaning work of art, artwork.
The term was coined for the first time back in 1827 by the German philosopher and theologian, K.F.E. Trahndorff.
Few years ahead and Richard Wagner starts using this term in his Zurich essays of 1849 in relation to aesthetic principles and social dreams. A century later it was applied to forms of architecture as well.
Syntheses of arts is a confusing subject and the phenomenon has been enthusiastically reviewed by great thinkers and artists alike. Some call the process an art work in itself, where the different arts that are being blended, disappear, and in completing the process, somehow form a new world.
During the Renaissance most artists failed to see a strict division between architecture, interior design, sculpture, painting and even engineering.
Today, almost like in retrospect, traces of the term exist in all processes of art and design. We have been using it endlessly, unknowingly. Our processes have developed and most of our art forms have become modernized, yet it is this progress that makes the term a necessary and much awaited change. The methodology of “Total Design”, invented by Stuart Pugh, has been thrown around quite a bit, is the closest we have come to this idea in the modern day.
Design Activity Model by Pugh
The integration of the creative arts and the different scales of design in modern society, according to this framework has been explored deeply by Juliet Koss in her book Modernism after Wagner. She raises quite a few important questions in her writing, but the one that interests me the most is that of the nature of totality - the attempt to merge art with life represents an age-old desire that has existed in our journey of evolution, to recover a lost unity of sorts.
And this is where I see us heading, absolute efficient design through the scope of product, process, people and organization - with the missing addition of purpose.
What I like most about this concept is the quantification of art and design as an end goal. A lot of our world problems have simple answers, a pragmatic approach at design can help with many of these answers; even more, can help ask the more important questions and overall give us a chance to recreate more constructive conversations in the integrated scenario of anthropology and design.
Like Walter Gropius said
“From teaspoons to cities”