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The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts

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Edited By Massimo Fusillo and Marina Grishakova

Conceived by Wagner as a way to recover the synthesis of arts at the core of Greek tragedy, the Gesamtkunstwerk played a significant role in post-Romantic and avant-garde aesthetics. It was designed to regenerate and defend the public function of art against mass culture and technology, yet at the same time depended on them in an ambivalent relationship manifested by its various realizations. The book reconceives the "total work of art" as a variation of intermediality, a practice that subverts any essentialist vision of artistic languages through complex interplay and blending of perceptions, amplified by new media and the syncretic nature of the cyberspace. The Gesamtkunstwerk can no longer be considered a Hegelian synthesis of arts or a Romantic and Wagnerian fusion of languages: it involves a synergy of different arts and media and captures the digital age’s principle of open textuality without any hierarchy and any organicist connotations. This book reveals the vitality of modern and contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk by mapping its presence in various arts and media.

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Chapter 8 Icons of America: Pulitzer Prize Winning Photos as a Gesamtkunstwerk: (Mauro Pala)

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Icons of America: Pulitzer Prize Winning Photos as a Gesamtkunstwerk

Mauro Pala

There is a link between what is today an American iconographic tradition in its public form – the Pulitzer Prize for photography – and the intellectual tradition which includes, among others, eminent scholars of visual arts such as Ernst Cassirer, Aby Warburg and Edgar Wind. In a quintessentially Warburgian sense, this generation of intellectuals maintained that images possess a right to life and are entailed to play a social role due to the energy they transmit (Bredekamp X). Such a feature pertains to every single source of image, from an ancient Medieval tapestry to the latest hi-tech product, thus expanding what has until recently been considered art history into something referable as the image history or image science (Bildwissenschaft). This development has been underpinned by the conviction that images not only illustrate but bring forth what they show. The second factor that promotes the importance of images is their use in politics, where they have been employed for centuries for representation and propaganda. In the new approaches, the image does not replace the spoken word, but rather constitutes the prime mover, the actor. The image act has the qualities inherent to the relation between speech and the social or political environment: it is ←149 | 150→the image that moves the viewer, thus becoming the initiator of a wholesale social action.

Traditional theorists of the Gesamtkunstwerk have considered the audience as pivotal to their comprehension...

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