There is a tendency to classify art by its style; if the work is a rather realistic representation of nature, it will be considered realism, if the work simplifies the forms of nature, it will likely be called modernist. This tendency misses the essential spirit of the work. The Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin offered an other perspective to this one-sided view of art. Each historical period has a predominant spirit of the time, a Zeitgeist which reflects the ideas and values of a culture. According to Wölfflin one should first examine the cross-currents of ideas of a period to determine what the Zeitgeist was for the period, in a second step, one would then be able to determine which works of art reflected significant cultural values that were unique of the period. I will add that it is possible that a society could actually be insane when the culture of the period is compared to earlier culture, a point Erich Fromm made in his Sane Society.
I have four paintings to consider, The Offering(1892) by François Alfred Delobbe, Marzella(1910) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Violin and Candlestick (1910) by Georges Braque and Alicja (2012) by Markus Schinwald. If the paintings were classified the way they usually are, The Offering and Alicja would be classified as realism, Marzella and Violin and Candlestick would be classified as modernist work. But this view misses the spirit of the work. Although The Offering and Alicja are both realist paintings, the spirit of the works are complete opposites. Since I look at things from the perspective of the Zeitgeist, I would say The Offering and Marzella have more in common in spirit. Although I’ve never been enthusiastic about Kirchner’s work, there is still a charm in his work, Kirchner still painted a cute girl with her kitty.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the paintings, Violin and Candlestick and Alicja. Although the paintings are completely different in style, both reflect a rationalism which does not allow for a delight in nature. Within any period of time, older ways of thinking coexist with newer ideas which are spreading. Unfortunately most people still think in terms of humanism without realizing their view is under attack on college campuses. Alicja was painted in 2012, the work reflects the spirit of our time, the post-humanism which is prevalent in universities today.
“In our society, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane.”
George Orwell 1984