UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding the aesthetics and materiality of Ver Sacrum, the seminal magazine of the Vienna Secession. Laszlo, Rita K.


Abstract The following Master’s thesis discusses the cultural-political agenda, the artistic standpoints, and the materiality of the Vienna Secessionist magazine, Ver Sacrum (1898-1903). Special attention is given to the composition of the pages, text, and the surrounding illustrations. Despite resembling the prevailing notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, its publishing has less to do with a total work of art and more with a total artistic sensibility. This sensibility is formed by the magazine’s purpose as a promotional magazine of artists campaigning for social, cultural, and political recognition and influence. A critical reading of the magazine’s first volume provides the basic understanding of this artistic sensibility, or Kunstempfinden, a recurring and leading concept throughout the issues. Kunstempfinden, also suggesting a focus on the creation of individual attitudes and meanings in relation to the arts, unites aesthetics and materiality and serves as a political tactic of the Secessionists. Thus, aesthetics and the work of art itselfare understated to the extent that they are there to mediate a prescribed meaning or sensibility. Namely, the magazine devoted itself to a cultural mission of dictating how art, culture, the Secessionist artist, or the Viennese individual should be perceived by society. In these respects, the issues of the magazine exhibit a manifesto, a provocative proclamation expressed in evocative language and metaphors, and a vision of alternative aesthetics to social life. Indeed, many of the texts project a Lukacsian definition of an aesthetic culture: a new sensibility, the occasion of a new mood as part of a new break away from the ordinary. The appearance of technological reproductions around and prior to 1900, as Walter Benjamin points out, shaped the perception of the arts also in the realization of the magazine. The emotional appeals in Ver Sacrum substitute the expected aura in a work of art and shift the traditional relevance of aesthetics to a material culture of aesthetic sensibilities. Since the Vienna Secession establishes Kunstempfinden as an artistic practice, process, and event, sensibility (Empfinden) itself appears as a defining telos of modernity and proves to be a persistent leitmotif for the Vienna Secession in communicating their perceived artistic importance.

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