Artistic Synthesis

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Synthesis, Artistic


the uniting of different art forms into an artistic whole that aesthetically organizes man’s material and spiritual environment. The concept of artistic synthesis implies the creation of a qualitatively new artistic phenomenon irreducible to the sum of its component parts. The ideological, imaginative, and compositional unity of the components, their common effect in the time and space arrangement, their coordination in scale, proportion, and rhythm generate artistic qualities enhancing apprehension of art and the development of an idea on many planes. Artistic synthesis has a comprehensive emotional effect on a person, appealing to all his senses. The concept has great social and educational possibilities.

Various forms of synthesis have been known in the history of art. Architecture and monumental art are often united, creating a synthesis in which painting and sculpture, while performing their own tasks, also enhance and interpret the architectural image. Such spatial and plastic synthesis usually includes decorative applied art, by means of which man’s objective environment is created, and small-scale works of art, such as easel painting. Synthesis of the temporal arts, for example, poetry and music, characterizes all genres of vocal music (popular song, art song, cantata, oratorio, opera). Many works of instrumental program music constitute an innovative form of synthesis of music and poetry. The theater, motion picture, and related temporal-spatial arts are synthetic by nature, uniting the creative work of the writer, actor, director, artist, and, in the motion picture, cameraman. In musical theater acting is combined with song, instrumental music, and dance. The components of a theatrical or cinematographic work are aesthetically united by the director into a whole new world.

Synthesis may be accomplished on various levels—within an art form (for example, the use of the methods of documentary film-making—the newsreel and reporting—in a feature film) or among arts (for example, the introduction of cinematographic representation into theater). The public demand for a broader and more complete reflection of reality engenders the unification of art forms into a new synthetic form. Synthesis frequently makes the role of the public more active, for example, at folk festivals, gala processions, victory celebrations, carnivals, and various ritual observances (for example, the ancient Dionysia). The participants in such activities are both viewers and creators at the same time.

In artistic synthesis the role of each of the arts involved need not be the same. One form may dominate completely; for example, in ancient Egypt sculpture and painting were subordinate to architecture. A quality inherent in one of the arts may acquire general significance, for example, the architectonic quality of the plastic arts in classicism, the plasticity of ancient Greek art, and the picturesqueness of baroque art. In response to the historical period and the artist’s specific intent, the art forms may be almost completely integrated (Gothic architecture and sculpture), may harmoniously complement one another (Renaissance art), or may contrast with one another (many 20th-century structures).

Syncretism, the initial nondifferentiation of the art forms that were directly involved in man’s activities and rituals, was characteristic of the primitive communal system. When arts became differentiated, revealing their mutually complementary originality, the opposite trend—toward synthesis—occurred. Religious ritual, which subordinated the fine arts, literature, music, and ceremonial activities to a single intent, emerged as an organizing basis for artistic synthesis in the cultures of the Far East. The Greeks’ harmonious integration of architecture and sculpture, which suggested the victory of the human element, contrasted with the overwhelming superhuman mass and decorative symbolism of Egyptian architecture (columns resembling lotus flowers or papyrus). In the interior of medieval churches the pictorial images (mosaics, frescoes, and, in Gothic churches, stained glass) were an integral part of architecture and evoked a strong sense of spirituality; artistic and real space fused into one symbolic whole and were supplemented by liturgical poetry and music.

During the late Gothic period and, especially, during the Renaissance, there was an intensification of the secularization and individualization of art. At the same time there occurred the disintegration of the organic “cathedral” universality of medieval artistic synthesis. New norms of synthesis developed that recognized the independent role of each of the arts. The general principles of the synthesis of arts were expressed with particular completeness in the works of such great 16th- and 17th-century masters as Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini. In painting, which creates illusory space, and in sculpture, which exists in architectural space, the representational form, without losing its real content and relatively independent existence, acquired certain traits associated with the monumental and decorative purpose of the work. Artistic synthesis was associated not so much with church rituals as with particular forms of secular life (victory celebrations, court extravaganzas, opera and ballet productions, court spectacles). In 18th-century rococo and classicistic art the creation of an artistic life environment establishing the special significance of everyday existence became an important goal of artistic synthesis.

Under the conditions of bourgeois society many forms of artistic synthesis, first and foremost architectural and artistic synthesis, are collapsing. However, the interest in the problems of artistic synthesis is taking on a new meaning associated with the vital role of the artistic element in life, the harmonious development of man, and, in socialist teachings, ideas concerning the perfect society as well. The task of creating the harmoniously developed person set forth by Goethe, Schiller, and the early romantics was viewed in 19th-century romantic theories as the problem of creating synthetic works of art (German Gesamtkunstwerk) that form “oases of beauty” defying bourgeois practicality and lack of spirituality. Connected with these ideas was an interest in musical drama as a modern basis for artistic synthesis capable of replacing religious ritual (R. Wagner). Romantic utopias of the spiritual rejuvenation of society by means of synthetic “cathedral” artistic creations were later developed by the symbolists (Viach. I. Ivanov). Great importance was also attached to synesthesia and visual and auditory correspondences (for example, the “color music” of A. N. Scriabin).

At the turn of the 20th century the art nouveau style inspired attempts at a practical rebirth of synthesis in life through architecture. Developing the ideas of synthetic culture (W. Morris, H. van de Velde), the rationalists of the 1920’s (representatives of constructivism, the Bauhaus) strove to create an integral artistic environment that actively directed the life processes. The analytic and figurative-cognitive functions of art were often disclaimed, and artistic creation was utopistically regarded as the key factor in the “composition” of life.

In the 20th century significant works involving artistic synthesis have been connected with the creation of large memorial structures and exhibition complexes (including world’s fairs), as well as with the organization of holiday celebrations, gala processions, and festivals. In the theater of the 1960’s and 1970’s there has been a tendency toward creating synthetic performances (uniting drama, music, poetry, and choreography in a common rhythmical plastic and spatial whole), toward more complete embodiment of the spiritual world of modern man, and toward vivid ideological purposefulness of the mass spectacle.

Ideas of artistic synthesis appeared in Soviet culture right from the outset. They were essential to Lenin’s plan of monument propaganda and found expression in the agitational art of the October Revolution and the Civil War. Synthesis was particularly important to architects and artists who were creating new types of public buildings. In the 1930’s artistic synthesis was the guiding principle for the construction of the Moscow subway system and the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (now the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy of the USSR).

Since roughly 1950 artistic synthesis has been widely applied in socialist countries in connection with the creation of new cities, large public buildings and complexes, and memorial groups. Artistic synthesis is an important means of creating an environment that answers the ideological and aesthetic needs of a developed socialist society.


Wagner, R. lzbrannyestat’i. Moscow, 1935.
Voprosy sinteza iskusstv. [collection]. Moscow, 1936.
Eisenstein, S. lzbrannye stat’i. Moscow, 1956.
Sintez iskusstv v arkhitekture [collection]. Moscow, 1963.
Gromov, E. S. “Sovremennyi kinematograf i problemy sinteza iskusstv.” Kinematografsegodnia [collection]. Moscow, 1967.
Sintez iskusstv i arkhitektura obshchestvennykh zdanii. [collection]. Moscow, 1974.
Damaz, P. F. Art in European Architecture. New York [1956].
Damaz, P. F. Art in Latin American Architecture. New York, 1963.
Sedlamyr, H. Epochen und Werke, vol. 2. Vienna-Munich, 1960.
Bildkunst und Baukunst. Berlin, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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