The Folk and Art (Wagner)

“this vital force is—The Folk (das Volk).— Who is then the Folk?—It is absolutely necessary that, before proceeding further, we should agree upon the answer to this weightiest of questions. “The Folk,” was from of old the inclusive term for all the units which made up the total of a commonality. The “Folk” is the epitome of all those men who feel a common and collective Want (“gemeinschaftliche Noth”). To it belong, then, all of those who recognize their individual want as a collective want, or find it based thereon; ergo, all those who can hope for the stilling of their want in nothing but the stilling of a common want, and therefore spend their whole life’s strength upon the stilling of their thus acknowledged common want. For only that want which urges to the uttermost, is genuine Want; but this Want alone is the force of true Need (“Bedürfniss“); but a common and collective need is the only true Need; but only he who feels within him a true Need, has a right to its assuagement; but only the assuagement of a genuine Need is Necessity; and it is the Folk alone that acts according to Necessity’s behests, and therefore irresistibly, victoriously, and right as none besides. In common, too, shall we close the last link in the bond of holy Necessity; and the brother-kiss that seals this bond, will be the mutual Art-work of the Future.”

-Wagner. (The art-work of the future)


One of Wagner’s most lasting and famous philosophies is that of “the folk.” In his inspired writings on it’s importance are feelings of solidarity, brotherhood, and transcendence. Wagner’s use of the term “Want” should not be misunderstood, however. While one may initially attribute this term to what Wagner calls “the luxury,” or the enemy of necessity, it is important that its connection to true necessity be explored. In Wagner’s case, the concept of Want refers to the artistic yearning of the whole. In other words, it is the emotional urge of the spirit of the people. It arises, not from personal insatiable gluttony or greed, but from the commonality that is shared by men. It is the common Want that births the individual’s Need. For the “art-work of the future” is that ever advancing discipline which serves as the arm that is extended from individual to individual in our embrace of each other. “The Folk” is the community which art is continuously drawn from and poured into for the sustainability of Want and Need.

In the end, the question is that of sincerity, and it will continue to be a theme in future posts. For most, sincerity is what establishes the ideal notion of artistic expression. For example, Tim asked in a previous post, “is today’s music meant more to be entertainment than it is meant be artistic?” The answer is obviously multifaceted and requires much more detail to correctly explore, though, when dealing with the question of sincerity the focus is inherently purpose. The classification of “art” is inclusive of multiple people (the creator and observers) and is by that very nature an inclusive and binding undertaking. One must consider the purpose of the creator in the construction of the piece. In addition, the view of the observer is also equally important. Thus, one may see that with so many involved in the dissemination of art/entertainment, it becomes the property of many. It is the property of “the folk.” Though, if it is for the purpose of purely monetary gain and economic betterment, then it is of “luxury,” that which is insatiable and, thus, torturous to ones expressive nature.