• Paul M. Wood

1. Ecstatic Transformations through Synthesis of The Arts

Updated: Jun 1

Synthesis of the Arts is the revolutionary artform of unifying practices of multiple arts to ascend expressions to a new level of transformational experience. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the concept, method, and realization of a synthesis of the arts, or total works of art. I grew up in a household where painting and music were expressed by my family, so there was a constant immersion in an exciting and passionate fusion of sight and sound. This daily exposure to expressive vibrations of painting (color, form, composition) in literally the same rooms as music (melody, harmony, tempo, rhythm) created an ocean of vibrations that was electrifying to my young spirit. This grew within me and became a frisson of immense epic possibilities of expression that crosses and unifies art around primal themes. This is now what I want to explore and relay the history of attempts to create a unified synthesis of arts in expression, leading up to the present and when I’ll unveil a new methodology for synthesis, learning from the initial efforts and applying newest technologies.


A cycle of four German-language epic music dramas that synthesize theater, dance, poetry, music, and philosophy (Wagner). A mystical Russian composer’s magnum opus climaxes with the ascension of the audience into the clouds (Scriabin). In 2007 the first of a big-budget “interactive experience” of nine parts in movies, graphic novels, animated shorts and website is released and bombs at the box office (Southland Tales). A five-act theater-opera on The Civil Wars fuses theater-opera-paintings-photography-dance-and drama but is cancelled days before its premiere at the 1984 Summer Olympics (Robert Wilson). The director of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” conceives “Live Cinema” as an experiment in a hybrid of theater, film, and television.

All of these artists attempted and are attempting variations of artistic synthesis as a collaborative space of technology, multiple art forms, aesthetics, performance (live) and interactivity.

There was a huge appeal for me in this grand epic integration of all the arts that doubles and quadruples ecstatic transformations. I was hooked by the vision, first in cinema, then evolved into mixed reality and live performance. And I experienced the contemporary realizations of synthesis by director/artists; Robert Wilson, Matthew Barney, Robert Lepage, Julie Taymor, experiential interactivity of Meow Wolf and Sleep No More, and technologies of Mixed Reality, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Live Cinema”, and even MMOGs.

This is now what I want to explore, and relay the history of attempts to create a unified synthesis of arts in expression, leading up to the present and when I’ll unveil a new methodology for next gen of this kind of synthesis, learning from the initial efforts and applying newest technologies.

We must understand this rich history of synthesis of the arts to know what had been attempted, its success and failure points, as foundations for success now. And with synthesis of the arts as a metaphor for bridging divides, connecting on a depths and levels that resonate and resolve into harmonies that creates community of feelings, is all a very urgent need considering of our current state of division, disunity, and disharmony.

We’ll start with the first real popularizer of the idea; composer Richard Wagner and Gesamtkunstwerk, translated as “total work of art” and “synthesis of the arts”. But the originator of this term has to be also mentioned; German writer and philosopher K.F.E. Trahndorff in his 1827 Essay.

But the roots go way back into mystery plays and ritual ceremonies and alchemical mythologies. Not to forget composer Alexander Scriabin and his “Mysterium” where at the end of a week-long performance in a Greek Amphitheater, the audience would be lifted into the air by music and color vibrations into a spiritual transfiguration.

So....how did Wagner express synthesis of the arts and what was its biggest failing that led to later appropriation by dictators and totalitarianism? What was it about this early concept and realization of this synthesis that was corrupt at the core it? Our starting place? What is the mystery and miracles of the medieval plays expressed religious stories in a synthesis?


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