Gustav Klimt and Vienna Secessionist Painting at the Turn of the Century

Gustav Klimt, the brilliant Austrian symbolist painter and muralist, was a founding member of the Vienna Secession movement.  As such, Klimt found himself positioned to be a leader of a movement which responded to the energy and vitality of a new century by persuasively arguing that the next generation of Austrian artists needed to turn their back on the conservative Vienna Kunstlerhaus.  By turning the gaze away from the constancy of the past, Klimt and the other founding members of the Vienna Secessionist group no longer pursued aesthetic compositions which responded first and foremost to historicist themes.  The motto of Klimt and the other founders, conspicuously placed above the front door of their group’s headquarters by the structure’s architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, states the following:  “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” (“To every age its art. To art its freedom.”).  What are your thoughts on this Vienna Secession motto and do you see any relevance for this motto in our time?

Vienna Secession Building


Joseph Maria Olbrich, Vienna Secession Building, 1897

Photograph of Gustav Klimt 1914

Photograph of Gustav Klimt, 1914


29 thoughts on “Gustav Klimt and Vienna Secessionist Painting at the Turn of the Century

  1. I agree with the motto, in that art is everywhere and has always been everywhere. We realize today that art isn’t just historicist themes. We have our imaginations that we can use to put together a piece of art. For example, with structures and buildings today, we can consider them to be art. Unlike thousands of years ago, people not only build buildings (or structures) to use to their benefit, but how the building looks is factored in as well, such as how big we want the building, what color(s) it should be painted, what appliances it should have, etc.–and even then, all those years ago, creativity was expressed the way those beings had intended for it to be expressed. Technology has had quite an impact on us too (the Industrial Revolution was taking place at the time of the Vienna Secession).

    I think the motto does still exist today, especially since more things and expressions are being deemed as art by society (despite some people still not accepting it as such). We are free to express ourselves however we want to, and I think that fact is more profound among those that live in the U.S. and in societies like the U.S.–where the people have the power (so to speak).

    • “To every age its art. To art its freedom.”

      The motto acknowledges that what worked in the past doesn’t necessarily work in the present and that art (and artists) should be free to express themselves however they wish. This is as true today as it was then. The acknowledgement that every age has its art is an interesting statement because it would imply that they will be willing to accept movements in the future that surpass what they have done in their present. Did they?

  2. I think I can definitely agree with the Vienna Secession Motto. As we’ve seen so far, art in all its various forms is very much a reflection of society and the world at any given point in time. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with being nostalgic about the past, I don’t think society should cling to it as if we do not have a future to look forward to. For the most part, I believe that the Vienna Secession motto holds relevance in our time, as well. I was originally going to say that I believe it to be relevant in almost any point in time, but I came to realize that was not the case hundreds of years ago. Even looking back as far back as the mid 1800s, the Parisian Art Salons were still dictating what was considered ‘acceptable’ in the art world. I do believe with certainty that every age or time period does have some type or form of art that defines it. Nowadays, artists still have to face up to critics and the like, but I do think most artists ultimately have more freedom in creating what they want.

  3. I think that is a great motto! “To every age its art. To art its freedom” means a lot. The way I think of it, when I hear that motto, is like the change in trends and how art is what really pushes the boundaries of the age…pushing for “freedom,” if you will. This reminds me of a conversation I’ve had recently with my mother and grandmother about tattoos. Tattoos were so much more taboo in their day than they are today, so they were extremely concerned with the fact that I’ve been planning on getting one soon. If I were to get one, I would be the first person in my immediate family to have a tattoo. They were trying everything they could to talk me out of it, but most of the claims they made against getting the tattoo, were old thoughts, ideas, and trends; thoughts like, “You won’t be able to get/hold a job,” or “What will people think of you?,” etc. etc. Because the art of tattooing has become so much more expansive, it’s pushed the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in the workplace and in everyday life. Tattoos are becoming more and more common, so companies are learning that a few tattoos on an applicant doesn’t change the fact that they had a 3.8 GPA in college, compared to the kid with the high school diploma and no tattoos. The once new art of tattooing has slowly evolved to become acceptable and “free” within society.

  4. I agree with the motto that Joseph Maria Olbrich stated, “To every age its art. To art its freedom”. In every generation there are certain trends that artist get into whether they are musicians, painters, dancers, etc. The form of art will evolve and it’ll give every generation a chance to get inspired by the past to produce an art that can be represented of its time. Such as if people hear about the Renaissance era, they would automatically think of the artwork that is well presented during that time period. It was during that era in which artist were discovering their art and finding the freedom to make them unique among other artists. Same in this generation, we continue to strive to change the world with art every year to create an inspiring piece that an audience can gaze upon and feel enlightened in a certain way.
    No matter the age, artist have that free will to change whatever they desire.

  5. The motto of the Vienna Secession is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the early 20th. Thanks to the influence of the artists of the Vienna Secession, artists today have much more freedom to explore different techniques than their predecessors. Those involved with the Vienna Secession pushed society to accept that art should not have set rules. Rather, art should be immune to being confined to traditional styles. Although traditional styles have their value, it is important to move forward and evolve. Many years from now, the art styles of today will be considered techniques of the past and future artists, much like the Vienna Secessionists, will progress and create new art styles. Every age does indeed have its art, and art will always have the freedom to change.

  6. The Vienna Seccessionist motto, “To every age its art. To art its freedom,” reflects the desire to break from traditional art forms and venture freely into expressive forms that were emergent rather than based on premeditated visions. The implication is that art is set free from the weight of history or social circumstances, but even the sentiment of being free and expressive reflects the historical context and optimism of the turn of the century. I think this quote is still relevant because artists still lead the way to cultural changes, but the first part “to every age its art” seems dated. It becomes increasingly difficult to identify “an art” of an age because there are many diverse styles of art that coexist.

  7. I love the motto that Klimt has created. There ideals of moving forward from the past is something that is continued throughout history. Art is revolutionized continuously. “Art is freedom” is true in so many ways. If there was no freedom in art, there would be guidelines to determine how to create it making them all appear the same. Viewers crave individuality, new, unique, and boundary breaking art. Plus, no artist today wants to be compared to someone else’s style. Artists today and past express there art with freedom, creating what they please.

  8. My thoughts on this motto are that it stands for everything that the Vienna Secession was. During those times a new century had just started and artist wanted to explore and experiment different forms of art. Without the Vienna Secession, art wouldn’t have the freedom that it does today. I don’t see any relevance for this motto in our time because at this day and age there is art of anything that can humanely be imaginable. It has been accepted in every way, shape, or form. People aren’t as intolerant as they were before. I don’t see the relevance of the Vienna Secession motto in our time, but as a necessity in order for art to evolve.

  9. Klimt and the other Vienna Secession artists were aspiring to move art forward, and that meant change. As the motto says, “To every age its art. To art its freedom.” It was now a time to look and construct art differently. By turning their gaze away from past conservative art, artists were able to create new ideas and forms of art. To this day, the motto is still valid. We have changed movement after movement, bringing new ideas to the table every time. However, every time the art had changed, we have kept or dismissed past concepts from the previous centuries. It is undeniable that we learn from past art and that it helps us move forward. Like taking steps, one is necessary for the next one to come.

    • I appreciate your last two sentences for I, too believe that art builds upon itself and when a critical mass of sorts is reached, art does move forward. The art of the past being an important building block of art in the present and future tense.

  10. If there was ever an art motto for all time is would be “To every age its art. To art its freedom.” The motto succinctly and eloquently acknowledges that art has fulfilled different purposes and needs throughout humanity’s cultural record, but at the forefront of the 20th century a new direction is boldly declared. For example, Byzantine iconography or Egyptian art, being the highly stylized format that it is, fulfilled a unique purpose in it’s creation and function. Long-established norms handed down by the Vienna Kunstlerhaus were now being rejected and a new more individualistic path was forged. The Vienna Secessionists motto still rings true today as artists continue to push the boundaries and societal norms of what is considered “art.” Brought to mind is the Tate Museum’s 2010 Turner Art Prize awarded to “sound sculptor” Susan Phillipsz.

  11. The motto “To every age its art. To art its freedom” is quite extraordinary. Art has always been one of the greatest representative of history and culture in each era. Art and freedom has always been synonymous to each other. In the age of the Vienna Secession Movement, art became a tool to denounce the past and to open a new way of expression. Because of this, a valiant new approach to thinking opened new an innovative ways of understanding and looking at the world. The consequences of these shaped what and who humanity is until this day. Klimt and the others that followed him, gave me absolute certainty that because they sought freedom through art that I can as well. No rules or manifestos can hinder what I feel should be art. What I find appealing should be art and I should be able to support anyone that has a purpose and a vision that leads to their freedom.

  12. “To Each Age Its Art” sounds like a toast to me and the House of Viennese Secession was the glass lifted. Here’s our place of recognition that we exist to create in freedom. I assume that freedom to mean freedom from academic and traditional art forms. It is freedom in each age that allows the current generation’s artists to create. In each age there are obstacles that arise to oppose that freedom because of fear of change or of the unknown, threat to political power or social norms or prejudice which often arises out of misunderstanding.

    In this time and in our country I think we experience a comprehensive freedom in areas more than just art, consequently artists have little or no restrictions. In my opinion it is commercialization that unknowingly restricts freedom by dictating what is “valuable.” This restriction I think applies more to the individual artist than artists as a whole. An individual may limit his artistic vision to what he is successful at selling rather than exploring new ideas.

  13. I really like the motto and what it stands for. It’s not necessarily saying that art from other periods isn’t worth looking back on, it’s saying that art shouldn’t be confined by what was the norm or what worked in the past. That art should be free from the constraints of the past. This motto is most certainly relevant in our time as it should be for any time. While we should respect and learn from past works, we should also pursue our own ways in which to express ourselves through whatever medium we feel like. There shouldn’t be pressure to recreate what was great years ago, art simply wouldn’t be as exciting if there were.

  14. I believe that this motto will forever be embodied by artists while art continues to be made. “To each age its art. To art its freedom.” Art is merely a term created to distinguish a creative process of one expressing them self in a certain manner. So the history books deem it “art” but the artists, they are the ones experiencing and expressing and are in that exact moment of creation and while in those elated moments of works they are relishing in the freedom that is granted. Of course they know that it is art that they are creating but that is only because it is a socially constructed term. Today is no different then back then so the same freedoms will come to those who create and what it is called in the history books will be irrelevant.

  15. I really do think this motto does portray to the modern age or any age in that matter. “To every age its art. To art its freedom.” shows how every generation of artist grow every year and how society changes which makes every artist change as well. We don’t know what the future brings and what artist will bring too. As every bit of technology changes year after year, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or any sort of photo enhancing programs, the taste of art differentiates from one viewer to the next. The art supplies from oil paints to Photoshop is the decision that artist choose because that is the freedom they want in this generation. And it’ll forever change art as we speak.

  16. I feel that this motto shows great light onto art and will hold true for future generations as well. “To every age its art. To art its freedom,” is a quote that to me means that art continuously is molded and reshaped from every generations artists. The need for a freedom and a escape from that centuries problems and injustices is the jet that propels artists. I feel that from each art movement we evolve our thinking and art processes. We take the message and will that past artists are conveying through their art and we use that strength to overcome our own societies hurdles. Without the artists of yesteryear we would not be where we are today in terms of art and the openness of the mind.

  17. “To every age its art. To art its freedom.”
    I feel that every bit of this motto rings true today as it did when it was proposed as the motto of Vienna Secession. In every age art reflects the thoughts of a culture and the globe discourses in one way or another. art through the ages has allowed people to express new thoughts and ideas with view both in the time of its Creation and with future generations in that way art is like a time capsule persevering the essence of an age for future generations to enjoy and understand.

  18. “To every age its art. To art its freedom.”

    This statement does have relevance to our time because there is usually a new form of art for every generation. These new forms are the result of freedom in art, and without it they most likely would have never existed. With freedom, art has been able to expand into new territory and continuously change along with time. Had there been no freedom, art would not be where it is today.

  19. The motto is definitely still relevant. It was relevant through hundreds of years of art history leading up until now. A lot of art being created right now is obviously influenced by technology or its by-products (increased communication globally, access to great depths of information, etc), there is clearly an era of art that is happening now and it needs its freedom and room to spread. If art were never given freedom it would never develop and evolve. Ages wouldn’t have their “art” if art were constantly stifled and suppressed because it would have no where to go.

  20. I feel that ‘to every age its art. to art its freedom;’ although coined during the Vienna Secessionist movement, would hold true at any period of time. Whether it is the Paleolithic cave painter or the Graphic Designer working in some Adobe product, that is the technology of their time to produce art and the art which is their freedom.

  21. I agree with the Vienna Secession motto, that “to every age its art. To art its freedom.” I feel that this motto is presdanted in today’s society. That we have more freedom on how we express our thoughts or beliefs into artwork; and that we are able to show case these artworks. Yes there may be a few people who do not agree with an artwork, but they too are able to freely express how they feel about it.

  22. I think that this Vienna Secession motto is very true. To me the motto, “To every age its art. To art its freedom,” means that every time period has their own forms of art and freedom to create art. I feel that as history went on exposing different types of art it taught and gave the next generations of artist ideas to help them sort of have the same concept of art from the past, but with their own blend of ideas to make it better. I do see that there is a relevance for this motto being used in today’s art society. Look at us students now, we are taking up art history classes to learn about art from the different ages through out history. What we learn from the art from history gives us the freedom to create either our own forms of art or to use some of the ideas of historical art to help us form a new type of art that blends both past and modern characteristics together.

  23. Joseph Maria Olbrich’s motto for the Vienna Succession seems to hold a lot of truth. Every age is affected by different historical events, which shape the common experience, affecting the culture and creative output of an era. “To every age its art” suggests the idea of the zeitgeist or “spirit of an age.” The later part of the quote can be seen as how new innovations create freedom of expression. We certainly see artistic movements open up new ground by introducing new concepts to the realm of artistic expression. In the contemporary landscape, we this evidenced by the advent and utilization of new technology that has opened up new opportunities for creative output and exploration.

  24. The motto of the Vienna Secession is a veritable, booming outcry of its own principles: the character of a legacy can find its roots in the “footsteps” of its predecessors. Conversely, one can absolutely expect to live in the large-cast shadow of its “father discipline”, without (in some semblance) a nod to the school’s basics of technique and theory. We– as those who inhabit the millenial era(s) are graced with a privilege and freedom that would’ve been inconceivable to those who were less privileged. Indeed, by virtue of birth, timing, and perhaps even a stroke of serendipity– we come to exist as breathing embodiments of the values, mores, and norms of the time(s) in which we live.

    Conforming and complying with these values, mores, and norms– is an entirely different subject, however. But what it DOES happen to mean for art, is that our generational “aesthetic” will sing in a different chord; one unlike any other that has ever resounded through the halls of the universe. A chord that will both sing praise, and weep for the neo-traditional; for the neo-futurist; and for the tired dichotomy of “art” versus “not-art”. It will mean taking a step– for better or for worse, closer or further away– to the “answers” to our questions.

  25. “To every age its art. To art its freedom.”

    I firmly believe that this motto will always be relevant. There is an idea that in the first statement, to each time there will be the art of that time. Years and years of changing artistic movements are proof enough in my mind of that and as we continue to find new ways of expression, there will always be a new art for a new age. The second statement is extremely relevant in anytime, but perhaps most so in times marked by events like war. The Dada movement comes to mind, as well as a film that came out a few years ago called, “Life During Wartime”. There is a complete freedom that comes with creating art, and the more abstract the more a person can get away with. When it’s all implied without being stated, anything goes.

  26. “To every age its art. To art its freedom.” That motto is very true today as it was during the Vienna Secession. Art has the ability to mirror exactly what is going on culturally and globally in every age. Art has been the outlet for people of all views to express their ideas and will continue to do that. It is without the masters and older artist there wouldn’t have been a push to being open minded with a lot of societies problems.

  27. The motto “to every age its art. To art its freedom,” is an explanation to the evolution of art. Art is influenced by events in history and vice versa. We can determine the period a piece of art was created pretty reliably by its style. In regards to the art and its freedom, I think this speaks predominantly to the liberties that the artist has in creating their works. Though we see the modern era of art (starting around the mid-1800s) as the first time we really see rules broken and the artist fully relying on themselves for inspiration and creating content, this does not mean previous artists were completely restricted and bound by establishment. Every generation had artists that pushed the boundaries that allowed future artists to push them a little bit further. This motto is very relevant to our times. Specifically with the freedom of and in art. People can be more obscene/profane/belligerent. Even though there are still some areas of the world that can still legally punish someone for their artistic expression, we see in most developed countries that artists really only have to fear are social mores and standards rather than the legal system. I personally find it hard to see if there are any particular styles of fine art that are pervasive in our society. Most likely I will have to wait a couple of decades to really see what art stands as the standard of this generation.

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