Nietzsche consistently throughout his writings argues for a monological conception of art--art that does not seek "witnesses" or an audience. Not only did the episode with Wagner force Nietzsche to have "second thoughts" about art, but to "like anything at all after Wagner was a triumph." Cultural and social prejudices, phobias, and pressures pervert or stunt the aesthetic/creative processes according to Nietzsche--the genius should be truly for herself because the dominant authorities will sedate or even steal such energies, for their own purposes and, thereby, give a trifling notion of art's true value, which for Nietzsche lies in the very "transitions of life itself."

Can art, especially today with the post-Hegelian "end of art" and Benjamin's "mechanical reproduction" theses, serve a thoroughly intimate function that leads a life of "courage without witnesses"? Can we say, for example, that rituals like fantasy-role playing or video games, which appear to be all about the artist as both creator and one's own work of art, are examples of what would qualify as monological art forms (and many other kinds), in Nietzsche's sense?

  • I'd hazard to guess that's related to (or analogous to) the quotienting of art into intentionality and craftsmanship. Robot artists can (arguably) exhibit craftsmanship, but not intentionality (though you might want to argue that, too:). So if you're willing to call (at least some examples of) intention-less robot craftsmanship "art", then no audience required. But if intentionality is a sine qua non for art, then it likewise needs an audience (human audience, that is, itself capable of intentionality).
    – user19423
    Feb 19, 2016 at 10:36

4 Answers 4


I would claim that yes, those things are art, just as reasoning things out in a logical way with oneself is, in fact, an application of logical argument. It may be the ultimate aim of logic to allow each person to make his own decisions correctly, and not to resolve disagreements between individuals.

In the spirit of Sartre, you are always the primary witness to yourself. All other witnesses are in some sense superfluous, except for the mirror they give you. But that mirror is a truly magical and necessarily transformative implement.

I think people like Crowley (see "Liber Aleph Nought") and Starhawk (see "Dreaming the Dark" or "Truth or Dare") depend highly upon Nietzsche's notion that art is not done for a witness when they elaborate personal or small-group rituals to delve into self-expression and elaborate one's personality and confront one's cultural and personal bases and biases. Modern Witchcraft and Ritual Satanism (along with the whole range of Neo-Pagan, Thelematic, and other Ceremonial Magicks) are, it seems to me, very much about "Making Art of the Self", "The Creator in all of us" and "Investigation of Personal Power for its own sake." Concepts that pedestrianize the central messages of Nietzsche to good effect. Nietzsche often acknowledges that at his best he writes like a religionist and not a philosopher, and his true followers may be religionists of the 'New/Old Religions'.

It is also obvious that having a witness makes art a much riskier endeavor, and that that risk elevates the effect on the artist. In the spirit of challenging the will and taking power in steps as large as is wise, therefore, having witnesses is not a negative thing, only dependence upon them. There is power in a proud performance that is absent from narcissism, and personal art is much more powerful when exposed even in dyads and small groups.


The rejection of everything outside of the present is a theme in Nietzche's thinking. He believed in those "quarter hours" of sublime introspection when all diversions are forgone in pursuit of incredible ecstasy. The creation of art can provide this experience for people, and the consumption of art has many of the same qualities.

We are living in an era where the divisions between consumption of art and creation of art have collapsed. You are correct in your assessment of video games as a key experience in the currently available expressive tools; tools which challenge us and return us to some fundamental modes of expression. Video games are improvisation governed by algorithms, like a play which is never the same even while the script remains the same.

Twitch.com and other places where people watch the playing of video games are a model where the art form become further digested. First the designer creates an interactive game for others to play in, then a person engages with that game, then others watch. Viewers often shape the play experience with suggestions, critique, and encouragement. It's like a live game show in many ways, "The Price is Right" was an important expression of the modern television artform, and we are seeing the same social phenomenon happen in games.

Ian Bogost writes extensively on this subject. You may enjoy his work.


I am not familiar with Nietzsche's concept of monological art, but purely on the basis of the question, I find it either obscure or patently absurd. If anything, an overreaction to Wagner's overweening, manifesto-laden, monarch-funded Gesamkunstwerk.

Obviously art is a form of communication, the mediation of a nascent community, with the proviso that this need not be entirely interpersonal communication. Both the abstract art of middle modernism and the anonymous Church art of the Middle Ages strain to transcend mere public discourse or "address" conforming to audience. The ostensible "witness" may be God or History, though the eyes and ears are human.

With the waning of ancient "aura" techne and poesis are swept up almost unavoidably into the commodity system, and I would certainly agree with Hegel that there is little possibility at present that "art" itself can still act as the organizational basis of a society. But Hegel's famous obituary may have been premature, given the many forms of imaginative "reflection" and "recognition" art has been able to assume since his day, particularly in formal abstraction and "conceptual" art. (Not that Hegel would have been anything other than appalled--here was an "audience member" who ignored Beethoven and admire Rossini!)

In my own view,"art" is something that exists to a greater or lesser degree in every artifact meant to be observed in itself, and nears the Kantian ideal of a pure purposiveness or reflected end-in-itself in those otherwise purposeless "artworks" most saturated with this strange, inconclusive intention.

I really do not know what it would mean for an artwork to eschew an "audience." If it does not transmit and circulate some sort of life-force or Geist-stuff, for lack of a better word, it is a dead object, dead as a pile of overproduced, unsold commodities. It is also hard for me to see how video games or mocked-up satanic rituals carry any higher artistic purpose than "I'm-like-She's-like..." cell-phone chatter.

While the problems of audience and "integrity" are many, and never entirely resolvable, I cannot see what could communicate itself through matter and senses as "art" without some intended audience or historical witness... its enabling constraint. The idea of "monological art" sounds as self-contradictory as Wittgenstein's private language or the aspiration to become a talented solitaire player.

  • So talking to yourself is not talking, even when you solve problems that way. Consider a Mass as a work of art. It is performed by the same people who consume its message. There is communication, but it is not to anyone else. (No one needs to perform for God, the constant observer -- so that is foolshness even for the orthodox.) Now constrict that notion to a private prayer. Does that change the nature of the audience? I don't see how this perspective holds together. You kind of end up in the strange position where masturbation is only sex if someone is watching.
    – user9166
    Feb 18, 2016 at 18:59
  • I do tend to see communication, in the broadest sense, as prior to the individual, and art as a fundamental form of preserved, materialized communication. I have nothing against solitary endeavors but it only stretches the definition to call it art. I would call it, perhaps, "practice." Your analogies leave me unmoved. The mass is indeed carried out in empty churches "for God," and masturbation is in fact not "sex," for the species is not communicated through it. Nor would I call prayer "art." Art is not fully developed except through "recognition" miraculously passing through matter. Feb 18, 2016 at 20:37
  • I guess the central difference is whether art is seen as a cultural artifact, or as an emotional experience. If it is an experience that creates a given set of emotions and shapes one's interior life, there is no reason to see art as communication, except that the primary users for such effects are societies who need to coordinate thinking between their members.
    – user9166
    Feb 18, 2016 at 21:07
  • If it is a cultural artifact, then most individual experiences of art are pointless, and only its production and continuation matter. That, to me, betrays the spirit of what art is about. (That is why the specific choice of analogies -- for me religion and sex are far closer to art than any (not-art) form of verbal communication.) I also think it makes art pointless from a Nietzschean point of view, since, for him, cultural domination is something to be avoided, not cultivated.
    – user9166
    Feb 18, 2016 at 21:13
  • I can't agree with your "either-or" here. Art is a cultural artifact intended to communicate certain "higher" emotions. Certainly most or many "individual experiences" of art are indeed pointless. I see that all the time at MOMA where herds of high school students who would obviously rather be at Macy's look dutifully at famous paintings... but only on their cell phones after they've selfied them. I myself have gazed hard at the Mona Lisa and felt.... nothing. Feb 18, 2016 at 22:04

According to Heidegger:

The Greeks call authentic art and artwork techne

but it is more than the mere knowledge of putting something to work; ie only or just the work of putting words to work in a poem, or stone to work in carving a statue; for

The work of art is work ... because it puts Being to work in a being.


art is knowing and hence is techne


the passion of knowing is questioning

But unlike Descartes axiom of solitariness whose solitude is his own solidarity; or the Socratic self-questioning

Heidegger says, we are already amongst beings, we are in the midst of being having been thrown in there; this is why he says:

In contrast to other living things, being-human is determined by relationships to beings as such and as a whole. The human essence shows itself here as the relation that first opens up Being to humanity.

Authentic art is that element which 'opens up Being to humanity'; humanity is the audience; in this way, all authentic art is universal.

  • This by the way is an answer to your headline question; not to the body of your question... Feb 21, 2016 at 10:35

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