The artistic will was gradually imbued with the modernisms’ dreams of self-transparency, as Gianni Vattimo will say. The longing for a society where art, as an absolutely contemporary value, would be the constant unveiling of life, starting in its circumstance, vibrates thereon. Riegl’s concept already pointed in that direction. It placed the artistic value in conditions that were decidedly contemporary of the critical examination of works and not, like Romanticism had done, in the remembrance of their original conditions
Riegl’s concept seems more productive today when, on the other hand, we try to analyze the drives for art from a relative scarcity of formal traits of the artistic object and from its specificity within the ocean of productions lost from their historical conditions. The contemporary complexity of the mechanisms in the building of artistic value thus reupdated the heuristic value of Riegl’s concept.
The concept of Kunstwollen was quickly associated to the artistic context of krisis in Central Europe. It is the case of Wilhelm Worringer who studied the self-portrait in artists like Oskar Kokoschka or Käthe Kollwitz, seeing there the manifestation of a double self-examination: of the artist’s internal world and of the urgency of art as experience. A little later, the magnificent series of self-portraits produced by Schönberg who was not a professional painter, but rather a central figure of musical composition at the time, will transport that articulation to a final apogee in Viennese art. Such manifestations allowed the guidance of the artistic will in the direction of a meaning more distanced from History of Art and closer to a phenomenology of artistic expression. Such a displacement opens the perception of the radical differences that can mark the artistic will, differences Riegl had already referred to in the artistic periodization and that here are about to impregnate the very crisis of the aesthetic and historiographic categories.
If, in Riegl, the artistic will was still within the orbit of the world’s vision (Weltanschauung), just as nineteenth century thought had defined it, the twentieth century will see an explosion of the concept that will allow to consider the work of art as an extremely up-to-date elaboration of the artistic will. Therefore, Kunstwollen is today put into perspective in its confrontation with manifestations that, in its presence, are opened as a value of the heterogeneous. This approach will have an impact, decisive still today, on the issues of art and heritage conservation. It will continue to be developed in the studies on art reception, as well as in the theories of “critical restoration” inspired by Cesare Brandi.