Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes

The Origin of the Work of Art

This essay contains the text of a lecture Heidegger delivered on different occasions in 1935 and 1936. The aim of the lecture is to arrive at the immediate and unique unfolding of the work of art in order to discover the origin of art within it.

In the first part, Thing and Work, Heidegger outlines the essential difference between a thing and a work of art. What is a thing? The concepts with which philosophy tries to understand things as things derive their meaning from the being of equipment. Equipment resembles the work of art insofar as it is the product of human work. When we compare Vincent van Gogh’s painting that depicts a pair of shoes with the shoes themselves, their difference becomes clear. Reliability determines the being of the shoes as equipment. The shoes are there when we need them and we can rely on them to perform their function. When we wear our shoes, we understand what they are. Van Gogh’s painting reveals the beingness of shoes. It lets us know what shoes in truth are. The work of art opens up the being of entities. This opening up is the revealment of the truth of being and happens in the work of art. In the work of art, truth sets itself to work. So, Heidegger comes to the next question: What is truth as the setting-itself-to-work?

In the second part, The Work and the Truth, Heidegger first discusses the work-being of the work. A work, like a Greek temple, works in the sense that it sets up a world and at the same time sets this world back again on earth, which itself thus emerges as native ground. This setting up of a world is making space for the worlding of world, that is, the liberation of the open and the establishment of its structure. The work of art lets the earth be an earth and thus make the autochthony of the dwelling of human beings possible. We can now ask “what is truth?” Truth is the unconcealment of entities. Truth happens as the primal strife between revealing (world) and concealing (earth). Art and truth are joined, since beauty is one of the ways in which truth occurs as unconcealment. But how does truth happen in the work of art?

Heidegger tries to answer this question in the third part, Truth and Art. The happening of truth is the struggle of the conflict between world and earth. Truth happens only by establishing itself in this strife and clearing the open. It sets itself into work and establishes itself in the work of art as the struggle of earth and world. All art as the letting happen of the advent of the truth of “what is,” is, as such, essentially poetry. Poetry is the saying of world and earth, the saying of the area of their strife, and thus the place of all nearness and farness of the gods. The nature of poetry is the grounding of truth and may be considered from three points of view as a gift, a founding, and a beginning.