The Laws of Nature

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Concerning the Spiritual in Art
By Wassily Kandinsky
Dover Publications, 1977
Translated by M.T.H. Sadler

It’s time to review another book! I’m reading Concerning the Spiritual in Art written by the famous nonobjective painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) as an explanation of his theory of painting. The book is divided into two parts: part one is “a call for a spiritual revolution in painting that will let artists express their own inner lives in abstract, non-material terms” and part two is a discussion of “the psychology of colors, the language of form and color, and the responsibilities of the artist.”

Today, I’ll begin with some background information provided by the book’s translator, Sadler. Most of you already know that Kandinsky was born in Moscow to an aristocratic family and was raised in the Russian Orthodox faith, which influenced him during his entire life. Successful in academics, he studied political economy and law at Moscow University where he was appointed lecturer in jurisprudence. By the time he was thirty years old, he was offered a professorship at another institution and turned it down to travel to Munich to study painting. Quite a change in direction, but a little predictable since he had been fascinated with the arts since childhood.

In 1895, Kandinsky was profoundly influenced by an exhibition of the French Impressionists in Moscow. When he saw Monet’s “Haystack” he said: “I had the impression that here painting itself comes into the foreground; I wondered if it would not be possible to go further in this direction.” So, that’s why he moved to Germany to study painting.

I’ll stop at this point in Kandinsky’s life in order to reflect upon the importance of early influences coupled with opportunity. This artist was very lucky to have been born to wealthy parents who provided ample support, education, and exposure to many art forms from his earliest years. Often, I’ve reflected on how much my parents encouraged me to become an artist, even before I entered kindergarten. Likewise, there was a specific painting that made me imagine what could be if I pursued art as a professional.

How many of us have a similar story to tell?


Susan Roux said...

So what was your specific painting?

Unknown said...

Hi Susan - Fumée d'Ambre Gris by John Singer Sargent. I've made a pilgrimage to visit that painting dozens of times since I was 14 years old. I don't paint in that style, but it made me aware of the possibilities. What's yours??

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I like Sargent's paintings and the one you chose is particularly grand. I can't pinpoint one painting. I grew up in a household where the arts were revered. We were encouraged to study and appreciate music, literature, theater and the visual arts. I remember a book on Kandinsky, come to think of it.

Shawna said...

You were lucky to have parents who thought art was important. I have lovely parents but they are just not interested, even to this day...which is completely fine since they were and are great parents.

I just re-listened to an interesting TVO lecture about the history of artists colours and Kandinsky was mentioned. If anyone is interested.

I always enjoy your postings!

Shawna from Yellowknife

Casey Klahn said...

I have never seen that Sargent painting before, and it is entrancing. I see your enthusiasm for it - I love it, too.

I took the FAS Correspondence Course when I was very young. A hinged, high quality print of a van Gogh is the first work you see in your first binder. Let me go see what the painting was called. Be right back.

Road With Cypress

Kandinsky's book - I read it on Kindle a couple of months ago and I was more impressed than I thought I'd be. His writings on the few artists who will be in the vanguard is instructive.

This will be a great study, Kathy!

Word Verify: potootr

Linda Roth said...

Toulous Latrec's women and cafe scenes fascinated me as a youngster.

My parents were less fascinated.
They were proud that I could draw and paint, but didn't encourage me to make a career of it. They didn't want me to "starve in a garret in the slums." With that picture printed in my mind, I was scared me into following their advice. I went into education in college and promptly flunked out. Aside from English and Art History, the rest of the liberal art courses were useless as far as I, at eighteen, was concerned. I regained admittance out of pride,(I'm a good writer), but never went back. I got married and went to art school. It was where I belonged.

My parents were loving and meant well, but chose a path of financial security for me rather than let me follow my own aspirations in a field that was risky. They taught me not to do the same with my kids. My boys followed their hearts and pursued their own dreams. They are all happy and successful. Me too.

Now I worry about the grandkids and my kids not giving their kids enough time to themselves to discover who they are and what are their dreams.

While I admire Sargent's gorgeous portraits. I really find them boring. They're motionless. They're elitist. Kandinsky's work is not boring or elitist.

Mark Sheeky said...

My parents did and do give me lots of material support but no guidance, encouragement, discouragement, support or criticism, perhaps because I was obviously obsessed with computers from an early age and therefore stayed in on my own and couldn't get into trouble.

I'm not sure if Kandinsky was an artist or a scientist of art. His pictures are often referred to experiments and he taught and wrote so much about art, yet I can't think of a masterpiece, a work he designed as a great artwork in its own right.

I think art does have a spiritual dimension. I've not read his views on it though so it would be interesting to see what they are/were.

hw (hallie) farber said...

My parents provided art supplies but didn't encourage or discourage. I was very surprised to learn, in first grade, that other children didn't draw. I thought it was no different from printing the alphabet, so I assumed other children just weren't interested in drawing. Later, I was singled out by teachers to do "art work." I still wonder--talent or interest?

T.Nara said...

I referred to Kandinsky's work as I was teaching 3rd and 4th graders about painting. I told them I chose Kandinsky because he continues to influence artists today. Thank you for offering proof of this!

Van Gogh's Olive Trees is the painting that comes to mind as a major influence of mine. It all works together so well. He set up a system of where exactly every color should go and at the same time looks like it was so fun to create.

Robin said...

I was a substitute teacher in one of the elementary schools this week and there was one particular boy in the 4th grade class that I think is gifted, one of the other students commented to me when I saw his drawing that this boy always does "amazing art". I think it helps to have the encouragement from family but some people are born to be amazing art makers. When I was a kid I used to dream of Cezanne - dashes of colors in his landscapes, not sure it effects what I am doing now though.

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - what a "neat" upbringing you had! It must have been wonderful.

Hi Shawna - thanks so much for the link!! I'll take a look.

Hi Casey - what was the painting?

Hi Road - I'm glad you liked the book and hope you'll join in the discussion!

Hi LW -there is great wisdom in Campbell's advice to "follow your bliss!"

Hi Mark - I'm curious to know more about Kandinsky, too, and will reflect on your comment of artist vs. scientist. Interesting!

Hi Hallie - in either case, you chose to make art and that's great!

Hi T. Nara - your students are fortunate to have your for a teacher!! The Van Gogh is a great work of art and I can see your attraction to it. I love most of his work.

Hi Robin - you made me remember that Cezanne's work did affect me as a child. My parents had a book with large color plates of his paintings and I studied them endlessly. Thanks for reminding me. And, I agree that some people are born to make art and nothing can stop them. They don't need extra encouragement, but it helps.

Susan Roux said...

Kathy I was not exposed to art as a child. I ended up at RISD to become an architect. All students had the same curriculum. They were the first art lessons of my life. Needless to say I never became the architect, but it was my exposure and realization that I could do this! And most of all I loved it! I admired Monet for years. He was my inspiration thereafter.

Casey Klahn said...

Road with Cypress and Star, van Gogh.

Claire said...

like shawna, i had nice-enough parents, but no encouagement... just the occasional, 'there you go, all arty-farty again!' whenever i mentioned a book/play/painting *sigh*
hence, studying at oxford was pure joy - seeing one of holman hunt's 'light of the world' in keble, jacob epstein's lazarus in new college - and london exhibitions a short train journey away - plus wonderful people more than happy to go with me :)