The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Triangles and Webs

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

Painting: Gelb Rot Blau byWassily Kandinsky

Part 1: The Movement of the Triangle

Kandinksy begins this chapter by comparing the “life of the spirit” to an acute triangle that is divided along the horizontal into segments that become narrower toward the apex. Each segment of the triangle from base to apex represents a state in the artist’s spirit, understanding, and situation. Without going into the numerous spiritual iterations offered by WK, I’ll focus on his central idea:

“The greater the segment (which is the same as saying the lower it lies in the triangle) so the greater the number who understand the words of the artist.” Therefore, those artists who have moved into the apex segment are least understood through their works. This smallest of segments is usually occupied by only one artist – a misunderstood visionary. This artist is doomed to loneliness and ridicule that commonly besieges those who are misunderstood. The only ones who can understand and appreciate them are those few “prophets” who occupy lower segments and see beyond their own limitations. These are the ones who help “the advance of the obstinate whole.”

This philosophical fabrication, like the Aristotlean Ladder, stands only because of its oversimplification. Before I move further into this text where WK embellishes this construct, I’d like to explore what I think he means.

Kandinsky saw himself as a visionary – a genius. He felt alone. He felt that only prophets could recognize his genius. This may all have been reality, but it was also self-imposed. It’s human nature to feel misunderstood and alone. But, it’s not helpful. Artists are particularly vulnerable to this feeling and it’s a pity.

I see artists existing in a network, a web-like structure. All of us share this web; we’re interconnected. I don’t believe that what we produce is “equal.” Some, obviously, are more innovative than others and their work becomes historically significant and, therefore, more valuable to society. If someone is isolated, it’s because they want to feel isolated. That’s how it seems to me.

What’s your opinion?


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,
You wrote, "If someone is isolated, it’s because they want to feel isolated."
That's a "pick yourself up by the bootstraps" comment if I ever heard one! :-)) And a perfectly reasonable assertion for a mentally healthy and rational human being. But the psychological demons of delusion, paranoia and depression that beset some individuals aren't usually rational.
As I read your post today, I kept thinking Kandinsky feels schizophrenic to me. Or perhaps extremely manic. His convoluted way of thinking coupled with the in depth detailing of constructs feels delusional. As an observer who knows nothing of his mental status other than through these words you've shared- Kandinsky was mentally ill.

RH Carpenter said...

Kathy, I don't believe the statistics bear out the artist as loner/psychological misfit and we, in the internet age of constant communication and sharing are evidence of artists wanting to be part of a community. I think any artist who sets him/herself apart because he/she feels like a genius, standing above all others, is intentionally causing that break with others (and causing a sort of history of themselves they want others to believe). I think PAMO is right - there is some mental illness there to begin with and the art is a secondary thing. Alice Neel said her art was her therapy (after several suicide attempts and hospitalizations and psychotherapy).

Linda Roth said...

I don't know about mentally ill,but certainly full of himself and...
His paintings might be "primitive," but his writing sure is wordy and complex. Too bad he didn't have blogger.

Robin said...

This topic and the other posts about Kandinsky will be an opportunity for me to try to understand him better. I do know the general population often thinks of artists as eccentric beings, using the word eccentric loosely here... but does that translate into misunderstood visionary? I don't see the genius, but maybe I am not smart enough!

William Cook said...

Here it is a hundred years later looking back on a guy who stood at the forefront of one of the main cultural shifts of human history.
It was a left brain to right brain shift, and is still going on, thankfully.

His was a left brain dominated world, and he was using the communication tools of his day in these written (left brain) philosophies and descriptions.

In his artwork he is trying to flip into right brain mode, still attached to the tonage of verbage and left brain rationalizations.

In the last hundred years a vast balancing of these two brain modes has taken place, all starting with the artists like Kandinsky, Tobey, Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Stella, Mondrian, and the like.

Before I started reading this post I thought the painting looked like heiroglyphs or some other secret writing in visual symbols. Then when I read about the triangles, lines, interpretations, etc. and him being misunderstood and shunned, a genius--well of course--he was braving brand new territory in the right brain. Of course he looks a bit mentally awkward, and whiney by our standards.

We live in a more balanced world where expression of inner things, nurture, pictures, movies, interactive communications like this blog, and other right (female) brain functions (not to mention advances in women's issues), have now established a more healthy position in this monolinear hunter world of survival and making a living. How different it was in his day.

Mark Sheeky said...

Hmm, tricky. Introversion and Neuroticism are (currently) recognised personality traits that are supposed to be fundamental and unchangable so it's quite possible to be a loner and neurotic but be normal, certainly without delusions or anything. Personally I think any personality trait can be changed.

Mr. K does seem to be a bit full of himself but it IS his book about his ideas, and his art was trail blazing and weird for it's time so perhaps a lot of art people did think he was bonkers, and those who didn't might actually have been bonkers. The most inventive an amazing thinkers I know are bonkers. To be creative is to not conform, and the more creative you are the less you conform. Again that's a definition psychologists use.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I wonder if Kandinsky read "Flatland." And perhaps a huge ego is key to being a great artist.

Casey Klahn said...

What stuck with me about his triangle theory was that only one or a very few would occupy the van (vanguard) of ideas, or philosophies, of art.

The misunderstood part is a mystery to me. But, unfortunately, this is a week of flu symptoms and a small re=model project in my studio that is acting bigger than it is. I have been absent from class, but I am getting much just reading along.