The Laws of Nature

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Movement of the Triangle, continued

Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky
Translated by M.T.H. Sadler

Painting: Aglow byWassily Kandinsky

Part 1: The Movement of the Triangle

This section of Kandinsky's book is most difficult to navigate, and yesterday our good friend Wm. Cook correctly reminded us to view WK's words in light of the time and circumstances in which they were written: 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. Indeed, this was a major shift in artistic expression. External sources of inspiration for the artist had been dominant (e.g. landscapes, portraits, physical objects, etc) and now artists like Kandinsky began to turn inward to find their inspiration. The psyche was the source of spiritual food for their work.

As I continued through this dense text and WK's elaborate explanation of the spiritual triangle I got bogged down. So, the scientist in me emerged to handle it and I drew a diagram of what I think Kandinsky means. Here it is, and here's my explanation:

The apex of this triangle represents the highest level of spiritual achievement for an artist and the base of it is the lowest. At each level, I've indicated three conditions:

1. the artist's source of inspiration (external or internal)

2. the artist's work on the basis of how much it's understood by others

3. acceptance by the viewers on the basis of popular opinion about the artist and his/her work.

On the lowermost level of this triangle resides the least spiritually developed artist whose works are inspired by external references that are easily recognizable to viewers and gain wide popular acceptance.

As the levels progress toward the apex, artists depart more and more from external references and become more inspired by internal ones (their thoughts and emotions). Progressively, the audience understands less about the work and so it's not as popular.

In the apex resides the most spiritually developed artist whose works are entirely inspired by internal references that are unrecognizable to viewers and unaccepted, even ridiculed. Only a few visionary prophets from lower levels can recognize the genius in these works.

As WK advances his philosophy, he writes of the "spiritual food" that sustains artists at each level. This food can act either to nourish or poison the artist. If the artist eats too little of it, he can sink to a lower level on the triangle. And, if he eats too much of it too quickly, he'll drop like a rock to the lowest level. My interpretation is that this food is introspection. If we tap into ourselves enough, we'll create unique and meaningful art. If we aren't introspective enough, our work will become shallow or vacuous. If we are too introspective we'll go nuts and our creativity will be destroyed. At least, that's my interpretation of all this.

Those of you who have read this book might want to offer another opinion. I'll digest this awhile before moving on to the next paragraph!

What are your thoughts?


Linda Roth said...

Heavy sigh. Do we have to choose? Can't I do work in all three categories as I feel like it? Do I have to be a one trick pony? Not on your life. Where's the fun in that?

Casey Klahn said...

Ha ha, Linda. Your comments always get me.

I saw a different scheme of the triangle when I read the book. I can't remember where I got it, sorry. But, I find this one valuable, too.

It is obvious to me that at this late date, Kandinsky's triangle has less to say than I think it did when he wrote it down. It should exist on several levels at once, and not only one. For instance, I think you can place an artist's work on this triangle, and yet there is more to his work, and he still has mobility up or down the triangle each time he paints.

Still, it exists as a challenge, if you buy into it.

I still argue with Kandinsky @ the era business. I am seeing his philosophy, via your posts, as too centered on the contemporary (or Modern, in his world). What happened to the timeless part?

William Cook said...

Alas I have not read it, I've only read the Kandinsky sketch on Wiccipedia (lenghty at that). But the more I read your essays the more this is becomming required reading.

The heirarchy of these interior/exterior artistic motivationals and their relationship to the rather fluid gamut that runs between having to make a living and reaching the rarified 'aire' of spiritual enlightenment [essentially artmaking]--has been a concern of mine since 1976. I wrote a whole thesis back then about these issues after being rejected from all the graduate schools I applied to. Took ten weeks. Even typed it. No-one ever read it. Wasn't necessary.

Each of us has to grapple hard with this stuff, deeply if we are to remain participants in the creative arts. The world and it's deathgrip doesn't like us.

On the other hand maybe I was just playing with my new typwriter.

Until the furure

Thanks for the mention--I'm honored

Unknown said...

Hi LW - no, we don't have to choose. I think that WK is trying to rationalize his philosophy so HE has to choose. I agree - there's no fun in being imprisoned in a segment of a triangle :-)

Hi Casey - Oh, please share your interpretation! This is a dense text and my own spin might be too far from WK's. Yes, he did express the vertical mobility in either direction of the artist's position on this triangle, but it was related to the artist's consumption of spiritual "food" (e.g. introspection). I agree with you about WK's focus on the contemporary. I guess he can only rationalize his position from that viewpoint.

Hi William - I'd love to know the central argument of your thesis! I agree that we must daily grapple with this "stuff" to stay in the game. But, I think that way anyway, so it's not a burden and I don't think I've gone crazy (yet!).

Mark Sheeky said...

Bon App├ętit. If Kandinsky had read more on Cartesian philosophy he might have seen that the internal/external divide is ethereal too.

Casey's comment last post made me think that KW's idea is odd that a "good" art is only understood by a minority and that what is popular lacks spirit due to popularity! I think Kandinsky was saying "Nobody understands my art; therefore most people are idiots."

Aglow shows why I dislike art like this. It looks like a tree and some clouds, and perhaps a city on top of a distant hill. Perhaps it's supposed to, perhaps not, but to me it does, so it conveys "not very accurately drawn clouds" and to someone who doesn't see the clouds could mean something totally different. The alternative is pretty shapes for the sake of prettiness, which is even worse! Gosh how judgemental I am tonight.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy and Everybody,
Kathy, your triangle read's like how I understand Kandinsky's hierarchy. I'm trying to think back. At that time, artists were seeking a new "truth". The various schools were saying that the traditional French school, influenced by the Renaissance, was about creating an illusion of life. Artists were looking within (introspection) for a different truth. Cezanne was looked at for inspiration. You had Picasso & Braque working on Cubism. And, you had Kandinsky, Malevich, etc., going toward pure abstraction. And, when you stand tradition on it's head, I can imagine you feel isolated. Eventually, you become understood and viewed as not so radical.

I hope I'm making sense...could be too isolated here at the end of the Earth, which is what we call Ocean Shores WA. :)

Celeste Bergin said...

My thoughts? Kandinsky's weird. But I'm following along.

Carolyn Abrams said...

Hi everyone. i too have been silently following along. fascinating discussion! and Kathy a great breakdown of the artist's thinking. Thank you.

M said...

I can't fib. My mind is too cluttered with other things right now to wrap my head around these writings. I feel like I'm missing a great discussion but when I miss a post or two I feel overwhelmed. Carry on ... :)I'll be back in the saddle soon.

Dan Kent said...

I've been following the discussion the last few days but have not had time to comment. Very frustrating. I found Kandinsky to be egotistocal and rambling and sure. But I was inspired by this book too - inspired by his grand thoughts. My conclusion: This was the leader of a movement that had traction and changed history. Being egotistical, rambling, sure, and inspiring are probably all prerequisites for this. He deserves my respect until and unless I could ever do the same, and even then.

Still I find it disturbing that he could reject a thousand years of art inspired by the external and reject it as belonging to the base of your triangle, along the par of the continuum from human sacrifice to meditation, or Maslov's hierarchy of needs.

As for this and your previous posts, I find it hard to believe that the only valuable art is art that no one understands and art that no one wants to buy. Picasso's art did not become worthless when it began selling, and it is not worthless now, with time, when more people understand it. Kandinsky's art sells too, by the way.

There. I have said everything I wanted to say for the last several posts. :)

hw (hallie) farber said...

I'm here--just following.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - Kandinsky's remarks certainly do reveal an internal struggle and sense of alienation. I'm still not certain whether or not it's self-imposed or the result of being an innovator. Most likely, both. This particular work is my least favorite of his, but part of his experimentation.

Hi Peggy - thanks for adding an insightful view of the time and main players. That's so important to remember!! Ocean Shores - oh! I've entered works in your exhibition out there many times in years past. Nice show :-)

Hi Celeste - aren't we all ;-)

Hi Carolyn - so glad you're with us!

Hi Margaret - great of you to stop in. I know you're very busy with your decorating business and hope you'll have some time in the future to join our discussions!

Hi Dan - I'm having exactly the same feelings as yours as I slowly read this book. Thanks for expressing it!

Hi Hallie - glad to know you're with us!

-Don said...

I'm still following along, but really find this difficult to wrap my brain around. I actually get a lot more out of your comments and everyone else's than I do from Kandinsky's words.

I will now admit that I was required to read this in college and it seemed to be nothing but a bunch of gobbly-goop to me. I honestly tried to care what he was saying since my grade was dependent upon it. But, I couldn't and said as much to my professor. Thankfully, she didn't flunk me for that...
In fact, she seemed to like my frank observations. When I saw you were going to be discussing it I thought that maybe it would seem less obtuse to me this time around, but nope, still gobbly-goop. Sorry.

Now you can see why I've been mostly silent throughout this discussion. I've always believed that if you can't say nothing good, don't say nothing at all.

I will now return to the bleachers...


Unknown said...

Hi Don - I know what you mean. I feel challenged by this book, and clearly haven't done a very good job unwrapping it. However, I think I'm beginning to get the point - or the least the glimmer of one. It's important for me to conquer this mountain since my own philosophy derives from WK's. He is my artistic grandfather in many way.