The Laws of Nature

Monday, February 21, 2011


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

Image: Jaune Rouge Bleu by Wassily Kandinsky

Returning to Kandinsky’s book, I’ve begun the next section entitled “Spiritual Revolution.” Any revolution involves rebellion against a prevailing condition. In this case, WK identifies the prevailing condition as the masses who inhabit the lowest level of the spiritual triangle (discussed earlier). These are the unimaginative, uninspired, hypocritical, economic Socialists according to Kandinsky. Those who inhabit the levels directly above this group are only slightly “better.” By contrast, those few at the top of the triangle are the spiritually creative problem-solvers who value science and art. It is from this lofty position that the rebellion is launched against the prevailing condition of the levels below.

But, the leaders of the rebellion are insecure. They know history, and therefore understand that visionaries are first revered and later reviled by society. Rejection is the ultimate reward. They struggle with their role and become tentative. What saves them? Their souls.
The artist owns the spirit of the future. The artist can tap into inner truth and reveal it. WK writes: Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt. They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.

Artists speak through their own spirits and to the spirits of others. The connection, therefore, is purely on a spiritual level and not a material one, according to WK. Somehow, this seems too simplistic. After all, art is also an industry. It’s assigned a monetary value and traded as a commodity. Art and money are conjoined.

Although my distillation of WK’s dense text is somewhat overly simplified, his argument rests on the notion that some artists (the geniuses at the top of the pyramid) lead the rebellion against the uninspired, unspiritual legion of others whose influence demands conformity. As the rebellion gains strength, others on levels below join it.
But, if the rebellion succeeds, doesn't the new condition become the "norm"? Does this mean that the inspired at the top of the spiritual triangle become the condition of the lowest portion of the next triangle? (Remember Kandinsky’s discussion on the movement of the triangle.) At one time, the Impressionists were at the top of this triangle. Now, there are a host of imitators. Impressionism today is ordinary and passe’. Or, is it?

Kandinsky was a revolutionary in art. No doubt about it. But, he has a myriad of imitators today. Are they unenlightened??

What do you think?


William Cook said...

Ah rejection, my old pal, the bum's rush. There better be a spiritual component (motivationally) in an otherwise harsh self-absorbed world. When you discover that no one cares a fig about you and you life's output, you discover spirit. That's the final motivational drop off point for artists. The artists that succeed to this level are spiritual seekers. They are not concerned with the world and all it's nonsense.

As for the future, who owns that? What is that light of inner truth? He's talking about a healthy rebalancing culturally so that ultimately everyone can join in the creation and experience of art and life under a new ever-evolving paradigm.

The new language in no longer one long line of logic, but rather a multi-dimensional means of expression, with art being merely one component. We are evolving to a higher plane of consciousness through all this.

I wouldn't worry about the revolutionary today becoming the norm of tomorrow. This stuff is always moving in a state of flux, amorphous and fluid.

As the fads come and go, it is always the process and experience that remain constant in the ever expanding quest for the soul. What else is more important? There's room for everyone. And the artists that comes to this level knows this.

Does it really matter if there are too many impressionists? Does it really matter what the mere art looks like?


Linda Roth said...

No. All artists are enlightened. Making art, the creative process, is enlightening whatever style, whatever degree of skill. The unenlightened are those who don't know that.

Robin said...

All art is enlightening to the individual artist, but it has to be really special to be enlightening to the masses; some artists that imitate others are successful, some are just copying a style and are missing the zing that makes it successful, there is a difference.

Mark Sheeky said...

I agree with Will (apart from evolving a higher plane of consciousness!)

It seems that W.K. feels unappreciated and that he constantly needs to rekindle the faith in his lone self. "My philosophy is that one lone rebel, who is necessarily unappreciated and misunderstood, is right about everything, and frankly, it's me."

Linda Roth said...

Mark you made me laugh. I thought the lone rebel was me, I didn't know I had company. It's dark at the top.

Celeste Bergin said...

Thanks for the Post, Kathy....Kandinsky did seem overwrought. I thoroughly enjoyed William Cook's comment here, and I agree so much with it.
"When you discover that no one cares a fig about you and you life's output, you discover spirit. That's the final motivational drop off point for artists. The artists that succeed to this level are spiritual seekers. They are not concerned with the world and all it's nonsense".
..... pure gold!

Casey Klahn said...

I think that I wouldn't want to imitate WK, except in his spirit. Wassily Kandinsky, that is. At the present time, I am engaged in efforts to assume the spirit of another WK - Wolf Kahn. Only lately, I am able to break free of him, too.

I am finding the whole dialectic part of his theory to be old hat. I envision standing on the shoulders of the past masters, not on their faces, as it were.

Dan Kent said...

I know it seems there are disagreements. How, then, is it that I agree with everyone here?!

Stan Kurth said...

This language we artists speak is perhaps the most difficult of all. We cannot define art with other languages because it transcends them, but oh how we try. I cannot speak Greek, but I can view Greek art and understand it because I am an artist having achieved a certain level of art consciousness. All of this dialog is fun, but ultimately what is communicated in our work is the only thing that matters and try as we might it cannot be explained with rhetoric. Interpretations are fun and interesting, but are unnecessary except for promoting or demoting. Art of all types is revered or rejected by many or few, it doesn't matter. We speak art because we are artists. It is our process of making it that is interwoven in the work and makes it ours. We are all at different levels aspiring to be more fluent. We gather information from all we've seen and learned and mix it with our intent, whatever it may be. We cannot stop. I desire to speak art more fluently so material gains are necessary, sometimes a pain, but necessary. Art is material by definition and can only reflect the spiritual. The best art is that which reflects the spiritually of the speaker to the highest degree whether it is real or abstract. And again, this is just rhetoric and the real understanding is in art itself and best understood by viewers who are fluent in the language of art. Yes, impressionism still speaks to me whether it is old or new because I am an artist and art is my language. I'm jurying an exhibit today in the retirement community of Sun City, Arizona. It's not MOMA, but should be fun and I will have to give awards to those who perhaps are on the low end of the triangle (according to WK), but they are still speaking art. I like much of what Kandinsky has to say, I've even put a quote on my blog right next to one by Katherine A. Cartwright, but believe he is an elitist. God made me an artist and it is not good for me to deviate from who I am, whether I exist on the base or in the capstone.

Casey Klahn said...

Thank you for writing that, Stan. I enjoyed it.

Joyfulartist said...

It's all too cerebral for me, I just like to paint.

Dan Kent said...

BRAVO STAN!! Well said.

-Don said...

Stan is the MAN! 'Nuff said...