Kandinsky’s Evolution as a soul was worked out in a revolution of painting.
We incarnate into this life to evolve as a soul. Born in Moscow, Russia, in 1866, Wassily Kandinsky evolved as a soul through his painting. Commonly recognized as one of the major influencers of modern abstract painting, he was shaped by influences of his own — by Russian folk art, Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy, Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, the book Thought-Forms: A Record of Clairvoyant Investigation compiled by the members of the Theosophical Society — A. Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, and by his own passionate inclination toward the spiritual. It was originally the book Thought-Forms which led to his general interest in reducing painting down to a spiritual encounter made manifest.
Kandinsky’s father was a tea merchant, and his family had aristocratic blood. This would explain his poised stature, and even his study of law and economics. He was about to become a professor in these subjects when, at age 30, he chucked it all and moved to Munich to begin serious studies in Art. He studied painting at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1896 —but this is not an “art history” class, this is an “Art Look,” so let’s get on with it.
Kandinsky’s work is grounded in Landscape.
His early work is full of scenes and vistas of his beloved Russia, and later Germany. The elements are strong, especially his sense of color. It is vibrant and unbridled. The paintings are multi-dimensional. In this scene of Akhtryka, the richness of the elements — the water, the reeds and plants on the water, the reflections in the water, the autumnal forests, the ascending grand lawn, the manor house, the boat launch, and the sentinel pine tree form a symphony of dimensions. And they all work together in a kind of visual harmonic. We are uplifted in the beauty of it all.
Gradually Kandinsky makes departures from the external “world as a model” into the world of “paint as a thing in itself.” Still depicting “worldly scenes,” these paintings start to take on purer colors and shapes. He reduces volumes in to simple shapes, and colors into bright and vibrant hues. One can still make out the scene, but the shapes and colors begin to take on a life of their own, as in this street scene from Murnau.
Gradually references to things became less important the the relationships of the painting element. He wrote two books — Concerning the Spiritual In Art, and Point and Line to Plane. I cherished these books in my art school days.
“Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is still-born. It is impossible for us to live and feel, as did the ancient Greeks.”
Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art
He was searching for his own vision in his own time. The conventions and subjects of painting had to be redefined for his own age, and Kandinsky knew it. He could look into the potentials of a pregnant present, and pull from the womb of his new birth a child of unprecedented character and qualities. He was not afraid to do this and he did do this.
The model is just a departing point for a new visual form.
What an artist looked at “out there” had traditionally been his/her guide as the model. Now, in this new perspective of Kandinsky, the cavalcade of passing images in the mind beckoned him to choose another model — one of an internal presence of the elements of painting themselves. He began to use color that showed itself in ways far beyond what the body’s eyes could perceive “out there.” He looked inside for his subject matter, form and guidance.
The external model, or reference, is just a point of departure for the painting. From there the painting takes on it’s own LIFE. Where have you seen yellow-orange and shades of green used in such a sparkling way, as in the Train and Chateau painting? One can almost taste the colors. The deepest orange and the most brilliant turquoise forming the roofs of the buildings in the top upper left bring the whole painting to life. They rise above the smokey coal blacks of the train and the shadows.
One sees this work more as an “object of paint” than a depiction of a train and chateau. Gradually Kandinsky reduced forms down even more, to a dramatic rendering of shapes and lines and colors. In Composition II, below, one can still make out references: a group of four standing figures in the lower left; a rider on a horse in the center; a reclining figure in the lower right; an arched structure in the upper right. But the drama of paint is taking over. The dynamic of life is seething all over the place, and we feel engaged in a movement within the worlds of pure forms.
“To create a work of art is to create the world.” Kandinsky
Here are some other notable Kandinsky quotes:
- Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions.
- An empty canvas is a living wonder… far lovelier than certain pictures.
- There is no must in art because art is free.
- The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip.
- Objects damage pictures
- The more frightening the world becomes … the more art becomes abstract.
- Painting is a thundering collision of different worlds, intended to create a new world in and from the struggle with one another, a new world which is the work of art.
“Painting is a thundering collision of different worlds.” How is that for a description of the creative process of painting ! A thundering collision—with an intention to create a new world, not held in the grips of past dogmas and conventions. Truly Kandinsky set the stage for such artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and my teacher Stephen Greene. He made the world of painting a dynamic workshop for something never before seen.
You may look at Composition VII and say, “It just looks like a chaotic pile of stuff to me.” You would be right. But appearances deceive. The painting demands our investment, and our sincere question: “What is in there for me to see?” When you ask that, you LOOK AGAIN, and again and again, with more attention and awareness. There are distinctive shapes and colors and lines and elements playing off one another. Consider is a huge city-scape, or a crowd in a stadium, or a drama on stage. Every color in the spectrum is used. Everything is said, but you decide the outcome.
“Everything starts from a dot.” Kandinsky
There was a point when Kandinsky departed totally from the references to the external world we live in, and freed his painting to explore the pure elements of geometry, color, shape, line and the relationships between these elements.
Composition VIII is such a painting. Draw your own conclusions. “Everything starts from a dot.” There are plenty of them in here. The sperm is a “dot” that hits the cosmic “egg” in the infinite womb of the Divine Mother’s space. And BOOM, the bang of creation takes place. New Life is created and manifested before the eyes of the artist, and it is this Action of creating Life that he shares. What could be higher?