Deep Midnight’s Voice: The Art of Wassily Kandinsky
Sing now yourselves the song,
The name of which is “Once More,”
The significance of which is “Unto all eternity!”
–Sing, ye higher men. Zarathustra’s roundelay!
Oh Man! Take heed!
What saith deep Midnight’s voice indeed?
I slept my sleep—
From deepest dream I’ve woke and plead—
The world is deep,
And deeper than the day could read.
Deep is its woe—
Joy—deeper still than grief can be:
Woe saith, Hence! Go!
But Joys all want eternity—
–Want deep, profound eternity.
~Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Wassily Kandinsky, in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (written in 1910, published 1912) offered a complicated explanation of the effects of color and shape o the human psyche. The origins of many of his ideas about the nature of art and the effects that he chronicles in some detail, are obscure or uncertain. When Kandinsky turns to authority for his argument, he refers to a physician, a pathologist, a composer, a philosopher or a “scientist”; in 19th century Europe, all of these experts might have concerned themselves with similar issues and theories. Colors, sounds, shapes, and words were all thought to be possessed of quasi-mystical properties, that when apprehended by the senses, rendered them capable of moving the emotions. Most of Kandinsky’s conclusions are arrived at through logic, personal experience and reflection.
We must remember that in 1910 Freud’s ideas were still unseasoned, and though widely disseminated, not understood for their implications. Carl Jung was only beginning to develop the controversial theories that marked much of his career. Cezanne had been dead only four years, and his paintings were not yet fully appreciated. The Impressionists had succeeded only to the extent that they had replaced the older, “academic” sensibilities of what (or how) art could be, with a new “divisionist” temperament and a dominant, newly struck aesthetic. The members of this new school were to become yet another old guard, against which still newer voices would arise in protest.
As Kandinsky framed the problem:
“There are…aestheticians who write about an art which was condemned yesterday. In these books they remove the barriers over which art has most recently stepped and they set up new ones. They do not notice that they are erecting barriers not in front of art, but behind it. If they do, they write fresh books and hastily set the barriers a little further on. This process will go on until it is realized that the most advanced principle of aesthetics can never be of value to the future, but only to the past. No theory can be laid down for those things that lie in the realm of the immaterial…. That which belongs to the spirit of the future can only be realized in feeling, and the talent of the artist is the only road to feeling” (31).
The two key ideas that are of primary concern for the present examination are first, that “the most advanced principle of aesthetics: is of value only to understand the past; and second, that the “talent of the artist is the only road to feeling”; feeling is the agency whereby the “spirit of the future” is to be “realized”. An artistic break from the past is for Kandinsky an alignment with hidden continuities, unperceived by imperceptible to all except the sensitive, spiritual artist. These continuities cannot be contained by theory, but are communicated from the artist to the spectator who is willing to receive them. Furthermore, these continuities are resident in art of every age and form what is, for Kandinsky, a tradition of persistent essences, that transcend particular “moments” or “movements” of a “popular”, “mechanical”, or “materialistic” art. These latter adjectives refer to a type of art (plastic or performance) which may only be a pale and transitory expression of the far greater “moment” of the “pure” or “spiritual” in art.
Kandinsky’s work was relatively unknown in France in 1910, and his first “non-figurative” painting dates from the same year. Throughout much of his career, many critics received his works coolly, skeptically, and from the distance afforded them by a perpetual sneer. Kandinsky was well known in Russia; in Germany he was known among the intelligentsia; he was also –at least discussed by certain members of the French Avant-Garde (Le Targat 13). As a teacher of art, a theorist and as a practitioner of non-representative art, Kandinsky’s influence was most keenly felt by the younger, emerging artists: Leger, Marc, Klee, Delauney and Gleizes are examples. Apollinaire set the tone in 1913:
“I have often spoken of the works of Kandinsky, on the occasion of his exhibition in Paris. And I am only too pleased to take this opportunity of expressing my very high opinion of this painter whose art seems to me to be as serious as it is important” (qtd in Le Targat 13). As Francois Le Targat points out, however, many German critics “were dismissing the same art as ‘idiocy’” (13).
The first Blaue Reiter exhibition, and the Almanac of the same name, expressly announced the intentions of its founders, as shown in the words by Franz Marc:
“We are going to found an almanac which we intend to make the organ of all the worthwhile ideas of our age. Painting, music, theater, etc….Its main purpose will be to explain a great many things with the help of comparative documents…. We are hoping to gain such salutary, stimulating benefits from it—both in the way of elucidating ideas and of direct utility to our own work—that it has become our all-absorbing dream (qtd. in Le Targat 14).
Bruce Altshuler, writing in The Avant-Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century, credits Kandinsky with the origin of the project (46). The name Blaue Reiter was arrived at due to a mutual interest in horses and riders, as well as the fortuitous association with St. George; the color blue was chosen because both men attributed to it an association with spirituality (46). Altshuler also points out that Kandinsky had already formed a new school of artists called “The Phalanx” in 1901 (42). The formation of the group followed only five years after his arrival in Munich, after he left his “promising career” in Moscow” (42). Altshuler reminds us too, that Munich was second only to Paris as a cosmopolitan center of the arts and especially of the Avant – Garde (42). Six years later Kandinsky and Alexei Jawlensky would be instrumental in making the second exhibit of the Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen—the NKVM, New Artists’ Association of Munich—September 1910, “one of the first large group shows of the European avant-garde, prefiguring the 1912 Cologne Sonderbund and the 1913 Armory Show in New York” (45); Franz Marc joined the group the following February (1911). Altshuler’s accounts of Kandinsky’s success and recognition seem at odds with Kandinsky’s own statements concerning the role of the artist as disliked and spurned by society. Commentators like Le Targat seem to allow Kandinsky his conceit of the artist as struggling outcast.
Artshuler implies that the break with the NKVM was precipitated by Kandinsky and Marc, purposely staged by them, to gain momentum for their joint endeavors concerning the Blaue Reiter. Kandinsky deliberately submitted a painting that exceeded the size specifications set by the jury for the exhibit, (Composition V, 1911. Oil on Canvas, 74 ¾ x 108 ¼ in. Private collection). The first “Blaue Reiter” exhibit was installed, although in adjacent rooms in the same gallery provided by Thannhauser, for the NKVM exhibit; and the two shows ran concurrently. Altshuler also relates that Herwarth Walden, the “avant-garde impresario of prewar Germany”, mounted Kandinsky’s first one man show in October of 1912, which he then toured throughout Eastern and Western Europe for the next several years. Once again this seems to diminish the characterization of Le Targat and of Kandinsky himself, of the artist as a despised outsider.
The Blaue Reiter exhibit and the Almanac were conceived as complimentary artistic endeavors, mutually beneficial and interdependent by design. Marc looked to create an aesthetic “organ” capable of “explaining” if not uniting the plastic and performance arts under the aegis of “all the worthwhile ideas of our age”. How the “worth” of an idea was to be determined was not set down by Marc, nor was it specifically defined by Kandinsky. At best, the pronouncements concerning the characteristics of colors and shapes offered by Kandinsky, in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, are anecdotal evidence; his examples are drawn from experience and he relies on them as “proofs” for his arguments. Kandinsky appeals to “common sense”, he bases his assertions on carefully selected observations, and a wide variety of “representative samples”; his conclusions are orchestrated to support his broader, more eclectic themes, as can be shown in the selections from his writings as excerpted by Herschel Chipp.
Chipp excerpts passages from Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and from an article in Der Blaue Reiter, “On the Problem of Form” (qtd in Chipp 152, 155).Kandinsky, in the first selection, uses examples of colors of paint straight from the tube, as they might appear on the artist’s palette in the studio: “Some colors appear soft (madder –lake), others hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that fresh from the tube they seem to be ‘dry’” (qtd. in Chipp 154). He refers also to “chromotherapy”, the tenets of which once espoused the belief that “colored light can influence the whole body”, the practice of which attempts to “treat various nervous ailments. Red light” he observes “stimulates and excites the heart, while blue light can cause temporary paralysis” (154). He continues in the same vein, “it is unquestionable that color can exercise enormous influence upon the whole body as a physical organism” (154). His conclusion however, is somewhat startling and steeped in Theosophical beliefs: “Generally speaking, color directly influences the soul.” While we might be moved to conclude that the influence of color on the physical body is likely and reasonable, given the examples he cites from documented, clinical experimentation, his leap to the realm of the soul seems unfounded and perhaps untenable. Kandinsky continues, using his conclusion as a premise for yet another conclusion, one that he claims is central to his “principles of internal necessity”, those principles must fall under suspicion as well: “It is evident therefore that color harmony must rest ultimately on purposive playing upon the human soul ….(his emphasis; qtd. in Chipp 155). This statement is naturally unproven and perhaps impossible to prove. But the phrase “purposive playing” is important for artist, critics and spectators alike, but perhaps in a context other than the influence of color on the body or soul of the spectator. [See “Performance Art”, and Turner’s Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play]
Most of us I think are willing to consider or even to accept an emotional designation for the color blue as “cool”, and red as “warm”, even black as “mournful” or “somber; it seems less likely that most of us would immediately accept the values that Kandinsky assigns to acute angles, squares or circles, as anything other than axiomatic. It seems too, following from the previous discussion that spectators cannot be counted upon to be sensitive to the “inner” truths expressed by Marc or Kandinsky, any more than they might be expected to understand the subtle complexities of Kandinsky’s compositions, as based on his “higher ideals”.
To try to deduce a general theory of color from Kandinsky’s writing would be difficult, because he has written not only about the characteristics of individual colors, but about the attributes and effects of combinations of colors as well. Consider for example, the following:
“Generally speaking, warmth or coolness in a color means an approach to yellow or blue. This distinction occurs on one level so to speak: i.e., the color preserves its basic quality, but this quality is, now more, now less earthy. It represents a horizontal movement, the warm colors approaching the spectator, the cool ones retreating from him” (57).
The objection here is obvious. While it may be reasonable to expect that coolness is perceived as a move to blue, it is less obvious why warmth is perceived as a move to yellow and not red, for example. The observable “color shifts” of heavenly bodies—astral gases, nebulae and the like—all shift as they approach the viewer, to the red part of the spectrum, they do not jump to yellow. Kandinsky offers an attempt at an explanation:
“Yellow and blue have another movement which affects the first antithesis—an eccentric and concentric movement. If two circles are drawn and painted respectively yellow and blue, a brief contemplation will reveal in the yellow a spreading movement out from the center, and a noticeable approach to the spectator. The blue, on the other hand, moves into itself, like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator. The eye feels stung by the first circle while it is absorbed into the second” (57).
Kandinsky continues but he doesn’t make his case any clearer. He attributes movement to the colors as we have seen; when we consider the more specific case of the agency to which this movement is attributed, we are left once again, with more questions than answers. As we shall see, Kandinsky lacks physical “proof”, for his conjectures, so in lieu of proof he offers theory:
“In the case of light and dark colors movement is emphasized. That of the yellow increases with an admixture of white, i.e., as it becomes lighter. That of the blue increases with an admixture of black, i.e., as it becomes darker. This fact has a greater importance if we note that yellow inclines to the light (white) to such an extent that there can be no very dark yellow. The relationship between white and yellow is a close as between black and blue for blue can be so dark as to border on black. Besides this physical relation, there is also a spiritual one (between yellow and white on one side, and blue and black on the other), which marks a strong separation between the two pairs” (57).
In fairness, Kandinsky’s note from the same page warns, that “all these statements are the results of empirical feeling, and are not based on any exact science” (57). Kandinsky further contradicts the “empirical” nature of his inquiries with an allusion to the spiritual “relationship” between the two pairs of colors, which “marks a strong separation between the two…”.
“An attempt to make yellow colder produces a greenish tint and checks both horizontal and eccentric movement. The color becomes sickly and unreal, like an energetic man who has been checked in the use of his energy by external circumstances. The blue by its contrary movement acts as a brake on the yellow and is hindered in its own movement, and and, if more blue is added, the contrary movements cancel each other and complete immobility ensues. The result is green. Similarly white, when mixed with black, loses permanence, and the result is gray, which is spiritually similar to green” (57).
The logical question arising from such a discussion is of course, could a wheel of white and green be made to appear to move toward the viewer, as in the examples above, where only yellow is used? Or, could a wheel of three or more colors, of various shades of blue achieve different effects in order to neutralize Kandinsky’s theories? Since he admits that the basis for his theories is speculation, or perhaps casual observation, and not “based on any exact science”, the point is made moot. Whatever conclusions Kandinsky might draw, at least concerning the properties and effects of colors remain dubious as well.
The closest Kandinsky comes in his observations to a direct statement of the need for a “new art” is to offer us (by implication) a summary of the consequences if the status quo is not changed. Kandinsky is more direct and he avoids speculation , for the most part, as he summarizes and laments the state of affairs in society for “true” and “false” artists:
“The artist seeks material rewards for his facility, inventiveness and sensitivity. His purpose becomes the satisfaction of ambition and greediness. In place of an intensive cooperation among artists, there is a battle for goods. There is excessive competition, over-production. Hatred, partisanship, cliques, jealousy, intrigues are the natural consequences of an aimless, materialist art.
“The public turns away from artists who have higher ideals, who find purpose in art without purpose” (Kandinsky 26).
Here Kandinsky launches a two pronged attack. He focuses first on the causes of dissension and disagreement among artists themselves. He sees the struggle among artists as a competition that is rooted in “ambition and greed”; these are both product and perpetual cause of a “materialist art”, that is antithetical to the “higher ideal” of artistic cooperation. Competition and greed alienate the public, who then avoid artists who pursue an interest in art, only for the sake of art. The second point of attack for Kandinsky is the idea of a “popular art”. He reasons that if “comprehension” is a matter of “educating the spectator to the point of view of the artist”, and that such an art is “a child of its time”, then an artist is only able to reiterate (in his or her art) what is already “clearly realized by the contemporary.” Kandinsky insists that to say that an art is “only a child of the age,” is at least the wrong metaphor; furthermore, as “only the child of its time”, “it is not germinative…and unable to become the mother of the future, it is a castrated art. It is transitory; it dies morally the moment the atmosphere that nourishes it alters.” “It” depending on our reading, may refer equally to “comprehension”, to an “art” that is a “child of its time”, or even to the “point of view of the artist”. As we read the elements of Kandinsky’s passage in context, we find that the most likely referent is to the “castrated art” whose relevance and coetaneous nature must be explained to the spectator:
“’Comprehension’ is educating the spectator to the point of view of the artist. It has been said that art is the child of its time. But such an art can only repeat artistically what is already clearly realized by the contemporary. Since it is not germinative, but only a child of the age, and unable to become a mother of the future, it is a castrated art. It is transitory; it dies morally the moment the atmosphere that nourished it alters” (26).
Kandinsky imposes his own system of values onto the very system of exchanges that he is describing. He feels that his is the morally superior position, so he finds no fault in himself for participating freely in the faults of another. Kandinsky sets out to do precisely what he eschews in the written polemics of his predecessors and contemporaries alike; as a consequence, a contradiction arises:
“There is another art capable of further developments, which also springs from contemporary feeling. Not only is it simultaneously its echo and mirror but it possesses also an awakening prophetic power which can have far reaching and profound effect.
The spiritual life to which art belongs, and of which it is one of the mightiest agents, is a complex but definite movement above and beyond, which can be translated into simplicity. This movement is that of cognition. Although it may take different forms, it holds basically to the same internal meaning and purpose (26).”
Within the space of a few paragraphs Kandinsky has succinctly distinguished between “Materialist Art” and “Spiritual Art”.
Kandinsky envisions a transformation that can be brought about by the artist, following a perceived “necessity to move forward and upward” and “through sweat, suffering, evil and torments” toward a realization of “another art”, “which also springs from contemporary feeling” (26). Contemporary art is for Kandinsky, a spiritual battle between good and evil; “comprehension” is identified as the key to winning and losing the battle. Comprehension is likened to art as “transitory”; he claims –by this reading—that both may die “morally the moment the atmosphere that nourishes [them] alters.” If comprehension is taught to the spectator, and if comprehension is the key to winning or losing the battle ; further, if we assume (as Kandinsky does) that the battle is currently being waged and won by artists motivated by greed and selfishness who “educate” the “spectators” to their own avarice; what will induce these spectators to become disenchanted with their current teachers, to seek new instruction? One of the driving principles at the heart of his new art, is “inner necessity”, yet Kandinsky has not supplied an example of how this “inner necessity: is made manifest in this matter of “comprehension”.
Kandinsky holds that a “movement above and beyond” is accomplished through “cognition”; he insinuates that Spiritual Art is based on cognition, generally. Specifically he argues that the Spiritual Artist cognitively applies the principles he is setting down as standards for all art (good and bad). The Spiritual Artist avoids the traps of a “transitory” and “castrated” Materialist art simply by seeking “true” art. Kandinsky also believes that the Spiritual artist does not expect the recognition or rewards of his Materialist counterparts, but “scorned and disliked, he drags the heavy weight of resisting humanity forward and upward”(26). Hughes’ comment is on point as he says, regarding Kandinsky, that:
“Expressionism was, so to speak, a fossil of the ancient Judeo-Christian belief in a moral conflict between the world and the spirit. To rise above the material world, to subdue it by using its contents as emblems or abstractions, was to chalk up a victory for the spirit—even when the worship of God, the original stake in this battle, had been replaced …by the cult of the imperious Ego” (310).
Still, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, viewed in the context provided by other “spiritual” ideologies of 19th Century “Optimism” of, for example (the moderately esoteric and oriental-ist and Theosophical) Blavatsky and Steiner, or even (the extreme, eccentric, often regarded as sinister) Aleister Crowley, Kandinsky’s color theories seem tame by comparison. Kandinsky doesn’t attribute supernatural properties to the colors and shapes he describes, but offers instead what must be considered a “natural” system of rules and correspondences tied directly to the human experiences of seeing and feeling. He sees an analogy for painting in music, yet falls short of claiming otherworldly or magical applications for his art based on this comparison. Alchemy is strangely absent from his discussions, in an age when alchemical prescriptions were widely disseminated among artists, and the hierophants of the new Century, New Millennium, or New Age of spiritual awakening (as promised by Theosophy and other systems of belief) who seemingly stood on every corner. Kandinsky’s theories assert a cognitive basis for—what we would now call psychological—the spectator’s responses to color, hue, shape and line. These theories offer us a point of entry into Kandinsky’s paintings and into the works of those whom he influenced.
Kandinsky has been seen as a poet; as a poet, the various contradictions, and implausibility that we find in his writings may be read as strophes and antistrophes. His statements are contradictory; he asserts that which cannot be proven; he builds tautologies into his arguments; he mythologizes color; and he makes epochal statements about his purposes regarding art; but when we interpret his eccentricities as poetry, like his paintings, his writings take on new meanings. The paintings are complete in themselves; they are unified through the context provided by Kandinsky in his written work. The analogy to poetry is an approach to Kandinsky’s system of applying the basic rules he deployed in many of his paintings. This is especially true of the series of works that he named with the musical designations “Composition”, “Improvisation”, and “Impressions” (Le Targat 25). Jean Arp saw this approach too, as he observed,
“…through the poetry of Kandinsky we witness the eternal cycle, coming into being and disappearing, the transformation of this world. His poems make evident the absence, the nullity of perception and reason” (qtd. in Le Targat).
We should not be surprised then, if in his attempts to guide us through the subtle territories of his paintings, that the poet himself stumbles over reason, he has set for himself the task of describing that which may defy description. Kandinsky wrote:
“The most modern musicians, like Debussey, create a spiritual impression, often taken from nature, but embodied in pure musical form. For this reason, Debussey is often classed with the Impressionist painters, on the ground that he resembles these painters in using natural phenomena for the purposes of art. Whatever truth there may be in this comparison merely accentuates the fact that the various arts of today learn from each other and often resemble each other. But it would be rash to say that this proposition is an exhaustive statement of Debussey’s significance” (35).
It would be a mistake then to claim for Kandinsky more than a similarity between painting and music. Music and painting have an implicit correspondence that does not prevail as an exhaustive statement of value or significance for either. “The various arts of today learn from each other” [emphasis added] not by virtue of their similarities as arts, but because they belong to the same age: “…we recognize at once in his [Debussey’s] work the flawed, vocal soul of the present, with all its harassing anxiety and jangled nerves” (Kandinsky 35). With regard to rules that may apply to the arts, and especially to music, Kandinsky quotes Shonberg: “Every combination of notes, every advance is possible, but I am beginning to feel that there are definite rules and conditions which incline me to the use of this or that dissonance” (qtd. in Kandinsky 35). Following Shonberg’s insights concerning artistic freedom, Kandinsky concludes,
“…that the greatest freedom of all, the freedom of an unfettered art, can never be absolute. Every age achieves a certain measure of this freedom but beyond the boundaries of its freedom the mightiest genius can never go” (35-36).
Music, painting, poetry and art, as seen by Kandinsky should not be a matter of the ear or of the eye, but of the soul (36). Kandinsky began his analysis with a rejection of the external (“outer”) and its emphasis on the materiality of the world as it is received by the cognitive faculties (“inner”); then he perceived an elevation of this experience through interpretation and feeling “upward” to the “divine” and “inward” to the “spiritual”.
Kandinsky’s system of painting (after 1921) has been criticized as somewhat less than spiritual; as Hughes described it:
“In his effort to fix a symbolic language of shape and color, which went beyond all depictive efforts in its attempts to show direct Symbolist correspondences between form and feeling, Kandinsky produced a mass of worthy but rather dry and solipsistic painting. There was no guarantee that a black-edged purple triangle on a sea green ground could ‘represent’ the same emotions for any spectator as it did for Kandinsky, and his zeal to cook up a universal grammar of form was like the enthusiasm with which Esperantists argued their case in Kandinsky’s day (301).
Hughes’ critical jibe is in this case perhaps tactical and not malicious; Hughes knew that Kandinsky’s canvases taken with his prose, can still crush to detritus that which litters the walls of most contemporary galleries today. We may scoff with Hughes at Kandinsky’s naïve and well intentioned efforts to create a new language for art, but we should not lose sight of the fact that since Courbet proclaimed himself a “Courbetist”, all artists have attempted to reinvent art in their own oneirocritical images. Kandinsky’s shapes may be experienced as snatches of melody as well as swatches of color, or lines of poetry imperfectly remembered, amid the white noise of uncertainty and “jangled nerves.” There is a certain “known” commodity that is encroached upon by a “field” of the unknown and uncreated in his work. His lines may allude to form, without describing or becoming anything.
Kandinsky is most profound and convincing in his discussions of black and white. “White” he wrote, “is a symbol of a world from which all colors as material attributes have disappeared. This world is too far above us for its structure to touch our souls”(59). Here Kandinsky leans on the edge of the mystical, as if to peer up into the distant spiritual realm he longs to participate in through his art. He continues, “there comes great silence which materially represented is like a cold, indestructible wall going on into the infinite” (59-60). We realize that the wall he is describing is not at all some vague supernatural wall, it is the same wall that Kandinsky described in the notes to his manuscript:
“Van Gogh in his letters asks whether he may not paint a white wall dead white. This question offers no difficulty to the non-representational artist, who is concerned only with the inner harmony of color. But to the Impressionist-realist it appears a bold liberty to take. … Van Gogh’s question marks a transition from Impressionism to an art of spiritual harmony…”. (Kandinsky 59, n.19).
Kandinsky returns to his comparison of painting with music, and color with sound, in this case, “white…acts upon our psyche as a great absolute silence, like the pauses in music that temporarily break the melody. It is not a dead silence, but one pregnant with possibilities” (60). White is generative and beguiling, it holds our attention, it “has the appeal of nothingness that is before birth, of the world in the ice age” (60).
If white is the absence of color, with limitless meaning, in the “inner” poetry of Kandinsky’s dreamscape world, then black is a silence without possibilities. “In music”, Kandinsky relates, “it is represented by one of those profound and final pauses, after which any continuation of the melody seems the dawn of another world: the circle is closed. Black is something burnt out, like the ashes of a funeral pyre, something motionless like a corpse”; black, for Kandinsky is “the silence of death” (60).
We return then to Hughes, not for the last word, but to revisit his reading of Kandinsky’s composition Black Lines, No. 189, 1913. (Oil on Canvas 51 x 51 ¼ in. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).
“By the end of 1913, however, Kandinsky’s more Expressionist abstractions defied most efforts to find an allegorical content in them. One can see three scratchy black peaks, which may be mountains, in the top half. …but these hardly count as a subject. What does count is the sense of well-being, ‘spring like joy’, induced by the bloom and transparency of its primary color patches—red, blue, yellow, white—softly expanding towards the eye like halation-patterns in the fog. Such works represent Kandinsky at his best, and their conviction as painting rises above the eager fatuities of Kandinsky’s own philosophizing” (301).
What Hughes doesn’t see, or at least doesn’t say, is that analysis must end where these Black Lines begin. Black Lines, No. 189, might be seen as a color poem, full of visual skips, lapses in the continuity of the “pure form” that has been established by the poet through his use of reason, color and sound, on his way to some “forward” and “upward: spiritual dimension that is beyond the life and death imagery of a literal interpretation. Black Lines forgets its author’s intentions, until “content” itself is forsaken, not in favor of pleasant patches of color as Hughes suggests, but as an indolent scribe’s struggle to recall passages from scripture. Pure fields of color eventually succeeded in establishing the “truth” of Kandinsky’s paintings and his theories. Other artists found new ways of reading the poems that Kandinsky wrote. In the action painting of Jackson Pollock, and the silent color fields of Mark Rothko, one can still hear rumors of Kandinsky’s successes and his failures, as an artist, as a teacher of art, as a theoretician and poet.
Altshuler, Bruce. The Avant Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Hughes, Robert. The Shock of the New: The Hundred Year History of Modern Art, Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall. 2nd. Ed. New York: Mc Graw-Hill., 1991.
Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, New York: George Witterborn, 1947. Reprinted Baltimore: Monumental Printing. 1966
——“The Effect of Color” 1911. Theories of Modern Art. Herschel B. Chipp. With contributions by Peter Selz and Joshua C. Taylor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. 152-155.
——“On The Problem of Form” 1912. Theories of Modern art. Herschel B. Chipp. With contributions by Peter Selz and Joshua C. Taylor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. 152-155.
LeTargat, Francois. Kandinsky. Barcelona: La Poligrapha, S.A., 1986.