THE SYMBOLIST AND RELIGIOUS ART OF WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866-1944) WHO WAS INFLUENCED BY THE SYMBOLIST ART OF PAUL GAUGIN. A MATERIALIST CRITIQUE. PART1.

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Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian artist who was influenced by symbolism and religious influences. Born in Russia he studied in Munich Germany and would be one of the recognised artists associated with the Blaue Reiter Group (Blue Rider). He would also participate and teach at the Bahaus at the same time as Paul Klee , an artist working at the same time as Kandinsky.

His influences were of various sorts, including Fauvism of Derain and Matisse. ” Gradually under the influence of Russian and Bavarian primitivism and following the example of Fauvism (Derain and Matisse) Kandinsky reduced the naturalism in his art and greatly extended its lyrically expressive power”. [1]. ” Kandinsky’s thinking in art  particularly reflected many of the ideas and intimations of his time. His Russian and orthodox background encouraged in him his leaning towards the Occult”. [2].

It was during this period that Kandinsky developed his strongest idealist beliefs and led to a rejection of materialist and particularly Realist art. ” He (Kandinsky) was interested in Theosophy , he turned his back on the material world or at least sought to redress the imbalance caused by the world’s emphasis on material progress by committing art to the world of the spirit” [3].

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Kandinsky continually was concerning with what he termed the inner self. ” Kandinsky sought to connect the visual matter of art directly to the inner life of man. Abstraction was not yet essential to this , but rather the tuning of pictorial means to the emotional or spiritual urge within the artist”. [4].

Paul wood argues that the loosening of the lines and forms in his art work is connected with Kandinsky’s Theosophy. ” The term was being used to indicate a departure from verisimilitude , a loosening of the connection between the lines, forms and in particular the colours of a painting and the objects in nature that the painting represented”. [5].

Wassily Kandinsky was the first artist who would begin to develop an abstract art. It had been started with the Revolutionary art of Cezanne and the cubists Picasso and Braque who were in the process of altering the picture plane and developing a new pictorial representation. Although there was recognisable shapes and forms it would be Kandinsky who would try and minimise their objectivity through abstraction. ” One artist in particular sought to develop a fully abstract art from these practices of abstraction from nature .The Russian Wassily Kandinsky who painted in Munich before the First world war”. [6].

Kandinsky’s rejection of materialism and in turn Realism found its expression in his work in Munich.

” In Munich in the 1900’s Kandinsky moved in a symbolist milieu. the aversion to scientific materialism that accompanied the rhetoric of symbolism stimulated an openness to religious influence”. [7].

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Kandinsky was more influenced by Christian religious influences in the expression of his abstract art rather than Theosophy itself. ” although Kandinsky was deeply touched by Theosophy in the years before the First world war he himself was more compelled by the Christian affected variant of anthroposophy developed by Rudolph Steiner”. [8].

Kandinsky translated these beliefs in his artistic work showing how vibrations and colour have an influence on his work. ” In a combustile synthesis Kandinsky argues that the vibrations of colour directly cause corresponding vibrations in the soul of the attuned viewer”. [9].

” The dilemma Kandinsky felt was that if he completely abandoned represented subject matter in his search for an art of pure colour and independent form he would merely succeed in creating works having the geometrical ornament (like a tie , or a carpet , decoration)”. [10].

Kandinsky when he saw  the pure art of Piet Mondrian would confirm his worst fears. Some of his works do have geometrical designs but Mondrian always established straight lines of pure dimensions whereas Kandinsky had shapes and forms reflected in a spatial pictorial form. Some of Kandinsky’s compositions remind me of the later work of the surrealist Jean Miro.

” The solution he came to around 1910-11 was to dissolve meaningful subjects in apparently abstract compositions”. [11]. ” Cossacks image 1905 Revolution Composition 14 Kandinsky once commented that the Cossack image was prompted by an incident in the Russian Revolution of 1905 (Lenin referred to as the dress rehersal) when mounted soldiers charged a crowd”. [12].

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Kandinsky now believed that he had created a new revolutionary form of art and that was abstraction. ” By that point despite the difficulties involved Kandinsky believed himself to have taken the first steps into pure abstract art.” [13].

Kandinsky honestly believed that his art would have a healing effect on what he termed the human soul without realising that Idealism and spiritualism is a dead end for discovering the true purpose of human development.  All  great materialist philosophers had established that Art is the reflection of the material world. There is no soul but a brain and mental images and thoughts are a reflection of materiality and are themselves material. It would be left to the materialists around Soviet constructivism who would establish the true purpose of social art. I will deal with Kandinsky’s critics in the second part of my article. ” Kandinsky wanted to affect the world by having an impact on the human soul and his purified art was a means to an end”. [14].

” He had evolved an abstract art by intensifying an established tradition of abstracting from conventional motifs”. [15].

To conclude I will consider the comments of Clement Greenberg the foremost advocate of Modernism in the 20th Century . Greenberg established the weaknesses of Kandinsky’s art and its role in the Modernist canon. I will in later posts give a critical analysis of Greenberg and the role of Modernism but I consider his commentary on Wassily Kandinsky to be correct. ” Kandinsky was in the end a late symbolist. For the modern critic Clement Greenberg it was this that compromised his art; a failure fully to grasp the implications of the most significant art movement of his time Cubism”. [16].

Paul Wood continues to argue the importance of cubism which Kandinsky had failed to recognise, it would be left to artists of the calibre of Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg to  follow the tradition of cubism through their pure geometrical art. ” For Picasso and Braque cubism itself was not, nor was it ever intended to be a fully abstract art. But its technical innovations enabled the production of various forms of geometrically based art”. [17].

To conclude part 1 of my investigation of Wassily Kandinsky and to show  how Idealist Symbolist art was doomed as a movement because it did not appreciate or recognise the influence of cubism and the role of materialism , that thoughts and practices are governed by materiality and thought is  the highest expression. In part 2 I will show the further development of Kandinsky’s art and his conflict with Materialist art , the great innovators of Soviet Constructivism like Alexander Rodchenko , Vladimir Tatlin and El LIssiztsky .

Referring to Mondrian and Van Doesburg Wood summarises his thoughts on Kandinsky’s art ” Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg unlike Kandinsky , their mature abstraction was not an evolution from symbolism but the consequences of a cubist inspired break with it”. [18].

REFERENCES

1 CONCEPTS OF MODERN ART THAMES AND HUDSON EXPRESSIONISM NORBERT LYNTON PG 40

2  DITTO PG 43

3  DITTO PG 43

4  DITTO PG 43

5  ART OF THE AVANT GARDES THE IDEA OF AN ABSTRACT ART PAUL WOOD PG 235

6  DITTO PG 238

7  DITTO PG 239

8   DITTO PG 239

9    DITTO PG 239

10  DITTO PG 241

11  DITTO   PG 241

12 DITTO   PG 245

13  DITTO   PG 245

14   DITTO    PG 245

15    DITTO   PG 246

16   DITTO    PG 246

17    DITTO   PG 246

18    DITTO PG 249

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