THE SYMBOLIST AND RELIGIOUS ART OF WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866-1944) WHO WAS INFLUENCED BY THE SYMBOLIST ART OF PAUL GAUGIN . A MATERIALIST CRITIQUE PART 2.

In the second part of my investigation in the art of Wassily Kandinsky I will explore fully the life and practices of Kandinsky. From 1911- 1914 just before the onset of war Kandinsky was working with the Blaue Reiter group. It is here that  most of his religious and symbolist influences were  at their strongest. ” Kandinsky and his friends were striving for a healing through art , but through a deeply felt spiritual art which they discerned in many different forms of artistic expression”. [1]. ” Religion and the occult were not just periphery interests for Kandinsky; in this period of searching and questioning they were his firm ground”. [2].

As a number of art critics have suggested Kandinsky wanted to put his feelings and thoughts into a visible practice. ”  he was concerned with making the spiritual visible in abstract forms and colours. he tried to substantiate a secret, inner relationship between the stimulus of colour and its psychological -spiritual effect on the viewer by applying the speculations which were current at the time”. [3].

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Kandinsky during this period at the Blaue Reiter was attempting to show pure colours in his search for a total abstract representation. Kandinsky painted a series of what he termed ‘Improvisations’.

” The process which led from a gradual rejection of associative references to expression by means of pure colour and form can best be described by considering his improvisations”. [4].

From 1914-1920 Kandinsky returned to Russia, he would find a completely different environment of artistic practices. Here in the new Soviet Union he would come face to face with Materialist art ‘Soviet Constructivism’. ” Kandinsky’s interest in Theosophy , the occult and Religion in its broadest sense , an interest expressed in considering the spiritual in art could only serve to alienate him from the Russian avant-gardists”. [6].

Nicholas Punin a leading writer on Constructivism was the first to issue the salvo against the Idealism of Kandinsky. ” Nicholas Punin who wrote extenstively on Russian Constructivism criticism of Kandinsky on the occasion of the Exhibition of modern Russian art in Petrograd was indicative of the growing rejection and isolation of Kandinsky such as El Lissitsky , Alexander  Rodchenko and Kasimir Malevich”. [7].

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Punin insisted that Kandinsky’s art which  was based on spiritualism had no future because it would not benefit the Soviet Union. Many of the Constructivists were trying to aid and assist the new workers state by being what they  called ‘constructors’ and drew and built projects that would be beneficial practically . Kandinsky’s work was the work of a dreamer and dilettante .

” Punin said as long as his work remains in the sphere of pure spiritualism he conveys certain impressions but as soon as he begins to speak about ‘The language of things’ he becomes not only a bad craftsman but simply a vulgar and thoroughly mediocre artist too”. [9].

Punin , Rodchenko , Tatlin and Stepanova who were drawn to Marxism and the dialectical materialist method correctly rejected Kandinsky’s subjective Kantian idealist philosophy.

Hajo Duchting explains the role of Kandinsky in the new Soviet Republic. ” From 1918-1920 he was involved in art education and museum reform in an organisation called IZO (Department t of Fine arts), which was part of NARKOMPROS (peoples commissariat for cultural education). [10].

” But the leading (Constructivists) figures on the staff which was made up of the foremost Russian artists parted company on this very point (His artistic philosophy). His opponents Rodchenko , Stepanova and Popova stressed the precise analysis of materials in terms of constructive arrangement and conscious structuring (Revolutionary constructive artists who were using their skills to aid the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia)”. [11]. The conflict between Kandinsky and the Constructivists led to Kandinsky leaving Russia and travelling to Germany to work in the Bauhaus.

” But the decisive factor leading to Kandinsky’s departure was the constant hostility of his fellow artists who saw only spiritualistic deformities in his work”. [12].

From 1922- 1923 Kandinsky led a more fruitful and happier life at the Bauhaus in Germany. ” Kandinsky had already distanced himself from politically committed art in Moscow. he renewed the confrontation with his fellow artists from Russia with mixed feelings”. [13]. In the Bauhaus Kandinsky met Paul Klee who he had worked with during his time before the first world war at the Blaue reiter group. ” There was a friendly sense of fellowship between Kandinsky and Klee and they showed consideration for each others artistic principles”. [14].

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In his last years of his life Kandinsky was living in Paris from 1934-1944. Kandinsky rejected the biomorphic abstraction that Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg  (Destyll Movement) were involved in. He rejected what he saw of their work. ” But he was repelled by the constructive artists of the “Cercle et carre” and particularly by Mondrian because of their puritanism”. [15].

Wassily Kandinsky was an artist of enormous talent who had very strong religious beliefs that were to remain with him for the rest of his life. There is no doubt that he made an important contribution to Abstraction. In many ways he was the founder of abstraction but he failed as ‘Greenberg’ has said because he rejected the importance of Cezanne and the cubists. Mondrian and Van Doesburg were to follow the Cubists and understand the direction that Modernism would develop with a flat picture plane exploring geometrical design whose origin was the external world. Kandinsky’s idealism was in the end to limit his  ability to comprehend what the Constructive Materialists were aiming for,  a new society where art would be used as a tool for the masses. It was only the advent of Stalinism and Socialist realism that would hinder that development.

Frederick Engels in his book Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of classical  German Philosophy established the great divide between Materialism and idealism. ” Philosophers were divided into two great camps according to their answer to this question. those who asserted the primacy of mind over nature and in the last analysis therefore assumed some kind of creation of the world-formed the camp of idealism (Kandinsky’s position) , the others who regarded nature as primary , belonged to the various schools of materialism”. [16]. ” Matter is not a product of mind but mind itself merely the highest product of matter”. [17].

These two quotes show the great division between Materialism and Idealism and it is reflected in the art world. Artists are part of the material world however much they may deny its role. Their art ultimately reflects this great division. In my next articles I will consider the role of Neo Plasticism The Destyll movement of Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg.

REFERENCES

1  KANDINSKY HAJO DUCHTING  PG 37

2   DITTO PG 38

3    DITTO PG 45

4     DITTO  PG 39-40

5    DITTO PG 45

6     DITTO PG 58

7      DITTO  PG 58

8      DITTO PG 58

9      DITTO PG 58

10    DITTO PG 61

11    DITTO PG 61

12     DITTO PG 61-2

13    DITTO PG 62

14     DITTO PG  65

15      BIOMORPHIC ABSTRACTION KANDINSKY IN PARIS 1934-1944  PG 88

16       FREDERICK ENGELS LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE END OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY PG 17

17        DITTO PG 21

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