Week 6: Chapters 13 through 15

“Colour is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords.” — Kandinsky (http://www.wassily-kandinsky.org/wassily-kandinsky-quotes.jsp)

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) is often dubbed father of abstract art. Over time his art evolved from representation of recognizable forms to work that communicated entirely through line and especially color. Kandinsky’s expressionism sought spirituality in art, in contrast to the emerging German glorification of military and government in the years leading up to World War I. Most interestingly, Kandinsky associated art and color with music and sound. In “The Man Who Heard His Paint Box Hiss” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3653012/The-man-who-heard-his-paintbox-hiss.html) Ossian Ward explained Kandinsky’s aspirations very well: [Kandinsky] “wanted to evoke sound through sight and create the painterly equivalent of a symphony that would stimulate not just the eyes but the ears as well.”

Today some believe that Kandinsky had a form of neurological synesthesia, which is defined in The World English dictionary as a physical condition that causes “a sensation experienced in a part of the body other than the part stimulated.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/synesthesia?s=t) In other words, the senses get crossed, and a person experiences unexpected physical sensations. For instance, hearing a particular note or tone could cause a synesthete to see a particular color or experience a particular taste; seeing a particular color could cause a synesthete to hear certain sounds. Today, scientists can ascertain whether a person is experiencing this confusion of senses neurologically, or whether the experience is psychological (“the subjective sensation of a sense other than the one being stimulated”). Wikipedia lists Kandinsky as a person “under review” for neurological synesthesia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_synesthesia ). It is possible that he might be one of the many artists of the past and present who follow an intellectual desire to combine the senses and express music through art, rather than someone who is attempting to share his actual physical sensations.

Whether or not Kandinsky experienced neurological synesthesia, he did aspire to evoking music with art. He called his quicker works “improvisations” and the works that took more thought and time “compositions.” Indeed, his work is alive with rhythm and color. See, for instance, Composition VIII, 1923. (http://www.glyphs.com/art/kandinsky/)

This is one of his later compositions, which adopts a geometrical rhythm with less emphasis on color than previous compositions. All the same, the movement, the mood of music is there, causing the eye to dance back and forth from element to element just as tempo in music can cause the feet to move back and forth in a repeated rhythm.

Kandinsky was not left unpunished for his originality and loyalty to his internal vision. In 1921, he left Russia for Germany because his ideas were considered too “individualistic and bourgeois” for the radical members of the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow where he taught (and which he had helped organize). In 1937, the Nazi government organized an exhibition called “Degenerate Art,” which among many, many other works included Kandinsky’s Compositions I through III. That music will never be heard again; after the exhibition, his compositions were among the works fed to a bonfire.

Kandinsky is one of those historical figures I wish I could resurrect to introduce him to modern developments. A neurologist would have a field day testing him for neurological synesthesia; perhaps that would give us better insight into his work. Kandinsky himself would no doubt be intrigued by modern physic’s discoveries concerning color and sound (both made by waves; color depends on wavelength, sound on frequency). Imagine him exploring electronic music through a program such as Medisynth, where composers can use virtual paintbrushes to “paint” musical compositions. I would be most interested to hear his views on spirituality (or possibly lack thereof) in contemporary graphic arts. I’m not sure he would want to stay in our times, but I think this original abstract expressionist could teach us a great deal while he was here.

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