Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Author: Born in Moscow in 1866, Kandinsky was fascinated with colors and color symbolism throughout his youth. Kandinsky studied law and economics at the University of Moscow and was later offered a teaching position at Derpt University in Tartu. Being more interested in art, Kandinsky decided to move to Munich to study and perfect his painting skills. Kandinsky went on to become a famous painter and art theorist. During the years of WWI and WWII, he moved between Germany, Russia, and France. Kandinsky died in 1944 in France.

Context: Published in 1912, two years before the outbreak of WWI, Kandinsky was writing in what was still considered to be the Belle Époque period in Europe: the optimistic and progressive time before the horrors of WWI.

Language: The language of Kandinsky’s work is fairly simple and does not contain any complex speech or phrasing. His introduction, in its entirety, is structured in a logical fashion.

Audience: Given that the language is not difficult to understand, Kandinsky wrote to the middle and upper classes. He also may have directed his ideas toward the lower class since art does not require the observer to be literate.

Intent: Kandinsky’s intent was to call attention to the impurities and soullessness of current art in general, artists, and observers. He craved a purification of art’s spirituality.

Message: Kandinsky explained that all art is a child of its age and its preceding generation is unable to be truly recreated. He believed the current cultural mindset was awakening from an era of stark materialism, but emphasized that materialism is still prevalent in most art. Kandinsky explained that observers of art, who neglect the artist’s inner meanings and colors, are left unchanged after viewing a painting. Kandinsky disapproved this wasteful “art for art’s sake.” He also denounced artists for their greed and lust for material reward from their paintings. Kandinsky ultimately believed that the current phase of art is barren and cannot progress until someone, who is capable of leading art to its true potential, emerges from the fray of the materialistic and spiritless current form of art.

3 thoughts on “Concerning the Spiritual in Art

  1. I don’t know if his intent was to demean previous works of art. The language in his essay suggests that he respects previous artwork, but he asserted that it could be and should be outdone. He says that every work of art is the child of its generation, which suggests his respect toward previous works. I think he would have used a harsher analogy if his intent was to denounce previous works.

  2. I think it’s interesting how Kandinsky notes that those who do not interpret or notice the colors or meanings are unchanged. If you observe Kandinsky’s paintings, they employ a wide variety of vibrant colors and shapes. I wonder if he created these pieces in order to encourage change in observers of his art? Did Kandinsky believe himself to be this leader of art, one that shies away from materialism?

  3. This piece is further proof of the progress being made at this time and how it spread to every part of society not just the upper middle class and women thinking individually but also the portrayal of progress through the arts. While society remained materialistic, so did much of the art and when the same society makes progression from materialism to that of development and awareness of the issues in society, a lot of which stem from this materialistic way of life, the art becomes more expressive and understanding the intent behind it suddenly becomes crucial to observing the piece and coming away from it enlightened.

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