Kandinsky’s Push Against Materialist Culture


In the introduction to his book, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) contradicts contemporary middle class values through a verbal assault on materialist culture, and more specifically, artwork. During this phase of his life, Kandinsky lived in pre-WWI Germany. Originally a scholar in law and economics, he only started studying art at age thirty.[1] It was likely his background in law and economics that enabled him to understand better the relationship between art and consumerism.

In this specific passage, Kandinsky targets the materialism of art that emerged with the rise of the middle class, towards the end of the nineteenth century. According to Kandinsky, this recent trend “oppressed and dominated the human soul” and disabled an individual’s ability to experience subtle emotions.[2] Moreover, Kandinsky bemoaned the remarks that individuals said regarding the art, such as “nice” or “splendid.” This contradicted the middle class value that images of beauty should be simple and to the point. Moreover, it pushed back, in a way, against free market capitalism in the sense that goods should be judged especially on their quality, and not on their quantity. To remedy this problem, Kandinsky argued that spirituality and subtlety should be placed back into art, or else it will not be remembered even into the next generation.

As the paintings in the links to images below indicate, Kandinsky did not paint pieces that would likely be placed above a fireplace. He painted artwork that made an individual think, even about the most subtle of ideas.










[1] “Wassily Kandinsky.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 16, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassily_Kandinsky.

[2] Kandinsky, Wassily. “On the Spiritual in Art : First Complete English Translation, with Four Full Colour Page Reproductions, Woodcuts and Half Tones.” On the Spiritual in Art : First Complete English Translation, with Four Full Colour Page Reproductions, Woodcuts and Half Tones. Accessed March 16, 2015. https://archive.org/stream/onspiritualinart00kand#page/n0/mode/2up.

2 thoughts on “Kandinsky’s Push Against Materialist Culture

  1. To build upon what you said here, I also think that a key part of Kandinksy’s argument came through when he wrote that attempts to produce art resembling that of the ancient Greeks, for example, would always be futile because they could never possess the “inner spirit” of the Greeks; they would only be cheap copies. To me, it seems that he argued against romanticizing the art of previous eras and attempting to reproduce it. Instead, art should move forward and grow modern along with society.

  2. To add, Kandinksy emphasizes a need for progress through art. He says “art, as the child of its age, can only repeat artistically what is already expressed in the contemporary trend. This art bears no potentiality for the future.” His focus on making a point through art –ie being anti-consumerism– I think is based in this larger understanding of artistic works, that without room for progress it is nothing.

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