Inspiration and the Soul

Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist and art theorist, was one of the first painters noted as an abstract artist.  He wrote On the Spiritual in Art in 1912 during the time in which he was a member of the artist group ‘The Blue Rider,’ a group of abstract painters who were planning on doing an exposition but was curtailed because of the onset of World War I.  The language was one geared towards artists and those who were interested in understanding and observing art, using terms and phrases such as ‘observer,’ ‘inspiration,’ and ‘spiritual in art.’  Kandinsky’s intent was to help those less informed about art understand how to observe art and what it takes to create a truly ‘inspired’ work.  Kandinsky’s message ultimately was that “”Understanding” is the approach of the observer to the to the artist’s viewpoint” ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)), which further explicates the concept that observers must do their best to see the art from an artist’s perspective.

Inspiration for art in itself is a very abstract concept; one in which I probably will never understand.  Learning about this concept of inspiration and understanding art was incredibly fascinating to read about, especially Kandinsky’s assumption that “Each painting mysteriously contains an entire life, a life of many sufferings, hours of doubts, of enthusiasm and of delighted inspiration” ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)).  This statement helped me understand the agony and jubilation an artist may experience during the process of trying to find inspiration in the world around him.

It made me think of how much that inspiration truly matters in the real world no matter what our field is; be it to better the field or find a better life, every person must have inspiration behind their passion.  Because without inspiration, there is no ‘soul’ in whatever one strives to accomplish; it is without base or foundation.

My question: what do you think inspiration came from during this time period (the early 1900s)?  Have these same things changed throughout time?  How could an artist’s inspiration differ from a professor’s, for example?

Art as the Zeitgeist



Wassily Kandinsky theorized that art was the essence of an era. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911)) Due to this idea, he believed that the observer of an art piece should not just casually look at art, instead he or she should really try to understand its meaning. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911)) He writes that because the masses just look at “art for art”, the artist becomes focused on the materialistic benefit of creating art, making his work greedy and vain. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911))


Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with being the first modern artist. He wrote On the Spiritual in Art just after the height of the industrial revolution, when the consumer class was really emerging. He was watching a materialistic world emerging as he wrote his theory on art; he began to see the masses consume art as they would food or clothing. This consumption of something he believed was so sacred, and so integral to a society and time period, must have upset him deeply and led him to write On the Spiritual in Art.

If Kandinsky’s theories are valid, and art is the essence of a time period, then is art today a good example of today’s zeitgeist? Have we becomes further involved in a consumer culture? If so, how does this show in today’s art, music, and live performances?

Art as an Emotive Experience

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist. However, he initially was educated to become a teacher of law, ethnography and economics. He studied these subjects at the University of Moscow and taught for a few years before going to art school. He was one of the first people to experiment with abstract art and was influenced by the works of Monet and other impressionist painters. He studied art in both Russia and Munich, eventually developing a unique style. As Kandinsky worked through his style and further developed his art, he developed a theory of art. Some of this theory is expressed in “On the Spiritual in Art” where he discusses the difficulty in expressing emotion and feeling in art. He writes that some ‘pure’ artists are able to put spirituality in their art and communicate feelings through their art. To Kandinsky, this is the ultimate goal of art, it should be able to “intensify the observer’s sentimental mood and purify it”. He writes that the observer should recognize this as the meaning of art and devote significant time to the study of art and not browse through paintings casually, remarking on them as being ‘nice’ or ‘splendid’ ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)).

Kandinsky’s influence on art was widespread, becoming one of the inspirations behind the field of Abstract Expressionism. He influenced many later artists, such as Jackson Pollack, with his theories on the expressive qualities of art, and how it should impact the viewer through all of the senses.

Early Kandinsky, The Blue Rider

Early Kandinsky, The Blue Rider, 1903.

Later Kandinsky, Composition 6, 1913.

Later Kandinsky, Composition 6, 1913.

Kandinsky introduced a new way of looking at art, how did this impact the middle class? Did this make the general populace more appreciative of art? Or did the introduction of abstract art distance the general public from art?

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.