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.