“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
– Wassily Kandinsky –
When I was an art student I cam across this fascinating book, On The Spiritual in Art, written by by a remarkable forerunner of modern art Wassily Kandinsky, (1866-1944) In his book I found an idea that has been haunting me for decades. His vision of the future artist, that would just be vibrating in a corner of the room.
The spectator is too ready to look for meaning in a picture—i.e., some outward connection between its various parts. Our materialistic age has produced a type of spectator or ‘connoisseur’, who is not content to put himself opposite a picture and let it say its own message. Instead of allowing the inner value of the picture to work, he worries himself in looking for ‘closeness to nature’ or ‘temperament’ or ‘handling’ or ‘tonality’ or ‘perspective’ or what not. His eye does not probe the outer expression to arrive at the inner meaning.
In a conversation with an interesting person, we endeavour to get to his fundamental ideas and feelings. We do not bother about the words he uses, nor the spelling of those words, nor the breath necessary for speaking them, not the movements of his tongue and lips, not the psychological working on our brain, not the physical sound in our ear, nor the psychological effect on our nerves.
We realize that these things, though interesting and important, are not the main things of the moment, but that the meaning and idea is what concerns us. We should have the same feeling when confronted by a work of art. When this becomes general the artists will be able to dispense with natural form and colour and speak in purely artistic language.
In this remarkable book, anticipating “the spiritual turning-point” Kandinsky reflects on his understanding of progress in this direction. This is not a process that would happen automatically. It requires a lot of work and implies a great responsibility of both artist and viewer. The task of the artist is to find “the principle of the innermost necessity” that he or she can use through expressive means to achieve the goal, “vibration of the human soul.”
Using captivating analogies, Kandinsky dwells at length on the artistic means: the psychology of color, the compositional interrelation of forms, etc. However, the main goal of an artist still remains to find that very innermost necessity”, that is based on the spiritual foundations of the individual.
In his or her turn, the work of the viewer is to find within him- or herself the purity of perception, which, at this level, does not relate to the beauty of nature. The ideal imitation of nature as the summit point of artistic mastery has remained in the past. The impressions of impressionists, the emotions of expressionists, the experiments of cubists - all these stages have long been passed, and now the task of the viewer is to see the beauty of pure color and pure shape.
Kandinsky anticipates the emergence of abstract art as the purest form of influence on the human soul, and views the future optimistically, foretelling the upcoming emergences of the epoch of great spirituality.
In 1912 "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" was published. Turning upside down the established idea about art in general, this book became the first theoretical foundation of abstractionism. Having come to an idea, that "the purposes (and therefore, means) of nature and arts are essentially, organically and according to the laws of the Universe are various - and equally great... and equally strong", the artist proclaimed creative process of "self-expression and self-development of spirit".