Concerning the Spiritual-and the Concrete-in Kandinsky's Art

Concerning the Spiritual-and the Concrete-in Kandinsky's Art

Language: English

Pages: 280


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This book examines the art and writings of Wassily Kandinsky, who is widely regarded as one of the first artists to produce non-representational paintings. Crucial to an understanding of Kandinsky's intentions is On the Spiritual in Art, the celebrated essay he published in 1911. Where most scholars have taken its repeated references to "spirit" as signaling quasi-religious or mystical concerns, Florman argues instead that Kandinsky's primary frame of reference was G.W.F. Hegel's Aesthetics, in which art had similarly been presented as a vehicle for the developing self-consciousness of spirit (or Geist, in German). In addition to close readings of Kandinsky's writings, the book also includes a discussion of a 1936 essay on the artist's paintings written by his own nephew, philosopher Alexandre Kojève, the foremost Hegel scholar in France at that time. It also provides detailed analyses of individual paintings by Kandinsky, demonstrating how the development of his oeuvre challenges Hegel's views on modern art, yet operates in much the same manner as does Hegel's philosophical system. Through the work of a single, crucial artist, Florman presents a radical new account of why painting turned to abstraction in the early years of the twentieth century.

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reproductions of all the preparatory sketches—see Smithgall, ed., Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence. 65. KCW, “Picture with the White Edge,” 390. 66. KCW, “Picture with the White Edge,” 391. Lest we think that Kandinsky’s reference to the “insistence” of his “inner voice” implies some personally expressive component (and the German is even more forceful: “diktierte mir meine innere Stimme gebieterisch”), we should note that the next sentence in the same paragraph, concerning the function of

elements, but also seems to place the former—the oil paint (the color)—in the role of operative agent, acting on the sand so as to transform it into something else. 132. Kandinsky had, of course, produced a white monochromatic background previously—notably in his On White II (Figure 36 / Plate 13) of 1923. But he seemed to feel that white was more readily perceived as space than a colored ground would be. It was only much later, after he had developed various strategies (such as the addition of

recent developments in painting “of a constructive or geometric nature”; he seems to have had in mind specifically French cubism. As interesting as these experiments were, Kandinsky suggested, they were too “logical”—by which he seems to have meant too consciously calculated and too insufficiently dialectical—to hold out any real promise for the future. “I am certain that our own modern harmony is not to be found in the ‘geometric way,’” he wrote, but rather via “‘dissonances in art,’ in

that a slower pace and finer grain would have brought to our attention—though surely we have already missed certain potentially interesting aspects of the work, despite proceeding to this point with the due diligence that we have. I take some comfort in the thought that, if the dialectical perspective opened up by this book does actually seem to show us something important about Kandinsky’s paintings, the overlooked features of his art will eventually present themselves to viewers approaching

of Socrates: “Know thyself!” Consciously or unconsciously, artists are gradually focusing on and proving [prüfen] their material, placing in the balance the spiritual value of those elements out of which it is suitable to create their art.20 Once again, Kandinsky’s specific language—in this case, both the phrase zu innerer Natur and the verb prüfen—insinuates the generally Hegelian context in which his argument is framed.21 Early in the Aesthetics, Hegel had stated that any “science” worthy of

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