“Every work comes into being in the same way as the cosmos – by means of catastrophes… The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world.” – Vasily Kandinsky
As I walked around the Guggenheim Museum today feeding my soul on the paintings of Vasily Kandinsky, I experienced once again the unmistakable feeling of loss that haunts me from time to time. I sometimes feel that I was born about seventy-five years or so too late, as I instinctively gravitate toward works of art created in the first half of the 20th century. I wish I were a contemporary of such inspiring painters as Vasily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee, and composers like Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, or Arnold Schoenberg.
What draws me to each one of them is the freedom of their artistic expression tempered by the principles of classic form resulting in some uniquely beautiful works of art. It seems to me that even after the horrors of World War I, as the artists pushed the boundaries of conservative expectations, there was a certain excitement and optimism in the air, as the expressionist movement in music paralleled its influence on paintings, reaching deeper into the personal expression, the spiritual, and the transcendent (lookup Scriabin’s Prometheus and synesthesia to fuel your thoughts). This trajectory was clearly seen in the Kandinsky exhibit, as the chronological sequence of artwork followed his earlier representative paintings gradually giving way to more figurative, and finally to full abstraction.
To Kandinsky abstraction was the holy grail of the artist. He argued that the abstraction (absolute, nonrepresentational art) is not counterintuitive to the natural order, but rather that it is the very essence of reality, as everything in nature is original and not derivative or representational of something else.
When I look at Kandinsky’s paintings, I don’t feel that I am deprived of seeing a landscape, or an inanimate object, or someone’s portrait. Instead, I see a thirst for life, beauty, spirituality. I sense excitement or repose. Sometimes I hear music or simply become overwhelmed to the point of tears when a verbal expression seems futile.
Kandinsky’s principles of proportion and design are a refreshing mix of order and disarray. His color palette is bursting with passion and energy. His pairing of fully saturated orange and blue with purples is unlike anything I have ever seen before. No computer monitor and no book reproduction can ever replace seeing these color combinations in person.
Speaking of loss again, I thought today about the fate of many artists who found themselves in Germany as Adolf Hitler came to power. His dictatorship stretched not only to enforcing his vision of the new Germany as it related to his political, economical, and ethnic ideas, but he also took it upon himself to decide what artistic expressions would be favored and which would be eradicated. The famous Bauhaus school of design, of which Kandinsky was a part at the time, was labeled as “un-German” and was forced to close, causing many influential artists to flee Germany.
I wondered what trajectory would the European art have followed if it were allowed to thrive in Germany as it had for centuries before. What other artistic trends would have sprung out of expressionism? What artists would have worked together and influenced one another?
Art is a dangerous business to be in. You only paint, or write a symphony, or a poem, or design a building, but in reality you create the world around you.
What planets are colliding in your cosmos?
Paintings: Vasily Kandinsky – Angel of the Last Judgment, Composition V
Article ©2010 Dosia McKay