Sunday, January 23, 2011

Centenary of ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’

Wassily Kandinsky II by Jacques Moitoret

The journal Theology from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge carries an article in its January-February 2011 issue on “A theology of abstraction: Wassily Kandinsky’s ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’” by Charles Pickstone, St Laurence Church, Catford, England. It looks at Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, “the first theoretical work on abstract art, and now a standard work for all 20th- and even 21st-century artists,” which will be having its centenary this year.

The book was hugely influential both at the time and subsequently. The Modern
Movement was about to sweep Europe in all the arts (Pierrot Lunaire 1912, Ulysses
1918, The Waste Land 1922), and many artists and general readers, puzzled by the
“missing subject” of abstract art, found Kandinsky’s rationale persuasive.

The influences shaping Kandinsky’s ideas about the spiritual in art are noted: Russian Orthodox Church; the works of Schopenhauer, whose World as Will and Representation was particularly noted in this work; “Madame Blavatsky’s colour mysticism in her theosophical writings (an unlikely but now well-documented influence)”; and Goethe’s writings on the philosophy of colour, from a hundred years before. The source for the information of Blavatsky's influence comes from Sixten Ringbom’s 1986 study “Transcending the Visible: The Generation of the Abstract Pioneers” in Maurice Tuchman, ed., The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1986), which good as it is, a lot has been done since then, as the Legacies of Theosophy Conference at the University of Sydney and the recent Colloquium in Liverpool on “Enchanting Modernity: Theosophy and the Arts in the Making of Early Twentieth-Century Culture” show.

According to the author: “Kandinsky realised that all effects are relative. Each rhythmic stroke, each adjacent colour, is part of a dynamic system of pulsing interaction.” How Blavatskian.

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