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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Punkt und Linie draws on Kandinsky’s (INKhUK and Bauhaus) experience with the “theoretical method of constructing a work”—a method that derives, once more, from the earlier “materialistic movement”—and points toward a future, more fully worked-out “science of art.”17 Given its materialistic orientation, we might compare Punkt und Linie zu Fläche to the Philosophy of Nature, the second of the three books that constitute Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. In the Encyclopedia, the

confused on this point. One of the real shortcomings of Kandinsky’s essay is in fact that it never pushes beyond an alignment of (nonrepresentational) painting with music—as if, in demonstrating that the one art form could yet be the other’s equal, the Aesthetics’s entire argument would thereby somehow be dismantled. In essence, Kandinsky was so focused on that moment in Hegel’s account when painting ceded its spiritual dominance to music that he lost sight of the subsequent turns in the

realignment of pictorial elements, a different set of forms emerging into prominence. As a result the work suggests generative processes actively ongoing and, in that sense, it might be seen as continuous with Münter’s photographs of the work in progress. In the painting, as in those pictures, we seem to be presented with a concatenation of still-emerging forms, less a finished composition than something perpetually coming into being. One of the main lessons Kandinsky appears to have taken from

Hering’s work. In regard to these matters, we should also note that there are parallels between Kandinsky’s color theory and Hegel’s descriptions, such as the following, from the Aesthetics: “Pure red is the effective regal and concrete color in which blue and yellow, contraries again themselves, are fused together. Green can also be regarded as such a unification, not however as a concrete unity but as purely expunged difference, as saturated and calm neutrality. These [four] colors are the

and so as being the polar opposite to blue, which appeared to move “away from him” (OSA, 179). It was partly for these reasons that Kandinsky also regarded blue as the most spiritually evocative color; he saw it as internally oriented (its force, he said, was “concentric” or centripetal), so that, like spirit in the modern world, it always seemed in the process of withdrawing from exteriority into itself. For Goethe’s chart, see Ruprecht Matthaei, ed., Goethe’s Color Theory (New York: Van

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