Kandinsky on materialism

Feeling deprived of spirit and art, I started the morning by re-reading Wassily Kandinsky’s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.”

That got my day going right.

One of the quotes I highlighted:

Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip.

Were it not for the formal tone, it could have been written today. But it was published in 1911.

I wasn’t reading the book again for Kandinsky’s insights about materialism. I wanted to review his theory of color, so that I can better translate my feelings into fused glass. But the philosophy was compelling, especially in the larger historic context.

Kandinksy strove to take art to its purest forms, past the naturalists who put all their effort into replicating reality, and past the impressionists who tried to distill the essence of reality into fewer strokes of the brush. He wanted to go directly from the inner self, the soul, to the canvas, with no intermediary other than the raw essence of color and shape. No reference to any externalities.

…the art forms of today and those of the past will be at once recognized as diametrically opposed to one another. The first, being purely external, has no future. The second, being internal, contains the seed of the future within itself.

Kandinsky understood the commerce of art. The desire to sell has been a pollutant in all ages. It drives artists to make pictures that are, in the end, materialistic:

The artist seeks for material reward for his dexterity, his power of vision and experience. His purpose becomes the satisfaction of vanity and greed. In place of the steady co-operation of artists is a scramble for good things. There are complaints of excessive competition, of over-production. Hatred, partisanship, cliques, jealousy, intrigues are the natural consequences of this aimless, materialist art.

Save me from all that.

I am going to make Christmas art and ornaments this week – but I’m going to try to make them straight from my spirit to the glass. Light straight through the glass. No angels, no snowmen, no Santa. Just shapes and color.

The featured image above is Wassily Kandinsky’s “Yellow-Red-Blue” (1925), oil on canvas (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, via WikiArt). It entered the public domain in 2015 – today’s penny.

3 thoughts on “Kandinsky on materialism”

  1. Love this book and also the book entitled “no more secondhand art”. Thanks for the encouragement to stay true to my own voice.

    1. Your own voice is the most important one.
      Thanks for turning me on to this book! So glad that it’s in the public domain, too.

Comments are closed.