Wassily Kandinsky

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Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky (December 4 or 16, 1866 - December 13, 1944) was a Russian painter and art theorist. One of the most important 20th-century artists, he is credited with painting the first modern abstract art works.



  • In your works, you have realized what I, albeit in uncertain form, have so greatly longed for in music. The independent progress through their own destinies, the independent life of the individual voices in your compositions is exactly what I am trying to find in my paintings.
    • Letter to Schönberg, 1911; Quoted in: Gerald Izenberg (2000) Modernism and Masculinity: Mann, Wedekind, Kandinsky Through World War I. p. 207 : Written after the performance of Schönberg's second string quartet and the "Three piano pieces"

"On the Spiritual In Art", 1910[edit]

Wassily Kandinsky, "On the Spiritual in Art," (1910) treatise presented at the All-Russian Congress of Artists in St. Petersburg, released in 1910.

  • If until now colour and form were used as inner agents, it was mainly done subconsciously. The subordination of composition to geometrical form is no new idea (cf. the art of the Persians). Construction on a purely spiritual basis is a slow business, and at first seemingly blind and unmethodical. The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul, so that it can weigh colours in its own scale and thus become a determinant in artistic creation. If we begin at once to break the bonds that bind us to nature and to devote ourselves purely to combination of pure colour and indepen\pient form, we shall produce works that are mere geometric decoration, resembling something like a necktie or a carpet. Beauty of form and colour is no sufficient aim by itself, despite the assertions of pure aesthetes or even of naturalists obsessed with the idea of "beauty". It is because our painting is still at an elementary stage that we are so little able to be moved by wholly autonomous colour and form composition. The nerve vibrations are there (as we feel when confronted by applied art), but they get no farther than the nerves because the corresponding vibrations of the spirit which they call forth are weak'.
    • As quoted in: Herbert Read (1959), A Concise History of Modern Painting. Ch. 7 The Origin and Development of an art of Internal Necessity or Abstract Expressionism. p. 244
  • The more freely abstract the form becomes, the purer, and also the more primitive it sounds. Therefore, in a composition in which corporeal elements are more or less superfluous, they can be more or less omitted and replaced by purely abstract forms, or by corporeal forms that have been completely abstracted'... Here we are confronted by the question: Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract? This is a question that naturally arises, the answer to which is at once indicated by an analysis of the concordance of the two elements of form (the objective and the abstract). Just as every word spoken (tree, sky, man) awakens an inner vibration, so too does every pictorially represented object. To deprive oneself of the possibility of this calling up vibrations would be to narrow one’s arsenal of expressive means. At least, that is how it is today. But apart from today’s answer, the above question receives the eternal answer to every question in art that begins with “must.” There is no “must” in art, which is forever free.
    • Translated by Peter Vergo, in: Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, eds. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, 2 vols. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., (1982), p. 195. As quoted in: Samet, Jennifer Sachs. Painterly Representation in New York, 1945-1975. Diss. The City University of New York, 2010. p. 25
Kandinsky's signature from 1914.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911[edit]

Kandinsky, Concerning the spiritual in Art, Munich, 1911. Original title: Uber das Geistige in der Kunst. : M.T.H. Sadler translation, originally published in 1914 as The Art of Spiritual Harmony. Also published in 1946 as : Wassily Kandinsky, Hilla Rebay, On the spiritual in art : First complete English translation.... Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Part I. About General Aesthetic
  • Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is still-born. It is impossible for us to live and feel, as did the ancient Greeks. In the same way those who strive to follow the Greek methods in sculpture achieve only a similarity of form, the work remaining soulless for all time. Such imitation is mere aping. Externally the monkey completely resembles a human being; he will sit holding a book in front of his nose, and turn over the pages with a thoughtful aspect, but his actions have for him no real meaning.
    • I. Kandinsky's introduction: Lead paragraph
  • There is, however, in art another kind of external similarity which is founded on a fundamental truth. When there is a similarity of inner tendency in the whole moral and spiritual atmosphere, a similarity of ideals, at first closely pursued but later lost to sight, a similarity in the inner feeling of any one period to that of another, the logical result will be a revival of the external forms which served to express those inner feelings in an earlier age.
    • I. Kandinsky's introduction:
  • The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.
    • III. The Movement of the Triangle
Part II. About painting.
  • Generally speaking, colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the strings.The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.
    • V. The psychological working of Colour: Quoted in: Hajo Düchting (2000) Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting. p. 17
    • Alternative translation:
      Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hands which plays touching one key or another purposively to cause vibrations in the Soul.
      • In: Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, 1990
  • The more abstract is form, the more clear and direct is its appeal. In any composition the material side may be more or less omitted in proportion as the forms used are more or less material, and for them substituted pure abstractions, or largely dematerialized objects. The more an artist uses these abstracted forms, the deeper and more confidently will he advance into the kingdom of the abstract. And after him will follow the gazer at his pictures, who also will have gradually acquired a greater familiarity with the language of that kingdom.

    Must we then abandon utterly all material objects and paint solely in abstractions? The problem of harmonizing the appeal of the material and the non-material shows us the answer to this question. As every word spoken rouses an inner vibration, so likewise does every object represented. To deprive oneself of this possibility is to limit one's powers of expression. That is at any rate the case at present. But besides this answer to the question, there is another, and one which art can always employ to any question beginning with "must": There is no "must" in art, because art is free.
    • VI. The language of Form and Colour
  • It is never literally true that any form is meaningless and "says nothing." Every form in the world says something. But its message often fails to reach us, and even if it does, full understanding is often withheld from us.] and, properly speaking, FORM IS THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF THIS INNER MEANING.
    • Part II. About painting : VI. The language of Form and Colour : Footnote
    • Similar quote in outer translation:
      There is no form, there is nothing in the world which says nothing. Often - it is true - the message does not reach our soul, either because it has no meaning in and for itself, or - as is more likely – because it has not been conveyed to the right place... Every serious work rings inwardly, like the calm and dignified words: ‘Here I am!'
      • Partly cited in: Raymond Firth (2011) Symbols: Public and Private, p. 43
  • The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life.
    • VIII. Art and Artists
  • All means are sacred when they are dictated by inner necessity. All means are reprehensible when they do not spring from the fountain of inner necessity... The artist must be blind to ‘recognized’ and ‘unrecognized’ form, deaf to the teachings and desires of his time. His open eyes must be directed to his inner life and his ears must be constantly attuned to the voice of inner necessity.
    • Quoted in: Sunil Goonasekera (1991) George Keyt, Interpretations. p. 146
    • Talking about the means in painting
Centre Pompidou, 2009
Strasbourg Musée d'art moderne et contemporain, 2014

"On the Problem of Form" (1912)[edit]

Wassily Kandinsky, "Über die Formfrage" in: Der Blaue Reiter, Munich: R. Piper, 1912, pp. 74-100; Translated as On the Problem of Form : English translation is by Kenneth Lindsaych in: Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Herschel B. Chipp ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), pp. 155-158.

  • At the appointed time, necessities become ripe. That is the time when the Creative Spirit (which one can also designate as the Abstract Spirit) finds an avenue to the soul, later to other souls, and causes a yearning, an inner urge.
  • Since the form is only an expression of the content and the content is different with different artists, it is then clear that there can be many different forms at the same time which are equally good. Necessity creates the form. Fish which live at great depths have no eyes. The elephant has a trunk. The chameleon changes its color, and so forth.


Point and line to plane 1926[edit]

Kandinsky, Point and line to plane, Munich, 1926

  • Every phenomenon can be experienced in two ways. These two ways are not arbitrary, but are bound up with the phenomenon – developing out of its nature and characteristics : Externally – or – inwardly.
  • The geometric point is an invisible thing. Therefore, it must be defined as an incorporeal thing. Considered in terms of substance, it equals zero... Thus we look upon the geometric point as the ultimate and most singular union of silence and speech. The geometric point has, therefore, been given its material form, in the first instance, in writing. It belongs to language and signifies silence.
  • The geometric line is an invisible thing. It is the track made by the moving point; that is, its product. It is created by movement – specifically through the destruction of the intense self-contained repose of the point. Here, the leap out of the static to the dynamic occurs. […] The forces coming from without which transform the point into a line, can be very diverse. The variation in lines depends upon the number of these forces and upon their combinations.

After 1920s[edit]

  • An empty canvas is a living wonder -- far lovelier than certain pictures.
    • Quoted in: Myfanwy Evans (1937) The Painter's Object. p. 53

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