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.
Quotes of Kandinsky
- sorted chronologically, by date of the quote
1910 - 1920
- The work comes into the world at an undetermined hour, from a source still unknown, but it comes inevitably... Suffering, searching, tormented souls, deeply sundered by the conflict between spirit and matter. Discovery! The part that is living in both animate and inanimate nature. Solace is the phenomena – the outer, the inner. Anticipation of joy. The call. To speak of mystery in terms of mystery. Is this not content? Is this not the conscious and unconsciousness 'goal' of the compelling urge to create? We feel sorry for those who have the power to speak for art, and do not. We feel sorry for those whose souls are deaf to the voice of art.
- In the Catalogue of the 2nd exhibition of the 'Neue Künstlervereinigung', Munich, August 1910
- The impressions we receive, which often appear merely chaotic, consist of three elements; the impression of the color of the object, its form, and of its combined color and form, i.e., of the object itself. At this point the individuality of the artist comes to the front and disposes, as he wills, these three elements. It is clear, therefore, that the choice of object (i.e., of one of the elements in the harmony of form) must be decided only by a corresponding vibration in the human soul..
- Kandinsky, Munich, 1910; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 450
- 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 poop [?]..
- [Their] things [works of Die Brücke-artists] must be exhibited. But I think it is incorrect to immortalize them in the document [Almanac] of our modern art (and, this is what our book ought to be) or as a more or less decisive, leading factor. At any rate I am against large reproductions [of Die Brücke paintings in The Blaue Reiter Almanac].
- In a letter, to Franz Marc, 2 Febr. 1912, quoted in 'Lankheit 20'; as quoted in Movement, Manifesto, Melee: The Modernist Group, 1910-1914, Milton A. Cohen, Lexington Books, Sep 14, 2004, p. 71
- 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 indepenpient [?] 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. When we remember however, that spiritual experience is quickening, that positive science, the firmest basis of human thought is tottering, that dissolution of matter is imminent, we have reason to hope that the hour of pure composition is not far away. The first stage has arrived.
- from Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky, Munich, 1912; as quoted in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967, p. 15
- 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.
- In Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, eds. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, 2 Vols. (transl. Peter Vergo); 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
- In this painting ['Moscow'], I was in fact in quest for a certain hour, which was and which remains always the most beautiful hour of the day in Moscow. The sun is already low and has reached its highest force, which it has searched all the day, to which it has aspired all the day.. .The sun dissolves all Moscow in a spot, which as a frenzied tuba makes entered into vibration all the inner being, the whole soul.. .Rendering this hour seemed the biggest, the most impossible of the happiness for an artist. These impressions renewed every sunny day. They brought me a joy which shattered me until the bottom of the soul, and which reached until ecstasy.
- In: 'Looks on the past', Wassily Kandinsky, published in der Sturm, Berlin 1913
- Of the 16 years that I have been living in Germany, I have given myself entirely to the German art world. How am I now suddenly supposed to feel myself a foreigner? [because of the outbreak of world War 1. Kandinsky had to leave Germany because of his Russian nationality]
- I would love to paint a large landscape of Moscow — taking elements from everywhere and combining them into a single picture—weak and strong parts, mixing everything together in the same way as the world is mixed of different elements. It must be like an orchestra..
- Suddenly I felt that my old dream was closer to coming true. You know that I dreamt of painting a big picture expressing joy, the happiness of life and the universe. Suddenly I feel the harmony of colors and forms that come from this world of joy.
- In a letter to Gabriele Münter, June 1916; as quoted in lrike Becks-Malorny, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866–1944: The Journey to Abstraction [Cologne: Taschen, 1999], pp. 115, 118
- Kandinsky left Münter in Murnau in 1914, because the first World War started and Kandinsky had a Russian nationality
- I am working again on my painting 'Moscow' ['Moscow I' ('Mockba I'), 1916]. It is slowly taking shape in my imagination. And what was in the realm of wishing is now assuming real forms. What I have been lacking with this idea was depth and richness of sound, very earnest, complex, and easy at the same time.
- in a letter to Gabriele Münter, September 4, 1916; as quoted in Hans K. Rothel and Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume Two, 1916–1944; Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y, 1984, p. 580
- Kandinsky, Wassily – painter, printmaker and author – the first painter to base painting on purely pictorial means of expression and abandon objects in his pictures.
Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911
from: 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
"On the Problem of Form" (1912)
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.
- Autobiography, Wassily Kandinsky, 1918; as quoted in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967
- The first colours which made a strong impression on me were light juice green, white, crimson red, black and yellow ochre. These memories go back to the third year of my life. I saw these colours on various objects [houses and roofs, in Russia] which are not as clear in my mind as the colours themselves.
- p. 9
- ..emotion that I experienced on first seeing the fresh paint come out of the tube.. ..the impression of colours strewn over the palette: of colours – alive, waiting, as yet unseen and hidden in their little tubes...
- p. 9
- I thought that the painter had no right to paint so unclearly.. ..(but) the first faint doubt as to the importance of an 'object' as the necessary element in painting [Kandinsky is remembering his experience that he saw one of the 'Haystack' paintings of Monet, for the first time in his life, in Moscow (1895)].
- p. 10
- If the artist has outer and inner eyes for nature, nature rewards him by giving him inspiration.
- p. 14
- ..the long Russian word for creation: 'proisvedenie' - so different from its shorter counterparts in English, French and German - expresses for me the whole history and process of creation, lengthy, mysterious, infinitely complex and foreshadowed by divine predestination.
- footnote, p. 15
- The destruction of the atom [the split of it, in modern physics] seemed to me to be the same as the destruction of the world.. ..science to me appeared to be dead: its most important basis was only a lunacy, a mistake perpetrated by learned men.. ..who blindly mistook one object for another.
- p. 16
- [Art is] ..the mysterious expression of the mysterious..
- p. 17
- At that time [around 1904 – 1905] I tried, by means of lines and by distribution of mottled points of colours [in his tempera painting on paper: 'Russian Beauty in a Landscape', 1905] to express the musical spirit of Russia. Other pictures of that period reflected the contradictions and later the eccentricities of Russia.
- p. 29
- The horse carries the rider with power and speed. But the rider controls the horse. Talent carries the artist to great heights with power and speed. But the artist directs his talent. That is the element of 'consciousness', of 'calculation' in the work – or whatever else one chooses to call it.
- p. 31
- ..I let myself go.. [in Kandinsky's Murnau-period, painting in open air; c. 1908 – 1914] I thought little of the houses and trees, but applied colour stripes and spots to the canvas with the knife [as he learned then Gabriele Münter, they frequently painted together in open air] and made them sing out as strongly as I could. Within me sounded the memory of early evening in Moscow, before my eyes was the strong, colour-saturated scale of the Munich light and atmosphere, which thundered deeply in the shadows.
- p. 31
- In many ways art is similar to religion. Its development consists not in new discoveries which invalidate the old truths (as is obviously the case in science). Its development consists in sudden illuminations, similar to lightning, in explosions, which burst in the sky like fireworks.. ..this illumination shows with blinding light new perspectives, new truths, which are basically nothing but the organic development, the further organic growth of the earlier wisdom.. .Was the New Testament possible without the Old? Could our time, that of the threshold of the 'third' revelation, be thinkable without the second?
- p. 33
- Painting is a thundering conflict of different worlds, which in and out of the battle with one another are intended to create the new world, which is called the world of art. Each work arises technically in a way similar to that in which the cosmos arose – through catastrophes, which from the chaotic roaring of the instruments finally create a symphony, the music of the spheres. The creation of the work is the creation of worlds.
- p. 34
1920 - 1930
- You mention the circle and I agree with your definition.. ..why does the circle fascinates me? It is (1) the most modern form, but asserts itself unconditionally, (2) a precise but inexhaustible variable, (3) simultaneously stable and unstable, (4) simultaneously loud and soft, (5) a single tension that caries countless tensions within it. The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form, and in balance. Of the three primary forms (triangle, square, circle), it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.
- In a letter to Will Grohmann, c. 1926; as quoted in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967, p. 36
- We [ Franz Marc & Kandinsky] thought up the name [ Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider)] while sitting at a cafe table.. .Both of us were fond of blue things, [Franz] Marc of blue horses, and I of blue riders. So the title suggested itself.
- as quoted in Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work, Will Grohmann. H. N. Abrams, 1958 p. 78
- Content is nothing but the sum of organized tensions. From this point of view one can discover the basic identity of the rules of composition in all arts – always accepting that the arts can only represent their object materially by means of organised reactions.. ..already today one can safely assume that the roots of laws of composition are the same for art as they are for nature.
- In: 'Analysis of the Primary Elements of Painting', W. Kandinsky, 1928
"Point and line to plane" 1926
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.
1930 - 1944
- At the Bauhaus, Klee exuded a healthy, generative atmosphere – as a great artist and as a lucid, pure human being.
- quote of Kandinsky, from 'Bauhaus. Zeitschrift für Gestaltung', no. 3, 1931; as quoted in 'Klee & Kandinsky', 2015 exhibition text, Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau Munich, 2015-2016 
- Well, we will indeed see how things develop and what will become of our art! In any case, artists should remain apolitical and only think of their work and dedicate all their energies to this work.
- We do not want to leave Germany forever. Something I would not be able to manage at all, since my roots sit too deep in German soil.
- Approaching it in one way, I see no essential difference between a line one calls 'abstract' and a 'fish'. But rather an essential likeness. This isolated line and the isolated fish alike are living beings with forces peculiar to them, though latent. They are forces of expression for these beings and of expression on human beings, because each has an impressive 'look' which manifests itself by its expression. But the voice of these latent forces is faint and limited. It is the environment of the line and the fish that brings about a miracle: the latent forces awaken, the expression becomes radiant.. .The environment is the composition. The composition is the organized sum of the interior functions (expressions) of every part of the work.
- quote Kandinsky made in Paris, March 1935; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 451
- An empty canvas is a living wonder -- far lovelier than certain pictures.
- Quoted in: Myfanwy Evans Piper (1937) The Painter's Object. p. 53
- Alors sempre avanti! (Ever Forward / Always Ahead)
- Each spiritual age expresses its special character in a form which corresponds exactly to its character. Each age in this way characterizes its true 'physiognomy', full of expression and strength. Thus in all spiritual areas 'yesterday' is transformed into 'today'. But apart from this, art possesses a further quality which it alone possesses: that quality which enables one to divine the 'tomorrow' today – a strength which is both creative and prophetic.
- quote of Kandinsky's last theoretical statement (Paris, 1942); in Kandinsky, Frank Whitford, Paul Hamlyn Ltd, London 1967, p. 38
- Paris [1933 - 1944] with its wonderful (intense soft) light had relaxed my palette — there were other colors, other entirely new forms, and some that I had used years earlier. Naturally I did all this unconsciously.
- In a letter to Alfred Barr, Jr. (July 16, 1944 - the year that Kandinsky died); as quoted in Vivian Endicott Barnett, et al., Kandinsky, exh. cat. [New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2009], p. 70
Quotes about Kandinsky
- sorted chronologically, by date of the quote
- In your works, I sense primeval, bygone things wedded with mystical vibrations of spiritual possibilities for the future.
- Kandinsky’s teaching: scientifically rigorous examination of colour and form. Example: seek the corresponding elementary colour for the three forms (triangle, square and circle). It was decided that they are yellow for the triangle, blue for the circle and red for the square; so to say, once and for all.
- Kandinsky and Klee: the two artists.. ..have been named together more and more frequently.. .Since: is it supposed to be a mere coincidence that, in quiet, remote Dessau.. ..two creative spirits equally liberated from the burden of earthly problems – connecting East and West – live under one roof, or is it a wake-up call, a sign of what is to come?!
- Yesterday was shaped by Kandinsky's move.. .This departure is what proves something for me.. .It is a friendship that overcomes a number of negative items, because the plus side stands firm and, in particular, because there is a link to my productive youth [in Munich].
- Paul Klee, in a letter to his wife Lily Klee, 11 Dec. 1932; as quoted in 'Klee & Kandinsky', 2015 exhibition text, Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau Munich, 2015-2016 
- from Wikipedia: Following a Nazi smear campaign the Bauhaus academy left Dessau in 1932 for Berlin, until its dissolution in July 1933. Kandinsky then left Germany, settling in Paris
- Kandinsky understood 'Form' as a form, like an object in the real world; and an object, he said, was a narrative—and so, of course, he disapproved of it. He wanted his 'music without words'. He wanted to be 'simple as a child.' He intended, with his 'inner-self,' to rid himself of 'philosophical barricades' (he sat down and wrote something about all this). But in turn his own writing has become a philosophical barricade, even if it is a barricade full of holes. It offers a kind of Middle-European idea of Buddhism or, anyhow, something too theosophic for me.
- quote of Willem de Kooning (1951), from his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me' on the symposium 'What is Abstract At' - at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
- It was this apparent paradox, by which the so-called Abstract Expressionists.. ..are really far more sympathetic to wards Mondrian than towards Kandinsky. The Mondrian thing seems paradoxical only in relation to the Mondrian that people interpreted in the [nineteen-]thirties as a rather cold and static artist. Maybe it is only more recently that we have realised about the blinking that takes place at the intersection of the lines, of shuttling back and forth and so on, that Mondrian becomes in some ways a more dynamic artist than Kandinsky.
- ..[by making his work 'Onement', in 1948]..from then on I had to give up any relation to nature.. .That doesn't mean that I think my things are mathematical or removed from life. By 'nature' I mean something very specific. I think that some abstractions - for example Kandinsky's - are really nature paintings. The triangles and the spheres or circles could be bottles. They could be trees, or buildings. I think that in 'Euclydean Abyss' and 'Onement' I removed myself from nature. But I did not remove myself from life.
- Barnett Newman in an interview, April 1965, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'The Listener', Aug. 1972; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 37
- Total abstraction was something intellectual to me. I didn’t feel it.. ..I would go to the old Guggenheim [museum] to look at Kandinsky. I liked the early abstractions [from his Murneau period] but the later ones I didn’t like at all.
- quote of Helen Frankenthaler (1965) in an 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, p. 36
- The students' relationship to Kandinsky was very respectful.. .What he said was always insightful and more or less documented. In the case of Paul Klee, in contrast, everything was always up in the air. You could make what you wanted of it.
- Works by Wassily Kandinsky at Project Gutenberg
- . Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Retrieved on 2012-05-03.