Never Doubt the Intentions of the Universe

Vasily Kandinsky

Improvisation no. 30 (Warlike Themes) by Vasily Kandinsky, 1913


It’s quite ironic that this Kandinsky should be our first piece under discussion. I was a bit apprehensive about what the universe would choose, fearing that it would be something I wouldn’t be familiar with and uncomfortable writing about. I should have had more faith. Hilariously, I stacked the deck by 1) choosing Stokstad to find the image – very heavy in ancient art, my specialty and by 2) putting my fingers more toward the first 1/3 of the book, greatly increasing my chances of a work prior to the Renaissance. Little did I know, that I had grabbed the book upside down (the cover has been long gone, leaving just the plain orange cloth cover) and what I opened to was modernism and Kandinsky, a long time love of mine. I felt the universe laughing at me. So let’s talk about this piece.

Kandinsky was an early 20th Century Russian painter who was strongly influenced by the Post-Impressionists (disintegration of the object), Symbolists and Fauves (use of color). Kandinsky had first observed the disintegration of the object in a work by Monet and pursued the total elimination of the representational in his own work which he eventually achieved.

Kandinsky was also greatly concerned with the spirituality of color. He believed that color spoke directly to the soul and that the observer did not have to understand the symbolism of his painting in order to come along on the journey. Kandinsky explains that “Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.” He explored his philosophy of color and form in a small book titled Concerning the Spiritual in Art published in 1911 (the above quote is taken from this work). He painted Improvisation no. 30 (Warlike themes) after its publication and it reflects many of the themes which he explores in the book.

This work was painted during his most prolific period where he was working with his artistic philosophy concerning form and color. Though there are distinct references to objects: canons, buildings, churches and people, these forms are so indistinct and dreamlike, it’s easy to get lost in the mix of line and color and forget they’re even there. I’m also very moved by color (That’s why I’m such a fan!) and I get swept away in the mix of hues here which are exactly my favorite tones (I just painted my living room that green blue near the building with the windows). I find them exhilarating and energizing, which certainly adds to the excitement of the action portrayed. It is easy to see the dematerialization and the emphasis of the mélange of swirling color which is so prevalent in Kandinsky’s philosophy about art.

The energy of the painting comes from the strong contrasts of complex warm and cool tones. A large burst of white juts into the black of the sky; a large black shadow emerges from an orange background; blues beside yellows beside reds all creating a landscape wholly independent from the sketches of the objects. Only the canons, interestingly enough, connect form with color. This juxtaposition of form and color creates a jarring vibration and discordance which emphasizes the narrative. I really love the building with the windows which seem to show a face in horror witnessing the scene.

The war theme of the work is also interestingly relevant today and without much thought-shifting, our current military engagements could be easily read in the painting with the sandy-colored hills and mosque-looking structure in the upper left. Only the canons give away an earlier age while all the energy and emotion of battle are still so relevant.

So what do you think of this work? Do Kandinsky’s colors speak directly to your soul? How do you react to the dematerialization of the objects in this painting? Does it add to the experience that Kandinsky is trying to create or does the meaning get lost for you?

~ by fultonm2010 on January 6, 2011.

One Response to “Never Doubt the Intentions of the Universe”

  1. I really enjoy the vibrant colors in this abstract creation by Kadinsky. I like the quote which compares color to a keyboard. This painting does have a musical flow to it. Despite the apparent war theme it is calming. I keep looking at it over and over again to see more… to see what is hidden on my first encounter. Thank you for sharing this expressive Kadinsky painting.

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