Kandinsky: The Artist Who Listened to Colors


The Artist Who Listened to Colors

Colors produce a corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical impression is of importance. (Wassily Kandinsky)

If you have fallen in love with the works of Kandinsky, you may be inclined to be mystical and musical and perhaps mathematical. You may also consider yourself an outsider, someone who finds a comfort Zone outside of the box. You may be fascinated delving into the esoteric or hidden teachings of philosophers and mystics. You may be a seeker, someone willing to consider alternate realities, and like Neo in the Matrix, willing to take the “red pill,” or like Alice, quite happy to venture down the rabbit hole. You probably asked lots of questions as a child (or wanted to), such as, “Is there a God? Why are kids starving in China? Are my teachers always right? How many stars are there in the sky? Why am I here?” I always found myself asking and wondering and living in my imagination. But, if you only like representational art and believe real art must imitate real things, that one must draw a cat to look exactly like a cat, Kandinsky is not your cup of tea, or coffee, or in my case a latte.

Kandinsky is my soy caramel latte.

Kandinsky, one of my favorite artists, speaks to me even though he died before I was born. He was part of an artistic revolution that took place in Europe before World War 1 in Europe, and spanned several decades. Unlike me, he was born into an Orthodox Christian family in a small town in Russia, and drew upon the Jewish and Christian stories of his childhood and the mythic themes and symbols of his heritage. He was a genius who drew impeccably and was a brilliant master of his craft. He took art and his insights as a spiritual seeker and mystic to a level where his inner vision fused with his art. He redefined the prevailing world view of what it meant to be an artist.

His paintings resemble the stuff of our dreams and imaginations rather than actual renderings of nature. To me, they look like sacred geometry. They look like language, like sheet music, like communication from outer space. He uses line and color as instruments and his work feels musical. Perspective is manipulated and the archaic laws of art making broken, as Kandinsky continued to experiment with new forms of expression and engaged in cutting edge artistic movements (such as the Bauhaus in the 1930’s), and with other artists of his time.

Gallery Heart by Kandinsky

Kandinsky is believed to have had synaesthesia – a gift that enables a person to appreciate sounds, colors or words with two or more senses simultaneously. He was able to hear colors and painted marks that triggered particular sounds or musical notes and vice versa. Synaethesia is supposedly a brain wiring issue that is found in one in twenty people. This ability to hear color, see music or even taste words informed Kandinsky’s work. To those of us without this exceptional perception, this is miraculous, mystifying, and sparks our yearning to go beyond the limits of our own senses. Kandinsky brings us into contact with his extra-sensory perception.

The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble… (Wassily Kandinsky)

The Artist as Revolutionary

Like many of his contemporaries, some of his works were confiscated in a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit “Degenerate Art,” and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc, and other modern artists). It saddens me that so much beauty gets lost or destroyed by zealot political leaders – tyrannical dictators fear that freedom of expression (art forms not created to support their propaganda) threatens their power. And, they are correct because art in its various forms – from the written word to painting – is powerful, and ideas are catalysts for change. A society is diminished without freedom of artistic expression. Without the joy, excitement, and energy of the archetypal artist energy, culture dies and the spirit languishes. Artists and intellectuals are always targeted as anti-social, subversive, and dangerous to the totalitarian regimes. Those of us who know this need to continue creating and making a stand to support the role of art and artists in society. And most importantly, be true to our own muse

Artists always push the envelope and must continue to break their own boundaries to evolve. Kandinsky believed the avaunt-garde of today will become common knowledge tomorrow. He saw himself as a kind of modern artist prophet who must often stand alone at the apex of a new discovery in order to usher in tomorrow’s reality. In this way, artists of today stand on the shoulders of the pioneers of the past who broke with tradition, whose work was often ridiculed, who were sometimes imprisoned or persecuted, but continued to remain true to their visions. These artist were visionaries who inspire us to follow our own visions, be true to ourselves, and follow our hearts.



Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul. (Wassily Kandinsky)


Filed under Artists I Love, Artsy Stuff, Topics I Love, Topics I Love

14 responses to “Kandinsky: The Artist Who Listened to Colors

  1. This article is fantastic!

  2. I loved this post! I had never heard about Kandinsky before, but now I love his work and ideas. Thank you for sharing all of this!

  3. I’d heard about Kandinsky, but I never explored his art or life much. Your first paragraph described me perfectly, so I guess I’m an innate lover of Kandinsky. Brilliant art. Thank you for introducing me to this visionary.
    {{{Hugs]}} Kozo

  4. Have enjoyed Kandinsky’s works in Museums, but did not know about synaethesia. But when I thought about it, decided I process in reverse mostly, seeing colors when I listen to music. That’s an exciting new awareness. Love it. Thank you. And thanks for your comments on my posts and my blog. Have you read a delightful little book, The Zen of Cats? Something fun, and spiritually insightful, that increased my awareness of tactile spiritual connections.

  5. Fabulous post, Kartika! I’ve always loved and admired the work of Kandinsky, and your post inspires me further to go back and revisit more of his phenomenal paintings. Looking forward to reading more of your writing!

    • Hi Patricia, thanks so much for taking time to visit and read this – Kandinsky is such an inspiration – what a visionary! Even though I cannot hear color the way he did, he makes me feel the magic! Cheers! Kartika 🙂

  6. I like that you call synaesthesia a gift – it is…

  7. I grew up loving Kandinsky and Klee and Matisse because my brother, 16 years older than me and an artist (MFA from Sac State) used to talk to me about Kandinsky’s ideas, the main one being that idea that to draw a butterfly is to imitate rather than create. No that any of these great artists didn’t revere all of the masters before them; they did; they were just making the point you so beautifully make in quoting and interpreting them, that art is beyond the 3-dimensional limits and that color is spiritual. My mother taught me about karma and reincarnation when I was very young and I remember she and my brother theorizing that my brother was Klee reincarnated because of the similarities in work. http://www.jayjayart.com/Stegall/Stegall_bio.html

    great article!

    • Hi Wendy, thanks girlfriend for your wise and erudite comments – you are an art aficionado par excellance! I’m so happy to learn your brother in and incarnation of the great Paul Klee – it must be a wee bit intimidating though – especially for the likes of people like you and me. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Kandinsky: The Artist Who Listened to Colors | Inspiration and Light by Guy Harvey

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