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.
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)