Above: “Composition VII” (1913) by Wassily Kandinsky – In Collection At: The State Tretyakov Gallery
Review: Artsy-Editorial – Kandinsky’s How To Be An Artist
“I came across a fascinating editorial article on the Artsy website, written by author Rachel Lebowitz, about a master artist whom I deeply admire, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. As I always do in my blog’s, I will interpret this article and apply it to my personal experience and practice in the arts.
Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus for an 11-year period and detailed his art theories in books. He had complex and detailed ideas to convey about the practice and philosophy of art. This Artsy Editorial focused his ideas into five points of interest or “lessons”. Although I feel they are interesting “lessons” for my own painting practices I really believe they show only 5 of a complex and involved philosophy of the past master Kandinsky.
The true depth of Kandinsky’s concepts are in his books he authored. The first book he wrote was titled ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ (1911). Within this book he laid out his tenets for artistic creation as a spiritual act. Kandinsky wrote a book called ‘In Point and Line to Plane’ (1926) in which he expands on elements such as rhythm and amplification. Each of these books delve in detail into his progressive practice and exploration as both a painter and tutor and could be of great interest if you wish to read about Kandinsky’s theories of practice.
The article author Rachel Lebowitz states:
“…Kandinsky did not intend for his theories to be prescriptive. Art making, he insisted, was about freedom. Nevertheless, there are several lessons that artists should heed if they are to meet Kandinsky’s requirements.” (1)
In my opinion, this article describes how Kandinsky felt his theories as ideas which can be drawn from, by artists. Therefore, although this article refers to each point as “lessons”, my opinion is that I do not think they should be so finite, maybe they should be guides, not lessons.
Kandinsky did not intend for his theories to be prescriptive. Art making, he insisted, was about freedom. Nevertheless, there are several lessons that artists should heed if they are to meet Kandinsky’s theories.
We start with five below that where highlighted in the Artsy article and the five “Lessons” are as follows:
Above: Wassily Kandinsky ‘Dreamy Improvisation’ (1913)
– In Collection At: Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.
Lesson #1: Express your inner world, not the latest artistic trends
If we reflect on the history of art, it is littered with ever changing movements in art, which I feel could be referred to as “trends”. I always want to stay true to who I am as both a person and artist; therefore, I always draw on who I am as a person, with my artworks interpreting my persona and life experiences. I try to not focus on external trends and influences towards my work, but I do use this to progress and push my ideas forward.
The meaning of the word “merit” or the phrase I would chose to use is “artistic merit”. This phrase was not 100% clear to me when considering if that was directly relevant, so I looked up the definition of “artistic merit”:
“Artistic merit is a crucial term, as pertains to visual art. However, many people fail to distinguish between the problem of distinguishing art from non-art and the problem of distinguishing good art from bad art. In many cases, people claim that such-and-such object is “not art” or “not real art” when they intend to say that they do not consider it to be good or successful art.” (3)
I believe that art trends are interwoven with the concept of “artistic merit” or what people consider the value in art is always subjective; therefore, it is intrinsically linked with “artistic trends”.
Above: Wassily Kandinsky ‘Composition in red and black’ (1920) – In Collection At: The State Museum of Art, Tashkent
Lesson #2: Don’t paint things. Paint in abstract form
I understand the thought behind this lesson; however, I do not agree with blanket opinions on what an artist should or shouldn’t create.
On a personal level, lesson #2 has an interesting point regarding my own artistic journey and practice. Over the years I have always had the desire to further abstract my ideas and this is a style that I now feel freedom and peace within. However, I am talking about my work and this does not apply to each artist.
Above: ‘Mirage’ (2016) by Laura H Elliott
Every artist interprets life in their own individual way. This reiterates that art is highly subjective and also highlights how trends can impact in the arts and highlights how lesson #1 is hard to follow.
It was during the time when I was 16-18 years old that I had a teacher who always pushed me into direct replication or realism. This was evident in both her projects she gave us and her regular interventions when I was creating artworks. It was only aged 17, that I rejected her beliefs and I began to create what I wanted. It was at this age when I created an abstract sculpture. This piece was inspired by Picasso and based on an amphibian, often named as a ‘Jesus Lizard’ as it runs across the surface of water.
When I was 25 I began studying an Art and Media Diploma. It was during this time I was guided by a vastly different, vibrant tutor who encouraged a self-directed practices. It was a refreshing change and has directly contributed to my current practices to this day.
The article states how art is an “…outward manifestation of the artist’s psyche—of his or her authentic thoughts and feelings” (1).
I was 25 when I returned to studying and practicing art, having worked in the nursing field for years. I left behind direct ‘replicas’ of the world I saw around me and began to relax and move towards abstraction or simplification in my art. I find my abstract work a relaxing and deeply enjoyable experience, a new freedom. I think this lesson does not address how complex and intricate the process of development is an artists and, therefore, this lesson is not a belief I would support.
Above: Wassily Kandinsky ‘Gespannt im Winkel’ (1930)
– In Collection At: Collection Kunstmuseum Bern
Lesson #3: Approach color as a window into the human soul
The article states that inspiration for Kandinsky was found in the
“…Fauvist paintings he saw while living in Paris from 1906 to 1907—with their wild hues that were entirely divorced from the real world—proved to be even more influential. Embracing this type of freedom in color.” (1)
I think this encompasses my own practice and passion. I find freedom in colours, with each choice expressing my inner emotions and moods, allowing them to be expressed to the world. When I paint in an abstract expressionist style it allows me to relax and find true solace from both my mental and physical disabilities. In a way, they are a window into my soul and the soul of every artist, including Kandinsky.
Wassily Kandinsky ‘Violett’ (1923) – In Collection At: Redfern Gallery Ltd.
Lesson #4: Inject rhythm into your painting, like a musical score
I am not sure how to explain my own work in relation to music. I have had a deep seated passion and ear for music and the layers contained in every piece I hear. I have previously written about the impact of music on my work and this passion and inspiration has not dissipated. Granted, I do not deafen both myself and family with heavy metal anymore, but I listen and enjoy all types and styles as time passes.
Above: ‘Joy’ (2003) by Laura H Elliott
This article says Kandinsky felt “…as an artist used colors, he or she was in effect playing different musical notes, causing [he said] vibrations in the soul” (1).
Different colours resonate with each of us in different ways and this is how I interpret this idea by Kandinsky. When collectors buy my work, I see a tangible response and this could be the vibrations Kandinsky speaks of.
The article goes on to state that “…a painting would do well to be composed like a musical score.” I see a rhythm in all artworks, but I interpret this in an emotional response due to the person I am: emotional, complex and passionate.
I use my art as a therapy and see vibrations as emotion during and after creating each piece of work. My work since 2016 has contained a new wave of colours and this might enhance and develop my work like a piece of music, thus creating a rhythm.
Wassily Kandinsky ‘Composition’ (1925) – In Collection at: Leila Heller Gallery
Lesson #5: By creating original work, you will further the cause of humanity
This is a grandeous statement, however, I agree with its sentiment. It has to be said that art has been academically proven to be a key component in our lives and well-being, a therapy, so lesson #5 is the truth. Speaking for myself, art is a fundamental part of who I am as a individual and gives me clarity, solace and strength.
Above: ‘Forever Grateful’ by Laura H Elliott
I have to agree with lesson #5 as it highlights my own belief in work as an artist. I truly believe that art helps humanities living and well-being, despite the commonly held point of view that art is not as fundamentally important as academic areas.”
So….What do you think of Kandinsky’s five lessons?
Wassily Kandinsky ‘Untitled’ (1921) – In Collection At: Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel
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