Principles of Nature: towards a new visual language
© copyright 2003-2008 Wayne Roberts. All rights reserved. 

Kandinsky - law and the counterpoint of intuitive improvisation in art

The web pages of this section of the site are largely based upon (or quoted from) the chapter, Connections between 20th century art & science, in the author's book, Principles of nature; towards a new visual language WA Roberts P/L Canberra 2003.

Kandinsky was born and raised in Moscow and although trained in law and on the brink of taking up an internship with a law firm, turned instead to art as his preferred profession, working for extended periods in Germany (including teaching at the renowned Bauhaus), and, eventually spending the last decade of his life painting in Paris.

He is considered by many to be a key early twentieth century exponent of abstraction in the visual arts and, like many of his contemporaries with similar ideals and aspirations, his inspiration was fueled by the seemingly enigmatic powers of music (as an abstract form of art) upon the human emotions.

Kandinsky was in possession of a great intuitive faculty. He trusted implicitly the vision of the 'inner eye' and was involved with theosophical ideas and teaching. Yet, perhaps partly because of his background in law, he was able to balance the freedom of the spontaneous, the gestural, the irregular, with a more analytical, empirical rigour. He was able to perceive that there could be such a thing as 'regular irregularity', in which opposites could co-exist. And he prophetically saw that there could be such a thing as a ‘mathematics of the irregular'... ( W. Kandinsky, 1911, p. 52). .(W. Roberts, 2003, p. 65)


Divergent effects of 'science' upon Kandinsky


Kandinsky was one such artist whose sensibility was profoundly affected by the findings of contemporary research at the turn of the century: ‘The collapse of the atom was equated in my soul, with the collapse of the whole world. Suddenly the stoutest walls crumbled. Everything became uncertain, precarious and insubstantial.’ (T. Parsons & I Gale, 1994, p. 261).

Yet it was an experience of 'the insubstantial' that appears to have liberated him from the mundanity of 'the material'. This is part of his account of having seen one of Monet's Haystacks paintings ... in an Impressionists’ exhibition in Moscow,

And suddenly for the first time I saw a picture. That it was a haystack [or rather, a grain stack], the catalogue informed me. I didn’t recognise it … And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably upon my memory Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour. And, albeit unconsciously, objects were discredited as an essential element within the picture.(T. Parsons & I Gale, 1994, p. 255)

He went on to become one of the greatest exponents of ‘the inner way’ and ‘inner meaning’. At first, his apparently abstract work was seen to contain the vestiges of earlier content and form: mountains, riders, oarsmen, soldiers. But soon even these were relinquished in many of his Improvisations and his more formal Compositions. Kandinsky's free Improvisations and Compositions had a tremendous irregular balance about them. His 1911 book Concerning the Spiritual in Art in which he expounded 'the inner way' and 'inner necessity' went on to become a classic of his times, and was instrumental in disseminating the new ideology; a book which was to modern art, a foundation, a dissertation of creed-like first principles. (W. Roberts, 2003, pp. 57-65)

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