The Father of the Abstract Art: Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky Portrait

Wassily Kandinsky, who is credited as a pioneer of abstract art, surprisingly enough, hadn't picked up a brush until the age of thirty. Before he began his journey leading to an impressive career as a painter and art theorist, he had already built a successful career in law and was even offered a professorship at the University of Dorpat as the Chair of Roman Law. 


During a tour in Russia, the young law professor was very moved by some of the artworks he saw. Among them, one of Claude Monet’s ‘Haystacks’ later proved to be an important milestone on his path to abstraction. He later recalls his encounter with this artwork: "And once I saw the painting for the first time. It seemed to me that it was impossible to guess without a catalogue that it was a haystack. This lack of clarity was unpleasant to me: I thought that the painter had no right to paint so unclearly..." This was a revelation that led him to invest his energy into art and explore the possibilities of it. It was also after this tour that he decided to go to Munich to pursue his newfound passion for painting. 

Claude Monet Haystack

"Haystacks, Midday" by Claude Monet 

After spending many years in Europe delving into his artistic endeavours Kandinsky returns to Russia following the outbreak of World War I. Here he starts to teach at the universities and becomes more and more involved with art theory. He often articulates his now-famous thoughts on art, soul and how they relate to each other. He regards art as a kind of a spiritual need, almost food for the soul. Both creating and experiencing art happens at a very spiritual level as well as physical. He talks about a double effect an artwork evokes; The first one being the physical perception of the colours, which he compares to enjoying a tasty delicacy. The second is, as he put it, "...causing a vibration of the soul or an "inner resonance"—a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself." 


In his quest for feeding the soul, Wassily Kandinsky creates a strong connection between music, colours, and forms. In his mind, he breaks the barriers between different forms of art. For him material distinctions between image, sound and words are arbitrary. They melt away and become a force that shakes the spirit and eventually the world. It’s no wonder, to this day his vibrant paintings are widely appreciated, studied and reproduced by many. 


An important factor to his fluid perception of different mediums was that he had a unique condition called synesthesia. Meaning that certain stimulations evoked sensations in him which are specific to other sensory organs, like hearing the colours or seeing the sounds. So he would often talk about colours as visual equivalents of certain sounds and feelings. And he was very specific about what each represented. 


According to him red is a fiery colour of an immaterial and restless character and resembles the light tones of a violin.
Orange’s radiant sensation emits health and sounds like a baritone or viola.
Yellow is disturbing and evokes delirium, its sound is that of a trumpet.
Green lacks dynamism as it evokes calm and passivity. It sounds like the deep tones of a violin.
Blue is a pure and immaterial colour and its sound resembles a flute, a cello, or an organ. He was especially fond of blue.
Violet is conceived as a slow, dull colour associated with mourning and old age and reminds the sound of a bagpipe. 
White is where material colour disappears and turns into a feeling of pure joy. It is a silence full of possibilities, a musical pause. 

    "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, 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 

    Wassily Kandinsky Abstract Art

    Wassily Kandinsky and his cat Vaske, circa 1906

    Of course, to appreciate Kandinsky’s artwork you don’t have to agree with him about what each colour represent to you. You don’t have to be a synesthete either. If you listen, his paintings will start singing to you as soon as you put one on your wall. 

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