Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1) by Wassily Kandinsky

(extracts)

Every work of art is the child of its age an , in many cases, the mother of our emotions.  … This all-important spark of inner life today is at present only a spark. Our minds, which are even only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet, past; it hold the awakening soul still in its grip.  Only a feeble light glimmers like a tiny star in a vast gulf of darkness. This feeble light is but a presentiment, and the soul, when it sees it, trembles in doubt whether the light is not a dream, and the gulf of darkness reality.  … Our soul rings cracked when we seek to play upon it, as does a costly vase, long buried in the earth, which is found to have a flew when it is dug up once more.  For this reason, the Primitive phase, through which we are now passing, with its temporary similarity of form, can only be for short duration.

These two possible resembles between the art forms of today and those of the past will be at once recognized as diametrically opposed to one another. The first, being purely external, has no future. The second, being internal, contains the seed of the future within itself. After the period of materialist effort, which held the soul in check until it was shaken off as evil, the soul is emerging, purged by trials and sufferings. Shapeless emotions such as fear, joy, grief, etc., which belonged to this time of effort, will no longer greatly attract the artist. He will endeavor to awake subtler emotions, as yet unnamed. Living himself a complicated and comparatively subtle life, his work will give to those observers capable of feeling them lofty emotions beyond the reach of words. …

What is the message of the competent artist? “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such is the duty of the artist,” said Schumann. “An artist is a man who can draw and paint everything,” said Tolstoi.

This condition of art is called “art for art’s sake.” This neglect of inner meanings, which is the life of colours, this vain squandering of artistic power is called “art for art’s sake.” The artist seeks for material reward for his dexterity, his power of vision and experience. His purpose becomes the satisfaction of vanity and greed. In place of the steady co-operation of artists is a scramble for good things. There are complaints of excessive competition, of over-production. Hatred, partisanship, cliques, jealousy, intrigues are the natural consequences of this aimless, materialist art.

The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is the movement of experience. It may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose. (to be continued)

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