Wassily Kandinsky, c. 1913 (or earlier)

Wassily Kandinsky, 16 December 1866 – 13 December 1944

I said I would write about color.


As Vermont turns white again, snow falling, shades of gray, splashes of green.
A hint of yellow on the chickadee’s flank, otherwise, all pert business,
all cheerful busy-body flirtation.
But spring-like. Certainly. As the days get longer.
As owls mate deep in the woods, their yellow eyes.

Speaking of little books (I’m thinking about In Praise of Shadows, which I wrote about in my last blog post), Wassily Kandinsky wrote one in 1911 Über das Geishge in der Kunst, in English, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which has become, ever since, a classic handbook, an artist’s bible.

I don’t pretend to understand fully this little book. But I do understand that it’s a manifesto about abstract art, an attempt to articulate a definition of art that doesn’t represent objects, that through line and color evokes mood, and creates a spiritual harmony between artist and viewer.

I love what Kandinsky writes about color:
Yellow is the typical earthly colour.
It can never have profound meaning.

Blue is the typical heavenly colour.
The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest.
When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human.

Green is the most restful colour that exists.
In the hierarchy of colours green is the “bourgoisie”—self-satisfied, immovable, narrow.

White has this harmony of silence … White has the appeal of the nothingness that is
before birth, of the world in the ice age.
The unbounded warmth of red has not the irresponsible appeal of yellow, but rings
inwardly with a determined and powerful intensity. It glows in itself, maturely.

So, no wonder I feel harmonious as I look out on the snow, and on chickadees darting from branch to branch in a snow-laden apple tree; I feel grounded in this beautiful old earth which somehow continues to live.

A red dress, a red blob. Next time you gaze at a canvas, think about the artist’s inner need—her ideas, feelings—that led her to paint a red dress or a red blob—think about it from her point of view and then yours—how red affects your ideas and feelings.

Then there are all those shades of red.

Kandinsky says near the end of Concerning the Spiritual in Art,
That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, with springs from the soul.

And don’t forget what he says about violet:
Violet is . . . a cooled red . . . rather sad and ailing. It is worn by old women, and in China as a sign of mourning.

No wonder I find pansies sweet with a melancholy tinge.