Born in Moscow, Vasily Kandinsky (b. 1866, d. 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) spent his early childhood in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine). His parents instilled in him a love of music that led him to pursue a kind of painting that could be as abstract and emotional as music. Many of the titles that Kandinsky gives to his paintings are terms more usually associated with music, and he classified each as coming from a different inspiration (Roann Barris, “The Spaces of Spirituality and Absolute Abstraction: Kandinsky,” Radford University).
Impressions Direct impressions of “external nature” expressed in a drawing/ painting form
Improvisations Paintings which were inspired by “events of the spiritual type”
Compositions Works which were less spontaneous than either of the other two categories because they were shaped and worked out in a series of studies over a long period of time
Several of Kandinsky’s abstract canvases share a literary source, the Revelation of Saint John the Divine. Revelation brings together the worlds of heaven, earth, and hell in a final confrontation between the forces of good and evil. The plot of the story proper (ch. 4–22) is driven by a powerful conflict between the forces, both earthly and spiritual, of good and evil. In the simplest terms, it states that there will be a time of great tribulation on the Earth that combines natural disasters with war on an unprecedented scale, followed by an age of peace where a new heaven and a new earth replace the old. Kandinsky described his Improvisations series as manifestations of events of an inner spiritual character. WithImprovisation 28 (Second Version) (Improvisation 28 [zweite Fassung]), his style had become more abstract and nearly schematic in its spontaneity. This painting’s sweeping curves and forms, which dissolve significantly but remain vaguely recognizable, seem to reveal cataclysmic events on the left and symbols of hope and the paradise of spiritual salvation on the right (V. E. Barnett, et al., Kandinsky, p. 182). In the painting images of a boat and waves (signalling the global deluge) emerge on the left, while the paradise of spiritual salvation appears on the right.
Show: Improvisation 28 (second version) (Improvisation 28 [zweite Fassung]), 1912
- Describe this painting as carefully as you can.
- What areas are puzzling or difficult to identify?
- Recognizable symbols appear to be embedded in this painting including a boat, waves, a serpent, an embracing couple, a shining sun, candles and, perhaps, cannons. What other symbols can you identify?
- Historians have noted that there is a marked difference between the mood Kandinsky created on the left side of this painting and the right side. What choices has the artist made to impart a different emotional impact?
- Imagine yourself taking a journey through this painting. Where would you enter? Look around and describe what you see, your route, and what you might discover along the way.
- Kandinsky’s titles for his paintings reflect the influence of music on his thinking about art. What type of music do you think Improvisation 28 (second version) suggests? Ask students to each select a piece of music that for them has some of the same emotional qualities. Project the painting while each of the musical selections is played. Have students discuss which music best complements the painting.
believed that art should express the inner character of
their surface appearance. His work seeks to reveal this
through shape, line, and color. Provide each student with
sheets of drawing paper and drawing materials that
(colored pencils, Craypas, or crayons are fine). Ask
create non-objective compositions to express these
words through the
use of line, shape, and color only:
Display the completed works and discuss. What similarities can be seen in how different students interpreted the same word? Are there unique responses as well? As you view the students’ work, are there conclusions that can be drawn about how people interpret emotions through certain colors, shapes, and lines?
- Kandinsky explored the epic and
enduring theme of the struggle
between good and evil. Create a work
of art—a painting, sculpture,
story, poem, dance, or musical
piece—that focuses on this theme in
any way that is relevant to you.
- The paintings that Kandinsky titled
Impressions and Improvisations
were generated from his responses to
nature and spiritual beliefs.
The paintings called Compositions
reflect a greater degree of
input from the conscious mind. Have
students use one of these
approaches to create a painting. After the
painting is complete,
ask each student to write about his or her
inspiration and process
to explore these various approaches.
- Kandinsky orchestrated his paintings
to balance things that were
recognizable with areas of pure painting.
He understood that people
might need a few recognizable symbols to
get them engaged in
looking. In “Cologne Lecture” (1914) (Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, p. 396. Original Source: a
handwritten text preserved among his papers. The text is eight pages
long as reprinted) he stated,
“I did not wish to banish objects completely. . . Objects, in themselves, have a particular spiritual sound. . . . Thus, I dissolved objects to a greater or lesser extent within the same picture, so that they might not all be recognized at once and so that these emotional overtones might thus be experienced gradually by the spectator.”
Discuss this statement with your students and ask whether or not they agree with Kandinsky’s tactic.