Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kandinsky's Theories (1)

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) is one of the best-known 20th-century artists (he is regarded as the originator of abstract art), but he did not begin painting studies until he was 30. Kandinsky had previously studied Law and Economics at the University of Moscow and was evidently very successful, because he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat (Estonia).

And I thought I was a late starter… [ 3 ] ←

In addition to his accomplishments as a painter (visit this website to see his paintings and learn more about him: https://www.artsy.net/artist/wassily-kandinsky), he was also a theorist with strong convictions about the role of art and the artist in society, and more painting-specific issues such as colour theories (he believed that certain colors have an affinity for certain shapes; see more here).

My friend and fellow composer John Oliver wrote a blog ("Artist's Statement") in which he cites Kandinsky's three "mystical necessities" that define artwork of lasting value: The Personal, The Ephemeral, and The Eternal. This topic—the role of the artist—fascinates me, and it's something I try to get my students to think about, so I will follow my own advice about not getting too hung-up on originality (see: Is Originality a Detriment in Art?, How Important is Originality in Art?, and Originality — Does it have Any Role in Art? ) and reproduce John's Kandinsky quote below:

1. Every artist, as creator, must express what is peculiar to oneself (element of personality).

2. Every artist as a child of his time, must express what is peculiar to one's own time (elements of style ...)

3. Every artist, as servant of art, must express what is peculiar to art in general (element of the pure and eternally artistic which pervades every individual, every people, every age, and which is to be seen in the works of every artist, of every nation, and of every period, and which, being the principal elements of art, knows neither time nor space).


I will also add another quote from the same booklet, entitled "On the Spiritual in Art" (the publication date of which I have seen listed as 1910, 1911, and 1912 at various places on the Internet). Kandinsky also wrote:

Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated.

Okay; lots to think about there, but this is getting long, so more later!


  • [ 3 ] I decided to become a musician after finishing my BA (humanities) degree. The decision was a rather odd one, in retrospect, because I could barely read music and couldn't play any instrument particularly well. Recognizing that my severe lack of musical skills could get in the way becoming a musician, I began the formal study of music (rudiments) in my twenties, and continued on weekends, evenings, and off-hours while working at a variety of jobs (bus information operator, stereo/electronics sales, department store sales clerk) over the next 15 years, leading eventually (and improbably) to a doctorate in composition. [ ↑ ]
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    9 comments:

    Melissa said...

    "1. Every artist, as creator, must express what is peculiar to oneself (element of personality).
    2. Every artist as a child of his time, must express what is peculiar to one's own time (elements of style ...)
    3. Every artist, as servant of art, must express what is peculiar to art in general (element of the pure and eternally artistic which pervades every individual, every people, every age, and which is to be seen in the works of every artist, of every nation, and of every period, and which, being the principal elements of art, knows neither time nor space)"

    This is interesting. I have never considered myself as a "Servant of art". I like that statement. I think that that gives what we are doing a new meaning (for me anyway) and a new approach. I am still stuck in the mindset that I must write music that sounds "good" to me, and something that I think others will like. I tend to always forget that I can pick and emotion (that is what this particular project is helping me with) or a place or time and write about that. I tend to go for a more "scientific" way of writing.

    I like it.

    Kim Codner said...

    Last year I studied Kandinksy's paintings in Music history... there were some beautiful images, and some very abstract messages. Theres something I found so cool about his paintings in relationship to music: He called many of his spontaneous paintings "improvisations" and his more complex, elaborate works "compositions".
    This is interesting to me in the context of music and arts relating. One can sit down and improvise and play beautifully, and it can be a work of art, like painting, spontaneous mixing of colors and shapes can be beautiful. On the other hand, we can also spend time on perfecting something they would like to have structured and perfected. We can plan out a composition or painting so that we hear or see exactly what we would like. Both improvisations and compositions can 1) express personality, and 2) express style of the the given time period.

    I dont understand the 3rd point of the Quote. Help? What I understand of it is that we are servants of art (aka we make art to please patrons and to continue to make it flourish and grow- am i right?)
    And as servants we must find elements in the arts that are unique... ?

    -Kim

    Kim Codner said...

    Follow up from last post-

    I just asked Kalen what he thought about statement number 3 and that i just didnt understand it and his thoughts were pretty intriguing..

    I'll share...

    What I was (and maybe still am) confused about is why the word "peculiar" was written in the quotes. I was thinking of the word peculiar as something odd/strange. But really there are several different meanings. As kalen pointed out, the british/english definition of the word peculiar is
    "belonging exclusively to".

    So.. rearranging the phrase gives us something like [Every artist, as a servant of art, must express what is "original" or "unique" to the the artists, and every individual, that knows neither space or time.

    Every artist is unique... if not, they are merely imitators. Thats my opinion!

    -Kim

    Heidi said...

    After reading Kandinsky's thoughts, I immediately countered the argument that music of a certain time period ("child" of a certain age) cannnot be recreated. I thought to myself "self- lots of people can write music in the Baroue style or romantic style and make it indistinguishable from the real thing".
    But then i thought "self- what if baroque music is only really truly baroque if it's played in the baroque period to baroque people in the exact baroque way it was intended?". You can see where me and myself were going with this. Is Baroque music truly baroque if it's played in the 21st century? Haven't we already changed it by displacing it a few hundred years? Don't our well-tempered, atonally-accustomed ears recieve it differently??? or maybe not.
    Music is evanescent. It transcends time completely different from a painting hung on a wall. It exists only in the moment- even if recorded.
    Is music enslaved to its created time culture? Is it unequivically changed when displaced to a different era?

    Kim Codner said...

    Heidi-
    Thats deep thoughts sista. ;)
    We don't know how baroque music really sounded because we didn't live in it. And we play on different sounding instruments these days as well.
    Harpsichord/Organ music is frequently played on piano today, etc...

    Michael Bramble said...

    I have to disagree with Kim. Sure no one alive today was alive in the Baroque period, but that doesn't mean we don't know what Baroque music sounded like. First there were books published during the Baroque period on methods of playing the keyboard, including once by CPE Bach, which is a encapsulation of his fathers performing practice. Now I agree that we may read a book differently today then we did back then, but to counter that arguement I have to bring attention to musicians who by 4 or 5 steps can trace their teaching lineage to Handel, Vivaldi or Bach. So how much can change if 4 students/teachers were trying their hardest to emulate the elder.

    To tie this in with the Kadinsky theory. Although we are not in the Baroque period, I believe there is such an existence of Baroque music. It can exist through performance practice (which I agree can differ and vary a lot) but also Baroque music can exist in modern compositions. True pillars of baroque composition, say counterpoint, imitative writing, is still fundamental to many composers. So a musical artist, as a servant of art, can be a servant of different arts, even the Baroque Arts. In the Baroque period and Renaissance many influential people were artists of the Greek arts, and none of them were alive in ancient Greece.


    If anyone is interested I have a journal article by Ton Koopman where he met a keyboard player in small town England, who still played with English virginal fingerings of the Renaissance period. When asked why he played with this style of playing he responded "It is how I was taught, It is all I know."

    Tim Purdy said...

    I am going to write mostly dealing with the following quote; "Every artist, as creator, must express what is peculiar to oneself (element of personality)."

    I thought this was great. As a musician since five when I began taking piano lessons, there have been some pieces that I have absolutely loved to learn, practice and perform. That being said, there are some that I have struggled with practicing not because of the difficulty level (although there have been many of those too!) but just the fact that I found nothing peculiar about piece, and I found my personality did not relate to what I was playing at all. I think that this point is very relevant to composition. Chances are that the pieces you gravitate towards when choosing rep will be in a similar style to those you set out to compose. One thing about the course I am currently in now that I enjoy is the freedom we have to experiment with whatever path we choose for our pieces.

    Over my last three years in particular I have been very fascinated with the use of 20th century techniques mixed in with Bach's rules of voice leading and practices laid out centuries earlier. I very much expect that as I mature as a person, musician, and composer, my personality will always be changing and I will develop new interests for music.

    I look forward to the day when I look back on my life and see how it all turned out. It it slightly odd I realize for me to be saying this as I am only 20 years old. I have 80% of my life left to live!

    I'm dying when I hit 100.

    Joe said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Joe said...

    "Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated."

    I think this is a great quote which appears to have been misunderstood. What I take from the quote is that, while music from a particular age and style can be mimicked, it is merely imitation, and not true creative expression. I suppose that is a contentious point, but I think it has merit.