Wassily Kandinsky, the Painter of Music
Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow, in 1866. His first love for art was for music, encouraged by his parents who both played the piano. He started reading music and playing cello and piano when he was a child. From that moment on, music became a major inspiration in his life and he later transferred that passion into his paintings. Later, he would recall his fascination with color and the extraordinary stimulation colors produced on him as a child. However, at the Moscow University Kandinsky studied Economics, Law, and Politics, as it was considered more prestigious and profitable to have a profession in these fields, rather than arts. Music remained just a hobby and he had his first attempts at writing.
Wassily’s decision to concentrate on studying art came at the age of thirty-three when he was deeply influenced by the work of the founder of French impressionist painting, Claude Monet. Impressionism fascinated Kandinsky especially because it was a deviation from the realistic reflection of the world in paintings that were so far considered the artistic norm. The young Russian went to Munich where he studied under Anton Azbé, working mostly on his drawing and sketching skills and later enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts.
Kandinsky moved back to Moscow in 1914 after the beginning of the war but the traditionalist understanding of art in Russia did not appeal to him, so he returned to Germany in 1921 where he undertook a teaching career at the Bauhaus School of Art. In 1933 the school was closed by the Nazis and he moved to France where he spent the last five years of his life.
Kandinsky’s wall art is unique for his ability to create purely abstract work. It was partially because of his synaesthetic capability to see sound as color. That’s why his studies on color theory were difficult to understand and even had a mystical nuance to them due to his almost paranormal visual interpretations. But his work was in fact the result of a long period of work and development, involving solid theoretical background. He explained that his devotion to beauty and the spiritual aspects of life and art were his inner necessity and dedicated his art to that.
Kandinsky experimented with minimal composition and color, completely eliminating reality from his artworks. His paintings were the most abstract reflections of music, conveying pure emotional states. In his writings, the painter often reflected on the relation between music and fine arts. He said, "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 then another to cause vibration in the soul."
Kandinsky was involved in various artistic movements and organizations. Back in 1908, he had founded the New Artists Association of Munich and also became a member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a group of Munich artists established by Russian emigrants in Germany and native artists. The group had a major impact on the development of Expressionism. Kandinsky was also part of the Bauhaus movement together with Paul Klee and composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Even in the last years of his life, Kandinsky was highly innovative and his works often shocked the art world. He painted until the day of his death, December 13th, 1944. His works were shown in exhibitions all over Europe, creating controversy everywhere, because of their absolutely abstract nature. Kandinsky is often regarded as the founder of abstract art, as his main inspiration – music – is abstract by nature. Much like music, Kandinsky’s paintings did not represent the realistic world but tried to depict the emotions of the human soul. He designated many of his works with musical terms, naming them “improvisations” or “compositions”. The artist wrote that "music is the ultimate teacher" and often described his creative process through music: "I applied streaks and blobs of color onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could..."
Apart from his original paintings, Kandinsky’s legacy includes a significant contribution to the theoretical approaches to art and he is remembered also as an excellent artistic and spiritual theoretician.