Komponist. Dirigent.

​​​​​​Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Wassily Kandinsky

(In Ingglish)





Evry wurk of art is the child of its age and, in menny cases, the mother of our emotions. It folloes that eech period of culture prodduces an art of its oan which can nevver be repeted. Efforts tu revive the art-principles of the passt will at best prodduce an art that is still-born. It is impossible for uss tu liv and feel, as did the aencient Greeks. In the same way thoze hwo strive tu follo the Greek methods in sculpture acheve on'ly a simmilarity of form, the wurk remaining soallis for all time. Such immitation is mere aping. Externaly the munky completely resembles a human beïng; he will sit holding a bùk in frunt of his noze, and turn over the pages with a thoughtfùl aspect, but his actions hav for him no real meening.

Thare is, howevver, in art another kind of external simmilarity which is founded on a fundamental trueth. When thare is a simmilarity of inner tendency in the hole moral and spiritual atmosphere, a simmilarity of i·deals, at first clozely pursued but later losst tu sight, a simmilarity in the inner feeling of enny wun period tu that of another, the logical result will be a revival of the external forms which served tu express thoze inner feelings in an erliër age. An example of thiss tuday is our simpathy, our spiritual relationship, with the Primmitivs. Like ourselves, theze artists sought tu express in their wurk on'ly internal trueths, renouncing in consequence all considderation of external form.

Thiss all important spark of inner life tuday is at prezzent on'ly a spark. Our minds, which ar even now on'ly just a·wakëning after years of materialism, ar infected with the despair of unbeleef, of lack of purpus and i·deal. The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe intu an evil, uselis game, is not yet passt; it holds the a·wakëning soal still in its grip. On'ly a feeble light is not a dreem, and the gulf of darknis reality. Thiss dout, and the still harsh tirrany of the materialistic philossophy, divide our soal sharply from that of the Primmitivs. Our soal rings cracked when we seek tu play uponn it, as dus a cosstly vase, long beryd in the erth, which is found tu hav a flaw when it is dug up wunce more. For thiss reeson, the Primmitiv phaze, thru which we ar now passing, with its temporery simmilarity of form, can on'ly be of short duration.

Theze two possible resemblances between the art forms of tuday and thoze of the passt will be at wunce reccognized as dyametricaly oppozed tu wun another. The first, beïng purely external, has no future. The seccond, beïng internal, contains the seed of the future withinn itself. After the period of materialist effort, which held the soal in check untill it wos shaken off as evil, the soal is emerging, purged by tryals and sufferings. Shapelis emotions such as fear, joy, greef, etc., which belonged tu thiss time of effort, will no longer graetly attract the artist. He will endevvor tu a·wake suttler emotions, as yet un·named. Livving himself a complicated and comparrativly suttle life, his wurk will guiv tu thoze obzervers capable of feeling them lofty emotions beyond the reech of wurds.

The obzerver of tuday, howevver, is seldom capable of feeling such emotions. He seeks in a wurk of art a mere immitation of nature which can serve sum deffinit purpus (for example a portrit in the ordinery sense) or a presentment of nature according tu a certan convention ("impressionist" painting), or sum inner feeling expressed in terms of nætural form (as we say —a picture with Stimmung). All thoze varyetys of picture, when they ar realy art, fùlfill their purpus and feed the spirit. Tho this applies tu the first case, it applies more strongly tu the third, whare the spectator dus feel a corresponding thrill in himself. Such harmony or even contrasst of emotion cannot be superficial or wurthlis; indeed the Stimmung of a picture can deepen and purifie that of the spectator. Such wurks of art at leest preserve the soal from coarsenis; they "keep it up", so tu speek, tu a certan hight, as a tuning kee the strings of a musical instrument. But purification, and extension in duration and size of thiss simpathy of soal, remain wun-sided, and the possibilitys of the influënce of art ar not exerted tu their utmost.

Immægin a billding divided intu menny rooms. The billding may be large or small. Evry wall of evry room is cuvverd with pictures of varius sizes; perhaps they number menny thousands. They represent in cullor bits of nature —annimals in sunlight or shaddo, drinking, standing in wauter, lying on the grass; near tu, a Crucifixion by a painter hwo dus not beleeve in Chreist; flowers; human figgures sitting, standing, walking; often they ar nakëd; menny nakëd wimmen, seen foreshortend from behind; apples and silver dishes; portrit of Councilor So and So; sunset; lady in red; flying duck; portrit of Lady X; flying guese; lady in white; cavs in shaddo flecked with brilyant yello sunlight; portrit of Prince Y; lady in green. All thiss is carefùly printed in a bùk —name of artist—name of picture. Peeple with theze bùks in their hands go from wall tu wall, turning over pages, reeding the names. Then they go a·way, neither richer nor poorer than when they came, and ar abzorbed at wunce in their biznisses, which has nuthing tu du with art. Why did they cum? In eech picture is a hole lifetime imprizzond, a hole lifetime of fears, douts, hopes, and joys.

Whither is thiss lifetime tending? Whot is the message of the competent artist? "Tu send light intu the darknis of men's harts —such is the duty of the artist", sed Schumann. "An artist is a man hwo can draw and paint evrything", sed Tolstoi.

Of theze two deffinitions of the artist's activity we must chooze the seccond, iff we think of the exhibition just described. On wun canvass is a huddle of objects painted with varying degrees of skill, virtuossity and viggor, harshly or smoothly. Tu harmonize the hole is the task of art. With cold iyes and indifferent mind the spectators regard the wurk. Connossurs admire the "skill" (as wun admires a tightrope walker), enjoy the "quolity of painting" (as wun enjoys a passty). But hunggry soals go hunggry a·way.

The vulgar herd strole thru the rooms and pronounce the pictures "nice" or "splendid". Thoze hwo could speek hav sed nuthing, thoze hwo could hear hav herd nuthing. Thiss condition of art is called "art for art's sake". Thiss neglect of inner meenings, which is the life of cullors, thiss vain squondering of artistic power is called "art for art's sake".

The artist seeks for material reword for his dexterity, his power of vision and experiënce. His purpus becumms the sattisfaction of vanity and greed. In place of the steddy co-opperation of artists is a scramble for gùd things. Thare ar complaints of excessiv competition, of over-prodduction. Hatred, partisanship, cleques, jellussy, intregues ar the nætural consequences of thiss aimlis, materialist art.

[Fùtnote: The few sollitery exceptions du not destroy the trueth of thiss sad and omminus picture, and even theze exceptions ar cheefly beleevers in the doctrin of art for art's sake. They serve, tharefore, a higher i·deal, but wun which is ultimatly a uselis waste of their strength. External beuty is wun element of a spiritual atmosphere. But beyond thiss positiv fact (that whot is beutifùl is gùd) it has the weeknis of a tælent not uzed tu the fùll. (The wurd tælent is employed in the biblical sense).]

The onlùkker turns a·way from the artist hwo has higher i·deals and hwo cannot see his life purpus in an art without aims.

Simpathy is the edducation of the spectator from the point of vew of the artist. It has been sed abuvv that art is the child of its age. Such an art can on'ly create an artistic feeling which is allreddy clearly felt. Thiss art, which has no power for the future, which is on'ly a child of the age and cannot becumm a mother of the future, is a barren art. It is transitory and tu all intent dies the moment the atmosphere alters which nurrished her.

The other art, that which is capable of edducating further, springs equaly from contemporery feeling, but is at the same time not on'ly ecco and mirror of it, but allso has a deep and powerfùl prophetic strength.

The spiritual life, tu which art belongs and of which she is wun of the mightiëst elements, is a complicated but deffinit and ezily definable moovment forwords and upwords. Thiss moovment is the moovment of experiënce. It may take different forms, but it holds at bottom tu the same inner thought and purpus.

Veiled in obscurity ar the causes of thiss need tu moov evver upwords and forwords, by swet of the brow, thru sufferings and fears. When wun stage has been accomplished, and menny evil stones cleared from the road, sum unseen and wickëd hand scatters new obstacles in the way, so that the path often seems blocked and totaly oblitterated. But thare nevver fails tu cum tu the rescue sum human beïng, like ourselves in evrything except that he has in him a seecret power of vision.

He sees and points the way. The power tu du thiss he would sumtimes fain lay a·side, for it is a bitter cross tu baer. But he cannot du so. Scorned and hated, he drags after him over the stones the hevvy charriot of a divided humanity, evver forwords and upwords.

Often, menny years after his boddy has vannished from the erth, men try by evry meens tu re-create thiss boddy in marble, iorn, bronze, or stone, on an enormus scale. As if thare wer enny intrinsic vælue in the boddily existence of such divine martirs and servants of humanity, hwo despized the flesh and livd on'ly for the spirit! But at leest such setting up of marble is a proof that graet number of men hav reeched the point whare wunce the beïng they would now onnor, stùd alone.

Chapter 2