Before Kandinsky

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1735, V, acrylic on paper, 23 November 2012

Q: I’d like to get back to Kandinsky and his essay on the spiritual in art and what do you consider the generating force or ideas are  for non-objective painting?

I keep trying to get in on something on painting and how you think about painting. How you think about your own practice and you keep slipping off into something else.

ReeL: My position is closer to what Herbert Read said.  I feel Kandinsky made a dangerous mistake bringing in the spiritual. But he couldn’t help himself. He was a Theosophist.

Did you know that two of the Theosophists wrote a book about 6 years before Kandinsky’s essay, where they posited the possibility of a totally non-objective art of painting that would be a more spiritual form of painting.

Q: No. I didn’t know that! Are you kidding?

ReeL: No. They even had abstract paintings to illustrate it.

Q: No way. Before Kandinsky?

ReeL: Yes, more than half a decade before Kandinsky.  They weren’t very good paintings. After all, they weren’t Kandinsky.  But being a Theosophist, it seems to me that Kandinsky would have to have seen that book.  In fact there are passages in the book that are very close, conceptually, to ideas in Kandinsky’s essay. Too close for coincidence.

So that whole precedent argument between Kandinsky and Delaunay was bogus. It required the suppression of this book. A book that Kandinsky surely knew about.

I’ve actually seen a copy. There’s one in the library connected to the Amy Besant school in Ojai.

Q: The one connected with the Beatrice Wood center?

ReeL: Yes, that one.

3 thoughts on “Before Kandinsky”

  1. I think Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophy taught this. He may have been concurrent with Kandinski, I don’t know for sure.

    Disclosure: I am a Theosophist.

    My work evolves in pretty much the way described above. Everything I do in the course of living is research and what comes out on canvas or board speaks of my kinetic and mind-based experiences. Dreams. Things that surprise me. Ideas that come out of patterns. And the terrible, wonderful urge to experiment. To experiment NOW! That speaks to getting derailed from my scheduled “intention” and moving to other ground simply because, like Mt. Everest, it is there.

    I am certain there is spiritual stuff going on in the minds and emotions of people, and more creative sorts are more open to such spiritual input. The spirit inputting the ideas may be “good” or “evil”…the same principal works. Whichever one gets the most food gets to play.

  2. Susan- Steiner was slightly later. The Theosophy book was published in 1904 and 1906, the precedent battle between Delaunay and Kandinksy began around 1911 and continued until World War I broke out in 1914, and then picked up again after World War II amongst American Art Historians rewriting the early history of Modernism. Though Kandinsky’s connections to Theosophy has been much discussed by art historians, the publication and content of the Theosophy book has never been discussed in any significant way in a major art historical context by professional art critics or art historians, though it is well known amongst certain dealers and artists.

    Steiner rose to prominence after World War I and was particularly well-known in the 30s in Germany, and after World War II in America, especially within the educational movements that have been directly influenced by his ideas on childhood education.

  3. That would explain how my Jewish (emigrated from Holland during WWII) NYC friends got involved with Anthroposophy. My classmate spent her life practicing and teaching Eurythmic Dancing. Her early schooling was at Rudolph Steiner Schools. She and I always had a lot to discuss– both of us making allowances for differences in philosophy.
    Thank you very much for putting a time frame around that.whole bit of history.

    Kandinsky is an all time favorite of mine. Along with Chagall whose work, to me, resides in the same genre.

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