Kandinsky and Stylistic Evolution During the Early Bauhaus Years

Had Ad Reinhardt lived longer and continued his work after “making the last painting anyone can make” in 1965, art historians would have the same questions about him as they do about Wassily Kandinsky – did the artist go back on his word or was there a true evolution in the art. (Reinhardt 13) That is, after fully exploring a vein in one’s own style there is nowhere else to go but on to a different, though often related, vein. In Reinhardt’s case, he wrote a handful of plays prior to passing away in 1967, before he had a chance to return to the canvas. Unlike Reinhardt, Kandinsky reached a fulcrum midway through his career, giving him ample opportunity to explore the second vein of his art.
After an eloquent and thoughtful discourse in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, the manifestation of which is visible in his works between 1913 and 1921, Kandinsky came to a crossroads. After such a thorough execution of his methods, it could be argued that he was left without an artistic destination. This crossroads in conjunction with the temperature of 1922 – an increasing trend towards the straight, hard, and linear that can be observed in Mondrian’s 1921 Composition with Red, Blue, Black, Yellow, and Gray or Gropius’s 1921 Monument to the March Dead or even Le Corbusier’s 1923 Villa La Roche – lends itself to the notion that Kandinsky was already contemplating a substantial shift in his own art. The post hoc ergo propter hoc argument that because of Kandinsky’s invitation to the Bauhaus in 1922 he suddenly changed his art to fit in at Weimar is invalid because of the forces of artistic evolution that Kandinsky was already facing at the time.
The logical next step for Kandinsky in 1922 was the straight line, invitation from Gropius or not. When considering Kandinsky’s works from 1923 forward, one must take into accounts the artist’s writings on the matter – just as one must with his pre-Bauhaus writings and works – in Point and Line to Plane. What catches the eye in his later book is that, despite the fact that the artist is dealing with hard and exact shapes, a fixation on the drama and emotion communicated by these figures is present – just as it is in his earlier writing where the idea of a hard edge is wholly absent. This parallel further invalidates the argument that Kandinsky changed his tune in order to fit in at the Bauhaus: if he changed just to sit at the cool table, he would have abandoned the notions of feeling and emotion as well in favor of the even-keeled and mathematic connotations of Bauhausian line and plane.

For ease of exemplification, though perhaps not ease of quotation, one must examine the illustrations Kandinsky employed to further his remarks in each book. In the “Basic Plane” section of Point and Line to Plane – specifically pages 122 through 142 – Kandinsky offers many examples of how a certain shape connotes a certain feeling. An “Inner parallel of lyrical sound” for example is associated with “disharmonious tension” while an “inner parallel of dramatic sound” is associated with “harmonious tension”. (PLP 136) The use of words such as lyrical and dramatic and harmonious are very much in line with the emotional language used to describe the effect of color in his earlier book: “Third antithesis of the spiritually extinguished First antithesis”. (CSA 36-37) The focus on the spirituality of visual information – be it color or form or line or plane – is what Kandinsky is fixated on, both before and after his tenure at the Bauhaus. What changes is the medium through which the artist connotes said spirituality: at first color and curved form then line and plane. The Bauhaus affected this change only in providing the support of like-minded artists but it was not the catalyst of this change.
Kandinsky’s shift in 1922 speaks to the larger body that is art history. In a macro sense, the narrative of art changes in movements: Impressionism to Post-Impressionism, Pop Art to Op Art. These changes occur because of the limited resources in any given vein of art. That is, Monet and his colleagues explored all there is to explore of Impressionism, thus giving way for Post-Impressionist painters to explore what comes after Impressionism. In a micro scale, this same process happens on a per-artist basis. Kandinsky explored what there was to explore in the relation of emotion and curved line and thus progressed to the relation of emotion and straight line. To say it another way: given enough time Reinhardt would have found something else to paint.

Bibliography

Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the spiritual in art. New York: Dover Publications, 1977. Print.

Kandinsky, Wassily. Point and line to plane. New York: Dover Publications, 1979. Print.

Reinhardt, Ad. Art-as-art the selected writings of Ad Reinhardt. Ed. Barbara Rose. Berkeley: University of California, 1991. Print.

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04. April 2011 by Chris
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