Kandinsky was a mystic and a teacher. His concern was to systematize his inner revelations, to organize them and to make them accessible. As an artist, he was a painter in whom the genius of painting dwells.
"Form," wrote Kandinsky, "even abstract, geometric form, has its own inner being; it is a spiritual being endowed with qualities identical to its form. A triangle is a being. From it emanates a spiritual perfume."
Color, line, point and form are the beings Kandinsky worked with. Color and space prevailed in his use of plastic entities, but color was his favorite, his joy. He employed color with concentration, care, delicacy and an admirable harmony.
With Kandinsky, space was a specific milieu, with its own characteristics, not only the center around which revolve the creatures of the artist's genius, what might be called the forms and his figures.
It has been said that his colors are the most beautiful in nature and his space is the home of the stars. This may very well be true.
Kandisky truly became himself after the explosion of his first abstract watercolors and the writing of his Oncerning the Spiritual in Art, published in December, 1911.
With it he proclaimed the advent of a totally spiritual art, thus tying himself to a great tradition of thought which confers on the world the sole mission of expressing itself through music.
Today it is evident that Kandinsky is the artist who most determined the destiny of contemporary art. Among all the artists of the first half of the century, he was, without a doubt, the most lucid and the most precise in his intentions.
He saw most clearly the road to travel and he came closest to the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem at that time was the place and function of art in an entirely new social situation, and the polarization of all human activities around industrial production.
According to Kandinsky, the dynamism of the artistic work should communicate immediately and completely with the spectator. But even the idea of a spectator is abolished with him because he felt that the viewer actively participated in the work of art, that viewing was a totally creative act that was instant.
His painting does not address itself to the intellect or to critical judgment. It seeks to elicit an immediate response whose intensity matches the visual stimulus.
Because it bypasses all intellectual and cultural conventions, Wassily Kandinsky's painting is the first perfect example of modern art. It is freed from myth and absolutely non-classical.
In 1913, Franz Marc, a notable member of the Blaue Reiter, said of Kandinsky: "His works come out of the silent shadow of time with the blazing radiance of comets." This is still true today.
"Der Blaue Reiter", meaning the "Blue Rider", refers to a group of artists that coalesced in Munich in 1911/12 to promote the cause of Modernism.
It included Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Alexei Jawlensky, Gabriele Munter, August Macke, Franz Marc and others. These artists are regarded today as major innovators paving the way for the emergence of Modern Art. Of course, like most innovators, they were regarded at the time as outsiders by critics, fellow artists and collectors.
The Blue Rider artists were a loosely connected group of artists rather than a coherent group with a definite program. The year 1912 saw the publication of the famous almanac Der Blaue Reiter as well as Concerning the Spiritual in Art whose common message was that inner, spiritual experience should take precedence over the representation of reality. The Blue Rider thus became a symbol of the revolution in modern art and the expression of the need for a synthesis of the arts.
To this day the work of these artists continues to exercise an exceptionally fruitful influence on many artists.
Kandinsky was born in 1866 in Moscow. His first studies led him to law and economics where he was offered a prominent career as a professor. But by 1896 Kandinsky had grown in a different direction and was set to become an artist.
So it was that Kandinsky turned to painting at the late age of thirty and moved to Munich where he could study painting from great masters, and live in a cultural context that competed with the quality of life in Paris at the time.
Kandinsky's work can be divided into three distinct periods which reflect external events. The first period took place in Munich between 1908 and 1914 and includes the Blue Rider phase. It is a period of experiment and discovery.
The second period, the Bauhaus years, from 1922 to 1933 is a period of definition and exposition. It came to an abrupt end with the Nazi takeover and Kandinsky's forced departure. The third period is known as the Paris years from 1933 to 1944, the year in which Kandinsky died. This period is one of consolidation and elaboration.
From 1909 onward, Kandinsky began to divide his more important works into three categories: "Impressions", "Improvisations", and "Compositions".
This distinction was explained in Concerning the Spiritual in Art: "Impressions are direct impressions of 'external' nature . . . compositions are pictures in which reason, the conscious, deliberate and the purposeful play a preponderant role."
"Except that I always decide in favor of feeling rather than calculation"; and ". . . improvisations are chiefly unconscious, for the most part suddenly arising expressions of events of an inner character, hence impressions of 'internal' nature".
"Painting", Kandinsky wrote in 1913, "is like a thundering collision of different worlds that are destined, in and through conflict, to create that new world called the work.
"Technically, every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos . by means of catastrophes, which ultimately create out of the cacophony of the various instruments that symphony we call the music of the spheres. The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world."
Kandinsky's images are always plastic. Elements of color and form are completely divorced from sentimental associations.
This does not imply that the plastic forms have no symbolic functions. Quite the contrary. A line, a circle, a triangle or any other geometrical element always has a reliable significance for Kandinsky. These physical elements constitute a language is used to communicate a meaning, an inner necessity, a definite spiritual tension released in the act or process of composition.
Every apparently casual scribble or brush-stroke in a composition by Kandinsky is deliberately invented. He would spend many hours drawing and redrawing apparently informal details, and not until they had become accurately expressive signs would be transfer them to the composition.
This is what Kandinsky meant by conscious "creation". It is identical with Stravinsky's "principle of speculative volition" and should not be confused with the "informal art" which has come into existence since Kandinsky's death. What separates him from later informalists is his insistence on the conscious control of the constituent elements of color and form.
One of the best clues to understanding Kandinsky's work is the Poetics of Music written by Igor Stravinsky.
Just like Stravinsky described himself as an inventor of music, so too elsewhere Kandinsky describes himself as an inventor of painting. They both maintained that "invention presupposes imagination but should not be confused with it."
Kandinsky invented his formal elements, but his creative imagination enabled him to give artistic expressive coherence and unity to these elements.