Art of Wassily Kandinsky: Periods, Influences & Architecture

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  • 0:01 Demystifying Kandinsky
  • 0:32 The Influence of Color
  • 1:49 Inner Necessity
  • 2:24 The Blue Rider (1911-1914)
  • 4:04 Bauhaus (1922-1933)
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history.

Explore the life and works of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. Discover the influences that drove the three distinct periods of his artistic style. Learn about his affiliations with the Blue Rider and Bauhaus.

Demystifying Kandinsky

Art historians attribute Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky with painting the first purely abstract artwork. The concept of abstraction, accompanied by the range of styles in which Kandinsky painted, accounts for the mystification surrounding his identity as a modern artist. In this lesson, we will pull back the veil to reveal the drive behind creating abstract art, as well as look at the different styles of Kandinsky against their historical background.

The Influence of Color

Kandinsky began his career as an artist later in life than most, at around the age of 30. The first period of his artistic career, from approximately 1896 to 1909, is marked by a style akin to Post-Impressionism. Around the turn of the century, he witnessed this new kind of art coming out of France. The trend toward abstraction, accompanied by the evocative use of color, inspired Kandinsky. He was particularly drawn to the works of French painter Claude Monet. Perhaps Kandinsky was so attracted to Monet because, more so than any of his contemporaries, his works showed how color could be an expression of mood apart from the objects they represented in paint on canvas.

Kandinsky associated representational painting with materialist values and abstraction with spirituality. Look at a painting by Monet, such as Sunrise. Now imagine that you had never seen a sunrise, never seen the ocean. The sun becomes an orange globe; the waves are just lines. Kandinsky wrote, 'Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically.'

Sunrise by Claude Monet

Inner Necessity

Kandinsky sought to move away from the representation of objects to a pure expression of what he called 'inner necessity.' He wrote, 'The inner need is built up of three mystical elements: personality, style dictated by the zeitgeist, and pure artistry.' Kandinsky's theory of art, based in inner necessity, constructs an image of the artist as a representative of the cultural, historical, and political zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. He is a 'spiritual warrior' whose mission it is to express himself with honesty and passion.

The Blue Rider (1911-1914)

The second distinct period of Kandinsky's work solidified in his association with the short-lived German art collective called The Blue Rider. Along with German artist Franz Marc, Kandinsky and the Blue Rider group published an almanac of artwork and writing, as well as staged exhibitions between 1911 and 1914. The group took its name from Kandinsky's 1903 painting, referring to the use of color more so than its style of composition.

Kandinsky and the members of Blue Rider were united through their philosophy of color, spirituality, and spontaneity. They believed that painting could be like improvisational music and composition, and that color could be used in composition like tones in an orchestra. But of utmost importance was the practice of art as spiritual enrichment, expression, and exploration.

During this period he began to refer to his paintings as improvisations or compositions, much like music. And just like music can convey emotions and feelings that the listener will associate with visual images, Kandinsky believed that color could be used in composition distinct from the form. Color could express a pure emotion, rather than simply depict a hue of a representational object, or even a visual form.

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