Kandinsky - Towards Abstraction

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Wassily Kandinsky became a painter rather late in life. It is only after finishing his studies at the University of Moscow, in his early thirties and completely mature that he decides to fully commit to art. This important decision would change his life. However, neither himself nor his social and artistic circle, could then assume he would encounter a decisive step fifteen years later. The transition to the non-figurative art where he would create his famous Improvisations and Compositions that created his fame. Kandinsky was one of the rare painters of the 20th Century who not only had flourished in such a heavy political environment but also, whose creations escaped any explanations. Only a few influential artists actually succeeded in pushing the boundaries to create a new formal language. Kandinsky was one of them. "Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential." (Kandinsky). Abstract art is a painting (or a sculpture) that does not depict something in the natural world, rather, the subject of the work being based on what one sees; such as color, shapes, brushstrokes and so on. This essay will elaborate on this great artist who considered himself as an innovator in his domain and on whether he was the first one to push the boundaries of art into abstract.

Wassily Kandinsky was born in 1866 in Moscow to well-educated, upper-class parents of mixed origins as his father was born close to Mongolia while is mother was a Muscovite. An important part of Kandinsky’s life was spent in Odessa a cosmopolitan city populated by mainly Western Europeans and other ethnic groups. At an early age, he expressed an uncommon sensitivity towards sound, word and colors – in other words, the arts. His father encouraged what he perceived as a gift and pushed him into drawing and music lessons. Despite early exposure to the arts, Kandinsky did not make it a priority in his life until much later and first achieved his law studies at the University of Moscow. He later decided to abandon his law career to attend art school in Munich in 1896 where he was introduced to the artistic avant-garde by Alexei Jawlensky and others. In 1901, with the help of three other young artists, Kandinsky co-founded “Phalanx” an artists’ association opposed to the conservative views of the traditional art institutions. He will then meet Gabriele Münter – one of his students – becoming his companion with whom he will spend the next fifteen years. In 1903, he will close the “Phalanx” school and will travel throughout Europe with Münter where he will familiarize himself with the growing Expressionist movement and develop his own style based on his different artistic sources he witnessed during his travels. During this period, Kandinsky painted one of his most famous paintings “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider) which would later become an association of painters led by him and Franz Marc. Both shared an interest in abstracted forms and prismatic colors, which they felt, had spiritual values that could counteract the corruption and materialism of their age. The “Blue Rider” had a symbolic representation as it was a symbol for moving beyond realistic representation for Kandinsky, and as a prominent subject in Marc’s work, alongside with other animals, symbolized rebirth. “Der Blaue Reiter” was then dissolved in the outbreak of World War I. Kandinsky’s paintings became more and more abstract with time, distancing his work from the surrounding world as he gradually refined his style. To that effect, he began titling his works Improvisation, Composition or Impression to further stress the distance from the objective world. Proving that he was a pioneer in the abstract painting movement, Kandinsky published his first...
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