Friday, June 15, 2012

A Review of Wassily Kandinsky's book, "Concerning the Spiritual in Art”

Kandinsky sought his answer through a conceptual reductionism, which continued the Post–Impressionist’s simplicity and childlike conveyance of the essence of a thing. However, his goal was to identify spiritual context and how to convey that energy in art.
He illustrates this aesthetic in the form of a triangle (or what I would call a “sociology triangle”): the base of the triangle is the world of government and politics, further up toward the apex are the sciences, and then at the top are religion and philosophy. Kandinsky seems to associate advancement up this triangle with the possession of hidden or exclusive insight. Unfortunately, this understanding reduces the desired spiritual acquisition to a Gnostic practice: a human or natural attempt to reach the supernatural through special knowledge.
In particular, he found music to embody the purity of abstraction and deliberately combined that aspect of abstraction into the visual art of painting. Kandinsky proposes a compelling argument: one doesn’t value music because the sounds remind him of or imitate sounds from nature. So, why should we require that visual art images imitate the world of nature?
On a personal note, I believe that music and visual art also run parallel in terms of their audience appreciation. For example, a culture that is enamored with one-dimensional pop music is not likely to engage a piece of art with much more than a taste for pablum.
The author refers to both the “sound of colors”, an undeniable association of instrumental tone and visual hue, and the “psychic effect” of color. The latter is equally as accepted due to numerous experiments showing the impact of various colors on the human psyche. Kandinsky concludes that there must be a link between color and a corresponding spiritual vibration in the soul.
In the next chapter, the author analyzes form and color in regard to a “spiritual” vocabulary. He again emphasizes the advantage that abstract composition has in communicating this inner vibration. Although there are absolute principles that must apply, the challenge of creating ideal harmony within a composition is that the variable design elements impose a state of flux on the process; one alteration starts a chain reaction affecting everything else in that composition.
The inner need of the artist for spiritual harmony is built on three “mystical” elements: 1) individual expression (personality), 2) period and societal characteristics (style), and 3) preservation of the timeless impact of art (pure artistry).
The following two quotes illustrate the application of these elements. “Every artist chooses, from the forms which reflect his own time, those which are sympathetic to him, and expresses himself through them. So the subjective element is the definitive and the external expression of the inner, objective element.” (p. 34).
“It is impossible to theorize about this ideal of art. In real art, theory does not precede practice, but follows her. Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling.” (p. 35)
At this point I must clarify an ontological distinction between soul and spirit. Kandinsky consistently uses language associated with the soul level. For him, the deeper things are just feelings that are hard to put into words. His charts on form and color theory are helpful, but their application never seems to get beyond the soulish. He alludes to this shortcoming on page 47, when mentioning the limitation of simple nerve stimulation, but appears to only see the distinction between mind and soul (which, in Biblical terms, are in very close association as compared to the separation between soul and spirit).
The following quote sums up Kandinsky’s thesis, “Painting is an art, and art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul…to, in fact, the raising of the spiritual triangle.” (p. 54)
The author admonishes the artist to take this duty seriously. His talent requires it. And he must understand the influence he has on the spiritual atmosphere of his greater community. 
 A personal update: my art production has been put on hold due to a pending living situation. If I'm to remain in my RV and work out of the 8x10 cargo trailer, I'll need to install a portable AC unit (although, I guess that dripping sweat on my art could qualify as part of the mixed media!). Of course, finding a more suitable studio space is a goal.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review of Nancy Pearcey's "Saving Leonardo", Part 2 of Part 2

     In an effort to wrap up this review, I have skipped over large sections of Part 2 of Pearcey's book and have included only some highlights. I'm half way through J.P. Moreland's book Kingdom Triangle, which deals with some of the same worldview issues, but from a more philosophical perspective. Still, Saving Leonardo remains my best read of the year.

    The relativism of idealistic humanism (in part, as taught by Kant), states that all we see are disconnected events with only self imposed order; what a person thinks is true of something is really only in their mind. Thus, art was no longer to be seen as a reflection of the beauty of God’s creation, but a “beauty-making power” of one’s imagination.
     This idealism, as a blending of Eastern and Western thought (later identified as neo-Platonism), attempted to re-create God into an impersonal essence or substance from which life simply flowed.
Science, which had been looked to in developing so many alternative philosophies, became a killing machine after the industrial revolution. German expressionism emerged with its violent images of dark humanity. Yet, as the author points out, relativism cannot stand against political or social evil. The postmodernist, although motivated to solve these world problems, has his hands tied. “Without a moral absolute, we cannot say, ‘That is wrong’ or ‘That is unjust.’ Lived out consistently, postmodernism leads to complicity with evil and injustice.” (p.238)
     Pearcey applies the worldview test of whether a philosophy fits reality in a summary paragraph criticizing reductionist thinking, on p.244, “What then? Anything that sticks outside of the box is simply dismissed or denied. For example, materialism insists that anything beyond matter is not real. Empiricism says that anything beyond the senses is not real. Naturalism says that anything beyond the natural is not real. Pantheism says that anything beyond the all-encompassing One is not real. These are forms of reductionism because they reduce the complex, many-leveled reality that God created down to one level. Reductionism is like a kid who argues that whatever does not fit into his toy box is not a toy. Or, to borrow a metaphor from G.K. Chesterton, reductionism is like a mental prison, ‘the prison of one thought’. Whatever does not fit into that prison is denied and suppressed.”
Christianity is not limited by the parts of creation, to make something out of then in which to believe, because it focuses on the transcendent Creator. From this comes a worldview that is holistic, respectful, and inclusive.
     Pearcey quotes from both Seerveld and Schaeffer in regard to a calling to Christians to learn the language of the artistic sub-culture in order to connect with and reach out to them.
The author spends a chapter analyzing the moral and cultural implications of the film industry. Following this, she discusses aspects of Christianity with regard to the arts and worldview development. Related to modern sentimentalism, a sacred/secular dualism is identified as the reason for substandard appreciation for the arts on the part of Christians. Even the expectation that Christian artists should volunteer and donate their work suggests a demoting of art and the individual.