color Beyond Kandinsky: Answer to Taney's Question

The year 2011 marks the centennial of the publication of Wassily Kandinsky's classic text, On the Spiritual in Art. Inspired by this anniversary, this project set out to explore the place of the spiritual in contemporary art and to propose a challenge to the current devaluation of the inner life that prevails within the art world in our market-driven era.

Beginning on Wednesday, March 30th, 2011, a ten-day virtual symposium moderated by Taney Roniger and Eric Zechman was held in this forum. The symposium closed on the evening of Friday, April 8th. Below is the full record of the proceedings.

Panelists invited to participate were: Suzanne Anker, Laura Battle, Connie Beckley, Anney Bonney, Deirdre Boyle, Nathaniel Dorsky, Jeff Edwards, James Elkins, Max Gimblett, Tom Huhn, Atta Kim, Roger Lipsey, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Joseph Nechvatal, Daniel Siedell, Charlene Spretnak, David Levi Strauss, Alan Wanzenberg, and Pawel Wojtasik. For participant biographies and other project details, please visit our site:


March 30th–April 1st: Session I: The Spiritual Then and Now

April 2nd–April 3rd: Session II: The Changing Shape of Art

April 4th-5th: Session III: Art and Its Audience

April 6th–April 7th: Session IV: The Artist in Society

April 8th: Conclusions


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Answer to Taney's Question

Actually, Taney, academic departments of religion are not the place to find the cutting edge. I would say that the dissolution of the dualistic worldview, though, is a phenomenon that informs the contemporary interest in the West in Buddhism and other Asian spiritual orientations, as well as the spreading influence of ecological thought, or the realization of the interrelated nature of reality, which is gradually transforming our institutions and systems of knowledge. Nonduality in the modern West has received a boost, as well, from the new physics, complexity studies in science, and recent discoveries in relational physiology. In the past few decades many people situated in organized religion have sought out neglected teachings in their tradition about the perspective of nonduality (such as the medieval mystics in Christianity or the Sufi poets).

As for your surmising about the cool, or concerned, reception in the art world you received to the idea of this symposium, as you wrote in your initial essay, that reaction is probably partially related to the canonical narrative in art history: with the first exhibition of the Impressionists in 1874, art took a courageous leap into the modern project, away from all that was rejected (religion, tradition, community ties, extended family obligations, the "tyranny of nature"). With nearly everyone in the art world schooled in that perspective, any talk of "the spiritual" seems to be a step backwards into superstition, cowering before priests or rabbis, and sinking into muddled thought. In addition, of course, there is the horrendous record of many religious institutions. Some people today find it easy to separate a spiritual practice, or quest, from all that; others hold that any such separation is an illusion and that any interest in spirituality is dangerous or, at the very least, unsophisticated and not serious.


  1. I would hold that too rigid a position against spirituality in art is unsophisticated and not serious. The impulse is obviously there and many artists contemplate spiritual issues even if they have to submerge their interest for the sake of being accepted among their non-believing and for the time being more prevalent peers. I think there's a change in the winds however. Still, there's always a danger that spirituality can be hijacked by dogma. It happens all the time so the distrust is valid. (What a great symposium. Thank you to everyone here and your words on the subject)