color Beyond Kandinsky: Current definitions of “spirituality”

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

Current definitions of “spirituality”

I wonder if we can agree on a current definition of “spirituality”—as it may have a somewhat different meaning to each of us.

Perhaps I will jump in here with some added focus on what some of the current thinking is on the meaning of “inner life” and “spirituality”, before contemplating how it relates to (and differs from) Kandinsky's older version.

A standard (inadequate) current definition of “spirituality”, might be, "a sense of meaning and purpose; a sense of self and of a relationship with that which is greater than self." This puts the emphasis on subjective feeling. However, objective science has recently shown how human beings are subject to the exact same ephemeral forces of nature as everything else. (See: David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order Add on to that, the emergence of the virtual: a secondary ephemeral state of interconnected relationships, also grounded in science (computer science). So, the medium by which the current spiritual is expressed, is Science, for the Scientific Method has allowed us insight into natural and virtual processes. Thus we can better understand (and feel) how we fit (or don’t) into the current system as a whole.

This arousing knowledge is what I think of when I think of the “spiritual”—a realization (proven by science) that humans are deeply tied up within the powers of nature. This is a realization of immanence, of course: we are entangled and immersed within the energetic, ephemeral and phantasmagorical. Here the dogmatic transcendent relationship once typical of spirit (to body) no longer functions.

This immanent understanding presents a somewhat different spiritual worldview than Kandinsky's, as it forces on us the idea of invisible, phantasmal, interdependent connection.

This mode of understanding may suggest new (saner) modes of art achievement and productive perception (the seeing of free unity and equality as spiritual) as it does not need to see and recognize the outdated distinctions of national borders, races, religions, creeds or class.


  1. You say that, “…objective science has recently shown how human beings are subject to the exact same ephemeral forces of nature as everything else.” Perhaps I misunderstand you or the basic tenets of quantum physics, but in what way has science ‘recently’ shown this? Not (yet) being familiar with Bohm’s model (beyond a quick lurk on Wikipedia), I’m somewhat confused by this qualifier; it seems to me that science may be offering formal explanations for it, but basic human experience tells me that I am tacitly subject to the exact same ‘ephemeral forces of nature’ as everything else. And that all of humanity always has been. One has only to watch the world news or commiserate with a neighbor to know that all physical forms (on this planet at least) are subject to the same fleeting whims and cyclical laws of gravity, condensation, saturation, evaporation, desiccation, momentum, oxidation, radiation, etc., whether they be a human, a tree, or a physical record of a portrait of such form. But I would posit that it is the portrayal itself that is theoretically immune to those same forces, so long as there are sentient beings around to respond to and/or remember it. The Latin roots of ‘portrayal’ reveal a spiritual (if you will) objective: “to draw forth/bring to light.” If I exhibit/broadcast a portrait of a decapitated stump (of human or tree) in the forest, does it convey any real meaning/ spirituality if I’m the only one there to see/hear it? Bohm’s terminology acquaints me with AUTONOMY, HETERONOMY, & HOLONOMY. Taking liberties with my Latin ‘breach,’ I am met with the implied trifecta of “self-governance, governance-by-other, and governance-OF-all-BY-all.” And while the ‘law’ reference smacks of religious overtones, I take a certain aesthetic comfort in Bohm’s further discrete clarifying types of “Holonomy,” namely “Local and Infinitesimal.” There’s the part-to-whole dynamic that I can relate to as artist-to-culture or –to-audience. Are we on the same page?
    Having just read your statement only once, I must ask: in stating that the ‘dogmatic transcendent relationship…of spirit (to body) [being] no longer function[al],” do you refer to your ‘virtual/viral’ projects which continue in their own discretely indefinite potential to ‘mutually permutate’ each other? Is that to be interpreted as a ‘next-generation’ example of ‘empathic power’ or the new definition of spirituality? (This may take me awhile…)

  2. Useful and relevant here to your comments and questions is the understanding of omnijectivity: the concept stemming from the discoveries of quantum physics which teaches us that mind (previously considered the subjective realm) and matter (previously considered as the objective realm) are inextricably linked. What interests me in omnijectivity artistically is syncretistic perception chiefly accomplished by the use of superimposition and by reducing depth-of-field to a total field of non-focused multiplicity after closing the span between the inside and the outside.
    Even though Otto Kernberg pointed out that the splitting of the subject from the object is the crucial mechanism for the defensive organization of the ego at its most basic (pre-oedipal) level, the subject/object question pursued in this discussion will not appear in any stable binary positioning of easy subject/object opposites, as I recognize that the subject/object set functions more along the dialectical lines of the magnet, where the north pole exists only by virtue of the south pole (as is the contrary). Like the supposed subject/object opposites, neither pole exists in isolation. Hence a subject/object debate in terms of spiritual perspective (a debate I do not wish to shy away from) is possible only with the radical conflation of this polarity into an omnijectivity which recognizes the mutual interpenetration that unites the apparent opposites. Then there is something of the subject in the most impenetrable object, and an objective, world-sustaining presence in the sheerest subject. As with the magnet, where if you nip off the slightest piece of one end of the magnet you will discover that it still possess both a south pole and a north pole, so the forces of subjectivity and objectivity co-exist in omnijectivity. It is as impossible to conceive of an isolated subject or an isolated object as it is to conceive an isolated north or south pole, but it is entirely imaginable to relinquish sight of their conjoint importance.

  3. I'm very interested in the term "omnijectivity" and all that is implied by it. Your citing Otto Kernberg makes me wonder if the fields of psychiatry and psychology are also moving away from the dualism we've been discussing (i.e., the subject/object split). I know there's much research going on into the fundamental unity of mind/brain or mind/body, but for psychiatry the subject/object dichotomy seems so foundational. It also makes me wonder if there is not something fundamentally pathological about the Freudian mandate (i.e., the necessity of "self-object differentiation," lest one remain in the "infantile" oceanic state). Has psychiatry moved "beyond Freud" in this sense? I'm familiar with the work of R.D. Laing, but it seems he (along with others) may have been discredited for his neglect of "brain" in favor of "mind."

  4. I am not very well informed on recent developments in the fields of psychiatry and psychology Taney, other than my strong interest in the Nietzscheian French Philosopher Michel Onfray ( ) and his his recent controversial book "Twilight of an Idol, the Freudian Fabrication" (in French) where Freud himself is discredited (btw, psychology is not).
    Recently, I have been trying to understand the omnijective qualities in the scientific discoveries of dark matter, dark fluid, and dark flow in cosmology. Very mysterious interactions.