color Beyond Kandinsky: Response to Max's Response

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


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Response to Max's Response

I’m wondering if Max might say a bit more about his sense that the modernist dream “has deepened and magnified,” since my initial question took its dissolution – perhaps mistakenly – as a given. What I mean by the modernist dream is the project of utopianism generally – the belief in the perfectibility of humankind – and the view that history is a progressive movement toward that inevitable end. Whether from the perspective of the Marxist dream, the whole enterprise of science and technology, or Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy (she who famously said “The earth will be a heaven in the twenty-first century in comparison with what it is now [in the twentieth]”), the general sense today, as I see it, is one of disappointment, disillusionment, and bewilderment. I’m also thinking of the pervasive ethos of “dismantling” that deconstructive postmodernism has left us with.

I imagine your involvement with Buddhism and Eastern philosophy in general has informed your perspective on these matters. I wonder how the Eastern view of time as cyclical rather than linear squares (if it does) with the modernist project.


  1. It's a lot of fun following these threads. The discussions yesterday offer many good insights. Your interpretation of "the modernist dream" is very appreciated. I share a similar opinion on this. I think modernism is the third major attempt to go back to order (?), that is to say, from the Classical era to Renaissance and to Modern. As time goes on, when we come to the end of postmodernism, I don't know if people would make another attempt back to order, but it won't be the same. The utopianism had been prevalent in China until 20 years ago (roughly). But now people take it as a funny dream.

    It's strange to me that Einstein's work was done in the modern period, however, his spacetime (in a relative sense) didn't affect modern aesthetics very much (or maybe it's just my ignorance). Until later, it was wrapped up with Quantum mechanics that became a significant impact. btw, to me, Christian Marclay's clock is an example of that nonlinear time.

  2. "But now people take it as a funny dream" -- yes, I think that would apply to our situation as well, Yuting. So much of the postmodernist position is about deriding the aspirations of modernists like Kandinsky, and it seems to me that beneath all the arrogant and contemptuous posturing there lurks a profound sense of disappointment, of loss, of failure. There really is no going back, in my opinion; we can only go forward. The question is what "forward" might mean. I myself am hopeful that we might establish a "third way" (as in Buddhism) -- a middle way in between the lofty but ultimately untenable goals of perfection, of "purity", of metaphysical transcendence, etc., and our current position of despair, disbelief, and literal bewilderment. If the tone of my posts seems pessimistic, it's only because I'm playing devil's advocate a bit! I'm actually profoundly optimistic.

    As for your speculation about Einstein, I do think his work was influential to modern aesthetics. In cubism, for example, we saw the exploration of multiple simultaneous perspectives in space and time -- of their "compression" within a single instantiation. Many of the Russian modernists also explored "the fourth dimension," though this was only indirectly related, I think, to Einstein's work.

    And yes -- Christian Marclay's piece is an excellent example of an exploration of nonlinear time in contemporary art. I don't know him; I wonder if "the spiritual" is something he thinks about. Do you know?

    Thanks for all your great comments!

  3. you are absolutely right, there really is no going back. I completely agree with that. I'm very interested in the "third way", I believe some people here will contribute a lot to discussions on that. :-)

    Cubism, after you framed it this way, I can see it richer than before. I only paid attention to the compression of the space, didn't notice the time. Indeed, the reconceptualization of "simultaneity" is the starting point of Einstein's breakthrough. Thank you very much for the clue. The fourth dimension(Henri Poincare, a French mathematician/philosopher, was a notable figure) came before Einstein, it had influenced many artists including Duchamp. I guess it's not hard to find good examples to it.

    I don't know Marclay in person. I did a quick search, in his wiki page, it says "Marclay ... was notably interested in Joseph Beuys and the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and '70s." Yesterday, we happened to mention Joseph Beuys as a spiritual artist, and the whole Fluxus movement, to me, was heavily influenced by Zen. So I think "the spiritual" is something Marclay thinks about. In The Clock, I sense a strong protest against a modern/haste/non-meditative lifestyle.

  4. Beuys is interesting, and I'm sure he'll come up again in the conversation. I have problems with his approach, frankly, although I have enormous respect for him as an artist. I guess there's just something about his "everyone is an artist" dictum that strikes me now as naive and untenable, however well-intentioned it was. Also, his idea about a "spiritual economy," where "if I care for you, others will care for me," seems too simplistic, and indeed idealistic, for our complicated world. I hope the panel will take on some of these issues when we get to the session on the role of the artist in society.

  5. I agree that Beuys's "everyone is an artist" answer to spiritual dread is a dead end - but it is being creatively re-constructed by different practices outside our official gallery world - whose origin lies in the myths proposed by cultural capitalism.

  6. One master and one artist may carry the insight and the philosophy. There is no need to compare numbers. It's not a group activity. Many of the Japanese masters, Gibbon Sengai, Tessu - the No Sword Warrior, Nantenbo, Hakuin, carry the fourth and fifth dimension.

    In the non-linear Eastern time there is a circling. Nothing is lost. There is the mystical sense of the Transcendental Fifth, a new spirituality for a new world. Something along the lines of Sri Aurobindo's Supramental Being.

    Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj states "I am that" - pure being. Painting and visual art is surely but a part of spirituality, a manifestation of it. Without a vision what is there to paint?

    The dismantled and deconstructed Post Modernism is entirely negative. I ignore it. Parody and cynicism lead to suicide.