color Beyond Kandinsky: Welcome

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


As we open this forum to the public today I would like to welcome everyone to our online symposium, Beyond Kandinsky: Revisiting the Spiritual in Art, sponsored by the BFA Fine Arts Department at the School of Visual Arts. Before beginning, I want to extend my thanks to Suzanne Anker, Chair of BFA Fine Arts here at SVA, for her continued support of this project, and to each of the nineteen participants who have graciously accepted our invitation to gather here and share their thoughts about the spiritual in art over the next ten days. Thanks to this diverse group of accomplished artists, critics, and scholars, the forthcoming dialogue promises to be a dynamic and illuminating one indeed.

Each of our participants was asked to give a brief introduction outlining her or his background and relationship to our subject. Readers who would like to familiarize themselves with our panel before entering the dialogue are encouraged to visit the participants and statements pages on our website. Moderator essays introducing the project can also be found on the statements page. For further information about the project, see the homepage of our website:

The live component of our project, which is the focus of this forum, begins today and will run continuously through the evening of Friday, April 8th. Over the course of the next ten days we will be exploring the subject of the spiritual in art, using Kandinsky’s century-old classic both as a point of departure and as a framing device with which to gain a fresh perspective on our current situation. We will be addressing four interrelated topics, each roughly delineating one aspect of our subject and fleshed out by a set of questions at the start of each session. Both the topics and the questions are intended primarily to catalyze dialogue and to provide a structure for the discussion.  Participants are welcome to respond in any way they see fit, whether from their personal and professional experience or from a theoretical perspective. Excursions, deviations, and musings of all kind are encouraged.

Throughout, we’ll welcome moderated comments from our reading audience. Every effort will be made to place these in a relevant context within the flow of the real-time dialogue.

Without further ado, let me introduce our first topic: The Spiritual Then and Now. The last century was witness to so many enormous changes – changes that have no doubt been reflected in our shifting attitudes toward and ideas about the spiritual. Before we can begin to examine the place of the spiritual in art, then, it seems we would do well to examine the larger issue of the spiritual itself. The first problem that confronts us in this task is that there is today no real consensus about what the spiritual is. So, with a view toward defining the shape and scope of our subject, I pose the following questions and open the forum up to dialogue:

  1. How have our ideas about the spiritual changed with the dissolution of the Modernist dream, in which Kandinsky's vision was so deeply embedded?
  2. How has the notion of transcendence changed? Is transcendence still viable in a largely secular, postmodern culture?
  3. What might account for the deep suspicion—or indeed denial—of the spiritual among many artists and intellectuals in our culture?
  4. How have attitudes toward nature, the material world, and the body changed since Kandinsky?
  5. In what ways has the rise of digital technology impacted our ideas about the spiritual? Does it present a new vision of transcendence or salvation?
  6. Are the Enlightenment principles championed by Modernity (i.e., rationalism, positivism, materialism, etc.) being superseded by a new, more spiritually-inclined worldview—or is the spiritual being rendered obsolete by a wholly new orientation?
  7. Does science have a role to play in exploring new approaches to or understandings of the transcendent?

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