color Beyond Kandinsky: The Artist in Society: Individualism and Personality

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, April 6, 2011

The Artist in Society: Individualism and Personality

Suzi Gablik (Has Modernism Failed?) argued that a key tenet of modernism is the idea of "uninhibited individualism," which she suggests can only progress at the "expense of the strength of common beliefs and feelings." In other words, such individualism is inherently antisocial. At the same time, she states that artists have a responsibility to be a moral presence in the world and suggests that such moral authority requires that artists make themselves into "exemplary beings," individuals with the charisma to influence society by positioning themselves outside of the dominant culture. She ends up saying that it all comes down to the quality of the individual: "to recognize truth is not a matter of talent but of character."

I wonder if the artists in our midst care to comment about the either: 1) the role of the "personality" of the artist in today's art culture; or 2) the importance of the "moral" authority of the artist?


  1. both roles are too ambitious for me. At present, I could only think of offering myself as an object of self-study. As in this networked society (towards a global mind), an in-depth study of an individual could be a representative of the universal.

  2. The issue of the "moral authority" of the artist is a tricky one indeed. To begin with, if we were to eliminate from the record all artists whose "authority" was profoundly immoral, anti-social, or amoral at best, we'd be left much the poorer for it, artistically speaking. While I don't think there's necessarily a connection between great art and troubled or destructive psyches, neither is there a connection between great art and moral superiority. That said, I think there *is* a role for the artist as "pointer" toward the higher aspirations of humanity, whether she/he embodies them personally or not.

    I suppose I have a problem with Suzi Gablik's vision for a "connective aesthetics" -- not because I find the vision problematic, necessarily, but because of the way in which this approach to art too often turns art into a kind of social work or activism that ignores art's unique properties *as art*. I also don't agree that there's something *inherently* disconnective about the conventional object-oriented media (i.e., painting, drawing,and sculpture). The problem seems to me to rest in the fundamentally dichotomizing worldview with which artworks of any kind are experienced.

    One of the things I do appreciate so much about Suzi Gablik's writing is her insistence on a general "turning outward" in art and in the larger culture -- a leaving behind of our preoccupation with self (witnessed especially vividly in psychoanalysis) and a turning toward an address of the larger whole in which we all participate. Her redefinition of the spiritual in art to include not just introspection and self-healing but also "extrospection" and the healing of the earth and world was (and is) a much-needed one.