color Beyond Kandinsky: A Footnote to “The Changing Shape of Art”

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


Monday, April 4, 2011

A Footnote to “The Changing Shape of Art”

Georges Braque, toward the end of his life (in the course of a conversation with John Richardson) made the following statement:

You see, I have made a great discovery. I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them, or between them and myself. When one attains this harmony one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence—what I can only describe as a sense of peace, which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.

As a result of his studio practice, painting the same motifs over and over, including the characteristic bird in flight (comparable to Brancusi’s birds), Braque apparently attains the state of no-self, seeing the insubstantiality of appearances. That would be defined as “enlightenment” in Buddhist parlance. I am bringing this up as an example of a natural, largely unconscious, development towards spiritual maturity that seems somehow ahistorical, in the sense that a solitary, contemplative artist working at any point in time could arrive at that same “harmony.”

It may be worthwhile to note that Braque fought, and was wounded, in WWI, yet that experience seemed to have no impact on his work.

1 comment:

  1. Pawel, thanks for giving us your thoughts about Braque and his late-life realization of insubstantiality. I've never heard this, and indeed he's certainly not someone I would associate with the spiritual (in art or otherwise). His statement is beautiful, and it *does* resonate so deeply with some of the fundamental philosophical tenets of Buddhist thought (e.g., dependent co-origination, etc.). I wonder if Braque had any contact with or knowledge of Buddhism.

    I also didn't realize that Braque fought (let alone was wounded) in the war. This is interesting in light of what Charlene has just brought up about the pervasive trauma at that time of having sacrificed an entire generation to the trenches. I find myself disinclined to accept that the experience had no impact on Braque's work. Perhaps it did influence, however unconsciously, his movement toward an appreciation of transience, impermanence, insubstantiality, etc. If this is the case, it seems his witnessing the trauma sent him *toward* the spiritual rather than in the direction taken by so many in the generation of artists to follow (i.e., away from it in disgust).

    In any case, this is a beautiful example of, as you said, a "natural" development of a spiritual attitude later in life. I wonder what he would have thought of the word "spiritual."