color Beyond Kandinsky: Immanence and Transcendence

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


Friday, April 1, 2011

Immanence and Transcendence

As our first session draws to a close later today I thought we might do well to summarize a few of the key points we've been over. There's been a good deal of talk about transcendence and immanence, and several participants have posed very strong cases for the dismissal of transcendence as the *sole* model for (or approach to) the spiritual for our times. It seems clear that our first step in moving beyond Kandinsky is one in the direction of immanence rather than transcendence, but since we're also challenging the dualism inherent in Kandinsky's metaphysics and the Modernist project in general, I'm wondering if there is a third term that might signify both immanence and transcendence together (i.e., not either/or but both/and)?


  1. wow, it's a great idea to have a clear summary here. At least, it will be very helpful for me.

    I just found the following from John Searle's Philosophy of Mind. I've found that our posts/discussions have touched some of these points here and there:

    Descartes' Dualism(I assume it's shared by Kandinsky) asserts that there are two kinds of substances in the world, mental and physical. 1.the essence of the mental is "thinking"(=consciousness); 2. the essence of the physical is extension (=having spatial dimension).

    I agree that we have moved beyond that, so we have the following alternatives and even more(not listed):
    A. Property Dualism: 1. Descartes was wrong to think that there are two kinds of substances. But there are indeed two kinds of properties, mental and physical properties; 2. one and the same body can have both mental and physical properties.
    B. Varieties of Monism: 1. Idealists: everything is mental; 2. materialists: everything is material.
    C. Behaviorism: Logical and Methodological.

    to me, not only the study of each category above is complicated, but also the relation between dualism/non-dualism and immanence/transcendence is not clear. Sorry for my stubbornness---I think Charlene's "fractal" explanation of the nondualistic understanding of "immanent" and "transcendent" helps. but when I come to this:
    "Our minds will never be able to map the endless networks of what I call "relational reality," so spirituality that seeks to commune with either immanence or transcendence now sees that they are not apart." I'm again confused. My question remains: dualism/non-dualism and immanence/transcendence are two oppositional pairs, I don't clearly see(though intuitively feel) that the understanding of dualism/non-dualism can be used to understand immanence/transcendence. I must have missed something, so I failed to make a connection. sorry for so many words.

  2. Let's see if I can take a stab at what is meant by immanence and transcendence. A very basic understanding of the two might look something like this: Transcendence refers to a realm somehow "above and beyond" the natural or mundane world, to a "higher" dimension that is ostensibly purer, more perfect, and more "ultimately real" than the natural (sensible) world, and against which this world is placed in contrast. Plato's realm of Ideas is an example, as is Heaven. (We have to proceed with caution here, because I'm sure there are much more nuanced and sophisticated ways of conceiving of these terms. I'm just laying out some basic assumptions, regardless of their veracity.) Immanence, on the other hand, points to the inherence of these "higher" qualities or dimensions within the things of this world (i.e., within matter), and suggests that there is no "other world." A crude schematization might link transcendence with supernaturalism and immanence with materialism.
    Since we're thinking about a view of the spiritual that will deny neither aspect, some words from Gregory Bateson reflecting on his life's work seem relevant:
    "...I find myself still between the Scylla of established materialism, with its quantitative thinking, applied science, and 'controlled' experiments on the one side, and the Charybdis of romantic supernaturalism on the other. My task is to explore whether there is a sane and valid place for religion somewhere between these two nightmares of nonsense. Whether, if neither muddleheadedness nor hypocrisy is necessary to religion, there might be found in knowledge and in art the basis to support an affirmation of the sacred that would celebrate natural unity." Hear, hear!

  3. good quote from Bateson! Now that makes a lot more sense. So Cartesian Dualism already bisects transcendence&immanence. In order not to bisect them, the current versions of monism seem to have one eat the other, either all supernatural/mental or all material. In fact, people are debating over all the alternative models to dualism. It will be very interesting, if we will come up with something new through this event.

  4. There's a notion in philosophy called dual-aspect monism, for which the example of a coin works well: The coin has two sides which are polar opposites, but they're clearly connected and together form the unified, indivisible thing we call coin.

  5. In Gilles Deleuze's book The Logic of Sense he postulates that the ontological realization of the eternal truth of the "One" is the concentration of the continuity of life via its intensification. The "event" is that which donates the One to the concatenation of multiplicities.
    So we could advance the following formula: in becomings, the event is the proof of the One of which these becomings are the expression. This is why there is no contradiction between the limitless of becoming and the singularity of the event.
    The event reveals in an immanent way the One of becomings, it makes becoming this One.

  6. @Taney, yes, that reminds me of some saying: the Mobius strip ontology. not the same metaphor, but they may target at the same thing.

    @Joseph, hoho, I'll do my homework on that argument. I need to think about it slowly later. so that is about immanence. what's his opinion on transcendence? I guess, they are One. what is the argument?

  7. Deleuze stresses Immanence, meaning "existing or remaining within" generally offering a relative opposition to transcendence, a divine or metaphysical beyond or outside. Deleuze, however, employs the term plane of immanence as a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division. In his final essay entitled "Immanence: A Life", Deleuze writes: "It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence."

  8. Deleuze's plane of immanence is metaphysically consistent with Spinoza’s single substance (God or Nature) in the sense that immanence is not immanent to substance but rather that immanence is substance, that is, immanent to itself. Pure immanence therefore will have consequences not only for the validity of a philosophical reliance on transcendence, but simultaneously for dualism and idealism. Mind may no longer be conceived as a self-contained field, substantially differentiated from body (dualism), nor as the primary condition of unilateral subjective mediation of external objects or events (idealism). Thus all real distinctions (mind and body, God and matter, interiority and exteriority, etc.) are collapsed or flattened into an even consistency or plane, namely immanence itself, that is, immanence without opposition.
    The plane of immanence thus is often called a plane of consistency accordingly. As a geometric plane, it is in no way bound to a mental design but rather an abstract or virtual design; which for Deleuze, is the metaphysical or ontological itself: a formless, univocal, self-organizing process which always qualitatively differentiates from itself.