color Beyond Kandinsky: Max on the quality of attention

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


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Max on the quality of attention

Since we're showing four films tonight at the SVA Theatre, I'm wondering if Max or anyone else would address the "quality of attention" that Max brought up yesterday. What are the qualities of attention necessary for properly experiencing art? As an artist, how would you like the viewer/participant to engage your work? What role does time play in that attention? How is it different with time-based media like film, video, digital art than with art that does not engage the participant over time?


  1. Krishnamurti " The Flame of Attention".

    breaking down the veil between the viewer and the object, with attention.

    ideally time ends in concentration and pain leaves with time.

    the entry point is selected and the painting entered and the journey commences. a fresh view ensures and all is miraculous.

    in the observation of the object one becomes close to it and perhaps at times at one with it.

    an object walked past has not been experienced.

    Krishnamurti said that " direct perception is insight which transforms the brain cells themselves.

    this a goal of art.

  2. Krishnamurti is a great source of instruction on the cessation of time (by which I take him to mean psychological time, or "clock time"). Since David Bohm came up quite a bit at the beginning of this symposium, this seems an appropriate time to reintroduce him by way of his work with Krishnamurti. The two of them collaborated on a book called The Ending of Time, which I found a powerful argument for the practice of attention when I first read it ten years ago. I'll have to take another look at it to refresh my memory, but it seems that together they were able to articulate some of the experiential and physical dynamics of attention especially powerfully because their approaches to the subject were polar opposites -- Bohm's being that of a Western physicist and Krishnamurti's that of an Indian philosopher.

    Max, you mentioned in another comment that experience (aesthetic or otherwise) "is not a group activity." While I agree that experience is in itself radically private -- you have no access to my consciousness and I've none to yours -- there remains the issue of our responsibility as artists to enrich the experience of others -- or, at the very least, not to contribute to its contamination. But this is the subject of our next session, so perhaps we can wait till tomorrow. I just wanted to put the question out there, because you seem able to ignore the current state of affairs far better than I.

  3. I merely meant to suggest perception is private but surely sharing it with others is the drive of our objects, they are placed in the flow to encourage perception by others, this is all I meant to infer, nothing further.

  4. A very important aspect of attention came up in an earlier thread: the ability to slow down enough to engage a work deeply, and let its quieter and more subtle aspects find their way to the surface.

    It's something we discussed a lot when I was still a student in the MFA Art Criticism and Writing and program at SVA, and my practical experience writing reviews and criticism since then has shown it to be true. Sometimes art you might dismiss offhand on a cursory glance reveals hidden depths or amazing complexity when you give it time to speak.

  5. One might consider the spiritual qualities in the work of Bill Viola here.

  6. as Max said "ideally time ends in concentration and pain leaves with time.", together with Bill Viola's work, I realize pain/suffering is the fundamental(or required) perception in all Zen/Buddhism inspired spiritual works. Then the "quality of attention" only remains in the group of people who can perceive pain as something. Many people can feel it but won't take it seriously. So, it makes me think that any work of art with a certain spiritual orientation tend to select its audience. In order to get more people engaged, the spiritual, in the mind of the artist, should be less axiomatic. Maybe I'm terribly wrong here, please correct.

  7. What about the work of James Turrell in this context?

  8. I guess James Turrell intended to affect the immersant with the light--the visual correspondence of his inner (specific) enlightenment( come from the realization of pain?). but his works really make me happy, life is happy and sunny :-D