color Beyond Kandinsky

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

Alex – I like very much your description of the qualities of mystical experience. I, for one, experienced ‘numinosum’ for the first time while engaged in the process of making art, focused in a particular way in the studio, This was not prior to making, rather occurred as a result of my engagement. I do question the phrase “authentic spiritual art” because it may be for one person (artist or viewer) and not another. I can in earnest say that my lifelong commitment to being an artist is in large part the result of the transformation that I experience as I wholly connect materials, eyes, mind with the moment. Nothing else has even come close. (You can use your imagination as to what ‘nothing’ refers to.)

I experienced such transformation one night spent atop the great pyramid of Cheops in my late 20’s, and now in front of a great deal of art (by others), but by-in-large my relationship to spirituality has everything to do with the artistic process.

I would be very interested in hearing from the other artists here about their own experience as makers in this regard.

Laura Battle


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  2. Laura, I'm really glad you brought up the artistic process and its relation to the numinous. In my experience, there is indeed something wholly distinct and incomparably intense about being in that mode of artistic concentration. I'm continually struck by the way the experience seems to have a mind of its own, for lack of a better way to put it; it repeatedly occurs to me while I'm "there" that I'm not in the driver's seat -- that in fact I'm not even in the passenger's seat, but somewhere way in the back. It's as though "I" leave and something wholly other seeps in (quietly, in my case -- there's never anything dramatic or exultant, but more like a subtle shift that occurs "backstage").
    Last week in my class I showed the William Kentridge documentary called Drawing the Passing. There's a moment in it when he talks about the activity of drawing -- the physical act of moving the charcoal across the page while being fully engaged in the process -- and how it opens him up to a way of thinking and knowing that would be otherwise impossible. That really resonates with me; I find that I arrive at all my artistic solutions while in the act of moving hand and eye. I'm always reminded of a little phrase I remember reading of Freud's: "Thought not born of locomotion isn't worth thinking." I don't know if I entirely agree with it, or if it's in any way related to the numinous, but it does present an interesting question about what happens in the bodymind when all parts are seriously engaged.

  3. On the late great painter, poet, composer, philosopher Dane Rudhyar:

    Rudhyar and the Transcendental Painting Group

    The Transcendental Painting Group was founded by several non-objective artists struggling to establish abstract and non-objective art in America. The group included Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram, Lawren Harris, Alfred Morang, Agnes Pelton, Ed Garman, Horace Pierce, Dane Rudhyar and others. While many members shared an interest in theosophy and mysticism, and were inspired by the work of Wassily Kandinsky, mundane factors, such as needs for work space, exhibitions and publicity, actually brought the group together.
    The Santa Fe Transcendental Painting Group is featured in the recent book Kandinsky and the American Avant-Garde: 1912-1950. The volume includes an essay on the Transcendental Painting Group by Marianne Lorenz and color plates depicting the work of its members.
    Regarding Rudhyar's work and its place, Lorenz writes, "Rudhyar is unique among the artists being studied here because he emerged fully as a painter in the style of Kandinsky almost immediately. Philosophically and intellectually seasoned in the theories that underlay Kandinsky's art, his artistic development was not subject to the long search or evolutionary process that was the case of Harris and Jonson. Rudhyar discovered Kandinsky's vocabulary at the same time he discovered painting. As such, much of his oeuvre of the period, while often imbued with an almost heroic energy, quotes Kandinsky's formal language and reinterprets it in overtly theosophical or mystical terms.
    "Interestingly, Alfred Morang minimizes the influence of Kandinsky on Rudhyar, stating that 'the work of Rudhyar is built upon a non-objective pattern, but is not at all like the work of any other non-objective painter . . . His placing of shapes upon an oblong is not dictated by the rules of, let us say, Kandinsky or Picasso. Rather the motive force that actuates Rudhyar is a desire to the intangible something that he has learned to recognize through his music and his writing.'"

    It is fundamental to realize, that none of Rudhyar's creative expressions emphasizes the technical, specialized approach which mark artists who work as "professionals." Indeed, Rudhyar fought against the attitude of professionalism in any art; for such an attitude binds the creation to ideological as well as esthetic standards, and very often to fashion. "Any art," he states, "should evoke an inner reality behind the outer forms, sounds or colors. The work of art of whatever kind, plastic or musical, should raise the feelings and the consciousness of whoever is faced with it to a higher level. To call this a 'mystical' concept is quite senseless. This has been the foundation of all great art in all cultures, except perhaps during their formalistic and 'classical' period during which virtuosity and 'art for art's sake' was considered the ideal for an often empty and bored aristocracy at some kingly or princely court."

  4. more from Rudhyar:

    "Strictly representational painting (landscape, portraits and still-lives) reduces to two-dimensional space the physical reality of objects and persons our senses and mind interpret as three-dimensional, using the principle of perspective and the direction of light and shadows to produce the appearance of concreteness. But as Kandinsky, the great Russian painter of the early 20th century, well understood, this appearance is only an "illusion." Thus, he said, representative paintings are in fact "abstractions." This is why he spoke of his non-representative painting as "concrete art." Such an art does not try to mirror on a flat surface what we experience normally in depth; concrete art simply produces concrete objects — paintings — which do not pretend to exist in anything other than two-dimensional space. They are truly creations, not merely interpretations.
    I soon became aware that the proper term to characterize my paintings was transcrete art, because they were not objects having meaning in themselves as much as forms translucent to the light of meaning. The word "transcrete" is made of the Latin roots trans (through) and crescere (to grow). Meaning grows out of the transcrete form as a plant grows out of a seed. The term, diaphanous, could also be used, because the forms in my paintings are (or at least purport to be) revelations of a transcendent quality or archetype of being."