color Beyond Kandinsky: Returning to the abandoned spiritual ideals of modern 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


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Returning to the abandoned spiritual ideals of modern art

I have been thinking back on the *why* of the abandoning of spiritual ideals in Modern art. I first thought it might be traced to the rise of the philosophy of Pragmatism, and that of Friedrich Nietzsche, then Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. And with the advent of phenomenology—most noticeably that of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. I recall reading about the strong impact Henri Bergson’s theory of vitalism had upon Henri Matisse and other Modernists (including the Cubists) with the release of his book Creative Evolution in 1907.

Then I recalled that the Symbolists’s spiritualist interests were focused on the possibility of combining and superimposing symbol systems into a *universal symbolic language*. When the universal symbolic language flopped with boring and vapid Modernist conceits, symbolist spirituality was clearly abandoned. But it occurs to me that a scientific spirituality has never been sought after in art.


  1. It looks complicated, a batch of history to be learnt. Does *universal symbolic language* refer to the logical positivism's principle:"the idea that all knowledge should be codifiable in a single standard language of science"? Then, it seems to me that Idealists and Symbolists are not the same. For example, Russell and his student Ludwig Wittgenstein were not Idealists, Russell's logical atomism is commonly called monism. But they were Symbolists, if I get it right. Since Russell opposed Henri Bergson in his writing The Philosophy of Bergson, I infer that there is a split among non-idealists. So, do you suggest that, with the rise of nonidealists and the fall of symbolists in this camp, spiritual ideals(expressed in a symbolic way) of modern art were abandoned?

  2. then I'm curious about the scientific spirituality in your mind. will you say more about it? I guess not the formal science that is still symbolic, but some "avant-guard" empirical science, like Vitalism related subjects, for example, this one?
    mystical science...

  3. I think I said what I have to say on this subject in my post: Current definitions of “spirituality”.
    However, I can point you to a new controversial school of philosophy that I find interesting that seems to be pushing towards a scientific spirituality. It is called Speculative Realism - specifically their work on Transcendental Materialism / Neo-Vitalism.
    I have only read Quentin Meillassoux's book After Finitude: an Essay on the Necessity of Contingency that was translated by Ray Brassier.
    Keep in mind that Ray Brassier criticized the movement as a mix of actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy.

  4. Now I remember you quoted Ray Brassier a while ago in Paris. It says he is a founder of Speculative Realism, why did he criticize it?

  5. now I manage to make a connection. The scientific spiritual is attained by the omnijectivity. and the omnijectivity, in a narrower sense, can be regarded as speculative(view things in any/all direction(s)). Then it also "occurs to me that a scientific spirituality has never been sought after in art". Maybe it's a good thing to do.