color Beyond Kandinsky: Response to Session IV: The Artist in Society

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


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Response to Session IV: The Artist in Society

(1) Shaman, seeker, prophet, visionary; genius, eccentric, cultural rebel, renegade: Have these roles gone the way of the Modernist dream? What kinds of alternative roles can we conceive for the artist, and how can we work toward their implementation?

Any and all personas serve art.

(2) Has Kandinsky’s enterprise of defiance and revolt—his self-appointed role as “spiritual warrior”—been rendered suspect by contemporary sensibilities, or is there still a place for an oppositional avant-garde in contemporary culture?

The avant garde is alive and well. It always is.

(3) What role might activism—environmental, political, social—play in a new spiritual art?

This is essential. The example of Ai Wei Wei is pertinent here. His art and his life, his political actions, are one. He is the example.

(4) What is the role of the personality of the artist in today’s art culture? Has the person of the artist displaced the former role of his/her work, and in what ways might this be damaging and/or beneficial to the “spiritual atmosphere”—or interior dimension—of our culture?

"Anonymity is humility; it does not lie in the change of name, cloth or with the identification with that which may be anonymous, an ideal, a heroic act, country and so on. Anonymity is an act of the brain, the conscious anonymity; there's an anonymity which comes with the awareness of the complete. The complete is never within the filed of the brain or idea."

Krishnamurti, "Krishnamurti's Notebook", page 10.

(5) Does the supreme value placed on the individual that is such a large part of the legacy of Modernism continue to disincline artists toward work that engages questions of relatedness, or our embeddedness in the larger whole? Are these latter engagements seen as "weaker" pursuits, suited only for the less talented and ambitious?

"Creation is never in the hands of the individual. It ceases entirely when individuality, with its capacities, gifts, techniques and so on, becomes dominant. Creation is the movement of the unknowable essence of the whole; it is never the expression of the part."

Krishnamurti, "Krishnamurti's Notebook", page 11.

Relatedness and embeddedness are a fact of life. We all live in one community.


  1. Thanks for bringing up Ai Weiwei in this context, Max. He is indeed pertinent and introduces another possible role for the artist: that of political hero.

    I wonder if we can think of artists in our own country who have demonstrated a similar commitment to political change (albeit in a very different context) without falling into the trap of "message art" or propaganda. Such is the bane of art that addresses identity politics, in my opinion -- i.e., that the more heavy-handed the message, the less effective and powerful the art is *as art*. It seems clear that art operates on a level far deeper than political rhetoric (or indeed any other kind of rhetoric). I wonder, then, if the most effective way to engage politics in art might not be to concentrate on sending work into the world that somehow awakens and intensifies people's sense of inner freedom and works toward healing the alienation (from body, other people, and world) that we all struggle with.

  2. Be honest, I think Ai Weiwei was used by a third party, like many other similar "heroes". for example, the students were fooled and used by some organization, they later regretted.
    Chinese politics is too complicated for me to comprehend, dark matters...

  3. Yuting, I'd not heard that speculation. These are matters about which I know nothing! So horrible...

  4. Indeed, horrible. I was too little at that time to know that massacre. Later I heard from one professor in my current department, he was actually involved and got trauma, and later had to flee to US. He couldn't imagine those real bullets and tanks. I personally prefer art that's not intensely political.