Kandinsky Pro and Con

Recently I saw a couple of early abstractions by Kandinsky, which provoke me to revisit the reasons I don’t like them. As it happens, my normal disinterest in the artist has just changed – I’m now strongly disposed in his favor. The problem is that his improvisations are slack. They seem like accumulations of stuff without necessity; anything could be added. In a word, they’re too easy. Maybe it’s because the forms don’t have a strong character, and they don’t fit together in a compelling way. Following along from the same impression I also find that once the work becomes fully abstract, without recognizable figures, the space loses all scale. It could be a view through a microscope or a telescope, and there is no way to distinguish the two. Theoretically that may be interesting, because it conflates cosmic and cellular origins, but again, for me it’s too easy, too automatic. But there is a point where that flat, flowing, aimless improvisation turns into something else, a cornucopia of beautiful discoveries. Pointless doodling and discovery might be two sides of the same experience, and which face appears depends a lot on the viewer’s needs, and maybe on history itself. We find what we are looking for. But Kandinsky did get better as he went along, and the early semi-abstract landscapes and symbolic/literary tableau don’t offer as many fresh moments as the large abstractions like Painting with White Border, even though the handling  is pretty much the same.

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition IV 1911

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition IV 1911

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