25 July 2011

Thank you for your response to the question about how an artist these days can aim at excellence.  I agree with the reader of my last post who said “one has to be true to your self and inner vision, and constantly challenge it.”  It’s a good place to start, with who I am, the artist as an individual, rather than with the details of my practice.

I must admit that I agree with Kandinsky, and see art as a spiritual activity, both in the making of it and in the perception of it.  Thomas Messner, in his book on the artist, explains Kandinsky’s aim as:

“the convincing projection of different levels of reality through forms that have detached themselves from their descriptive function.”

In this way, Kandinsky was a great originator, and one of the founding fathers of abstraction. 

” ‘form’ (or what we would call ‘style’) is merely a device through which the artist’s creative intentions are realized,”  Messner continues.  “In choosing the form best suited to his inner needs, therefore, the artist must be free from any outside compulsion.  There should be no limits to this freedom, Kandinsky argues, except those imposed by ‘inner necessity’, which throughout ‘On the Spiritual’ is identified as the basis of creative motivation.  All is permitted in art, as long as it springs from inner necessity.”


In other words, the work an artist produces should have its genesis from within his or her self.  This automatically rules out a commercial emphasis, and stands firmly on the ground of artistic integrity.  This is the question of the greatest importance to the artist.  What is his inner vision?  What is it that compels her to make art?  What is it from within myself that I am seeking to explore and give pictorial form to?  This seems to be the right place to start if I am to progress as an artist.


                                      Kandinsky : ‘Yellow-red-blue’ 1925


Kandinsky himself felt that if more emphasis was given to the spiritual rather than the material in life, it would transform society.  Messner again:

“Optimistically and confidently, Kandinsky expects the dawn of an era in art and life that will promote inner, more deeply human values over external and mechanistic ones.”

It seems to me that it would take more than just art to transform society, but on the other hand, it would be a good place to start, to promote the inner and more deeply human values that mark us out as human beings.  Kandinsky felt that the spiritual in life was the most important, and that which should concern the artist above all.  However that inevitably led to abstraction as a vehicle for the invisible rather than the representational, and he recognized the danger of abstraction, that it could become merely ornamentation

“but he was at least equally critical of painting restricted to narrative, representational scope and devoid therefore of an essential spiritual dimension.  A valid artistic expression must avoid both pitfalls.”  (Messner)

This seems like a very sensible position to take.  My work must come from within me, an attempt through abstraction to lay hold of the unseen, yet avoid being nothing but decorative.  Sensible but demanding.

Kandinsky :  ‘Composition VI’  ,  1913


I have a statement by Kandinsky on my studio wall which I particularly like:

“he (the artist) must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand.”

My starting point, then, in this enquiry into how I can develop and excel as an artist, is to pay attention to my soul,  to nurture the spiritual, and to become less concerned with the material and the ephemeral of life.    Another challenge, but from one who himself excelled in his own generation, as Durer and Michelangelo did in theirs (see previous post).


Carmen Mills





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