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Title: Über das Geistige in der Kunst. English - Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Author: Kandinsky, Wassily, 1866-1944
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Mosaic in S. Vitale, Ravenna

Victor and Heinrich Dunwegge: "The Crucifixion" (in the Alte
Pinakothek, Munich)

Albrecht Durer: "The Descent from the Cross" (in the Alte
Pinakothek, Munich)

Raphael: "The Canigiani Holy Family" (in the Alte Pinakothek,

Paul Cezanne: "Bathing Women" (by permission of Messrs.
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris)

Kandinsky: Impression No. 4, "Moscow" (1911)

          "Improvisation No. 29 (1912)
          "Composition No. 2 (1910)
          "Kleine Freuden" (1913)


It is no common thing to find an artist who, even if he be
willing to try, is capable of expressing his aims and ideals with
any clearness and moderation. Some people will say that any such
capacity is a flaw in the perfect artist, who should find his
expression in line and colour, and leave the multitude to grope
its way unaided towards comprehension. This attitude is a relic
of the days when "l'art pour l'art" was the latest battle cry;
when eccentricity of manner and irregularity of life were more
important than any talent to the would-be artist; when every one
except oneself was bourgeois.

The last few years have in some measure removed this absurdity,
by destroying the old convention that it was middle-class to be
sane, and that between the artist and the outer-world yawned a
gulf which few could cross. Modern artists are beginning to
realize their social duties. They are the spiritual teachers of
the world, and for their teaching to have weight, it must be
comprehensible. Any attempt, therefore, to bring artist and
public into sympathy, to enable the latter to understand the
ideals of the former, should be thoroughly welcome; and such an
attempt is this book of Kandinsky's.

The author is one of the leaders of the new art movement in
Munich. The group of which he is a member includes painters,
poets, musicians, dramatists, critics, all working to the same
end--the expression of the SOUL of nature and humanity, or, as
Kandinsky terms it, the INNERER KLANG.

Perhaps the fault of this book of theory--or rather the
characteristic most likely to give cause for attack--is the
tendency to verbosity. Philosophy, especially in the hands of a
writer of German, presents inexhaustible opportunities for vague
and grandiloquent language. Partly for this reason, partly from
incompetence, I have not primarily attempted to deal with the
philosophical basis of Kandinsky's art. Some, probably, will find
in this aspect of the book its chief interest, but better service
will be done to the author's ideas by leaving them to the
reader's judgement than by even the most expert criticism.

The power of a book to excite argument is often the best proof of
its value, and my own experience has always been that those new
ideas are at once most challenging and most stimulating which
come direct from their author, with no intermediate discussion.

The task undertaken in this Introduction is a humbler but perhaps
a more necessary one. England, throughout her history, has shown
scant respect for sudden spasms of theory. Whether in politics,
religion, or art, she demands an historical foundation for every
belief, and when such a foundation is not forthcoming she may
smile indulgently, but serious interest is immediately withdrawn.
I am keenly anxious that Kandinsky's art should not suffer this
fate. My personal belief in his sincerity and the future of his
ideas will go for very little, but if it can be shown that he is
a reasonable development of what we regard as serious art, that
he is no adventurer striving for a momentary notoriety by the
strangeness of his beliefs, then there is a chance that some
people at least will give his art fair consideration, and that,
of these people, a few will come to love it as, in my opinion, it

Post-Impressionism, that vague and much-abused term, is now almost a
household word. That the name of the movement is better known than the
names of its chief leaders is a sad misfortune, largely caused by the
over-rapidity of its introduction into England. Within the space of two
short years a mass of artists from Manet to the most recent of Cubists
were thrust on a public, who had hardly realized Impressionism. The
inevitable result has been complete mental chaos. The tradition of which
true Post-Impressionism is the modern expression has been kept alive
down the ages of European art by scattered and, until lately, neglected
painters. But not since the time of the so-called Byzantines, not since
the period of which Giotto and his School were the final splendid
blossoming, has the "Symbolist" ideal in art held general sway over the
"Naturalist." The Primitive Italians, like their predecessors the
Primitive Greeks, and, in turn, their predecessors the Egyptians, sought
to express the inner feeling rather than the outer reality.

This ideal tended to be lost to sight in the naturalistic revival
of the Renaissance, which derived its inspiration solely from
those periods of Greek and Roman art which were pre-occupied with
the expression of external reality. Although the all-embracing
genius of Michelangelo kept the "Symbolist" tradition alive, it
is the work of El Greco that merits the complete title of
"Symbolist." From El Greco springs Goya and the Spanish influence
on Daumier and Manet. When it is remembered that, in the
meantime, Rembrandt and his contemporaries, notably Brouwer, left
their mark on French art in the work of Delacroix, Decamps and
Courbet, the way will be seen clearly open to Cezanne and

The phrase "symbolist tradition" is not used to express any
conscious affinity between the various generations of artists. As
Kandinsky says: "the relationships in art are not necessarily
ones of outward form, but are founded on inner sympathy of
meaning." Sometimes, perhaps frequently, a similarity of outward
form will appear. But in tracing spiritual relationship only
inner meaning must be taken into account.

There are, of course, many people who deny that Primitive Art had an
inner meaning or, rather, that what is called "archaic expression" was
dictated by anything but ignorance of representative methods and
defective materials. Such people are numbered among the bitterest
opponents of Post-Impressionism, and indeed it is difficult to see how
they could be otherwise. "Painting," they say, "which seeks to learn
from an age when art was, however sincere, incompetent and uneducated,
deliberately rejects the knowledge and skill of centuries." It will be
no easy matter to conquer this assumption that Primitive art is merely
untrained Naturalism, but until it is conquered there seems little hope
for a sympathetic understanding of the symbolist ideal.

The task is all the more difficult because of the analogy drawn by
friends of the new movement between the neo-primitive vision and that of
a child. That the analogy contains a grain of truth does not make it the
less mischievous. Freshness of vision the child has, and freshness of
vision is an important element in the new movement. But beyond this a
parallel is non-existent, must be non-existent in any art other than
pure artificiality. It is one thing to ape ineptitude in technique and
another to acquire simplicity of vision. Simplicity--or rather
discrimination of vision--is the trademark of the true
Post-Impressionist. He OBSERVES and then SELECTS what is essential. The
result is a logical and very sophisticated synthesis. Such a synthesis
will find expression in simple and even harsh technique. But the process
can only come AFTER the naturalist process and not before it. The child
has a direct vision, because his mind is unencumbered by association and
because his power of concentration is unimpaired by a multiplicity of
interests. His method of drawing is immature; its variations from the
ordinary result from lack of capacity.

Two examples will make my meaning clearer. The child draws a landscape.
His picture contains one or two objects only from the number before his
eyes. These are the objects which strike him as important. So far, good.
But there is no relation between them; they stand isolated on his paper,
mere lumpish shapes. The Post-Impressionist, however, selects his
objects with a view to expressing by their means the whole feeling of
the landscape. His choice falls on elements which sum up the whole, not
those which first attract immediate attention.

Again, let us take the case of the definitely religious picture.

[Footnote: Religion, in the sense of awe, is present in all true
art. But here I use the term in the narrower sense to mean
pictures of which the subject is connected with Christian or
other worship.]

It is not often that children draw religious scenes. More often battles
and pageants attract them. But since the revival of the religious
picture is so noticeable a factor in the new movement, since the
Byzantines painted almost entirely religious subjects, and finally,
since a book of such drawings by a child of twelve has recently been
published, I prefer to take them as my example. Daphne Alien's religious
drawings have the graceful charm of childhood, but they are mere
childish echoes of conventional prettiness. Her talent, when mature,
will turn to the charming rather than to the vigorous. There could be no
greater contrast between such drawing and that of--say--Cimabue.
Cimabue's Madonnas are not pretty women, but huge, solemn symbols. Their
heads droop stiffly; their tenderness is universal. In Gauguin's "Agony
in the Garden" the figure of Christ is haggard with pain and grief.
These artists have filled their pictures with a bitter experience which
no child can possibly possess. I repeat, therefore, that the analogy
between Post-Impressionism and child-art is a false analogy, and that
for a trained man or woman to paint as a child paints is an
impossibility. [Footnote: I am well aware that this statement is at
variance with Kandinsky, who has contributed a long article--"Uber die
Formfrage"--to Der Blaue Reiter, in which he argues the parallel between
Post-Impressionism and child vision, as exemplified in the work of Henri
Rousseau. Certainly Rousseau's vision is childlike. He has had no
artistic training and pretends to none. But I consider that his art
suffers so greatly from his lack of training, that beyond a sentimental
interest it has little to recommend it.]

All this does not presume to say that the "symbolist" school of
art is necessarily nobler than the "naturalist." I am making no
comparison, only a distinction. When the difference in aim is
fully realized, the Primitives can no longer be condemned as
incompetent, nor the moderns as lunatics, for such a condemnation
is made from a wrong point of view. Judgement must be passed, not
on the failure to achieve "naturalism" but on the failure to
express the inner meaning.

The brief historical survey attempted above ended with the names of
Cezanne and Gauguin, and for the purposes of this Introduction, for the
purpose, that is to say, of tracing the genealogy of the Cubists and of
Kandinsky, these two names may be taken to represent the modern
expression of the "symbolist" tradition.

The difference between them is subtle but goes very deep. For
both the ultimate and internal significance of what they painted
counted for more than the significance which is momentary and
external. Cezanne saw in a tree, a heap of apples, a human face,
a group of bathing men or women, something more abiding than
either photography or impressionist painting could present. He
painted the "treeness" of the tree, as a modern critic has
admirably expressed it. But in everything he did he showed the
architectural mind of the true Frenchman. His landscape studies
were based on a profound sense of the structure of rocks and
hills, and being structural, his art depends essentially on
reality. Though he did not scruple, and rightly, to sacrifice
accuracy of form to the inner need, the material of which his art
was composed was drawn from the huge stores of actual nature.

Gauguin has greater solemnity and fire than Cezanne. His pictures
are tragic or passionate poems. He also sacrifices conventional
form to inner expression, but his art tends ever towards the
spiritual, towards that profounder emphasis which cannot be
expressed in natural objects nor in words. True his abandonment
of representative methods did not lead him to an abandonment of
natural terms of expression--that is to say human figures, trees
and animals do appear in his pictures. But that he was much
nearer a complete rejection of representation than was Cezanne is
shown by the course followed by their respective disciples.

The generation immediately subsequent to Cezanne, Herbin,
Vlaminck, Friesz, Marquet, etc., do little more than exaggerate
Cezanne's technique, until there appear the first signs of
Cubism. These are seen very clearly in Herbin. Objects begin to
be treated in flat planes. A round vase is represented by a
series of planes set one into the other, which at a distance
blend into a curve. This is the first stage.

The real plunge into Cubism was taken by Picasso, who, nurtured
on Cezanne, carried to its perfectly logical conclusion the
master's structural treatment of nature. Representation
disappears. Starting from a single natural object, Picasso and
the Cubists produce lines and project angles till their canvases
are covered with intricate and often very beautiful series of
balanced lines and curves. They persist, however, in giving them
picture titles which recall the natural object from which their
minds first took flight.

With Gauguin the case is different. The generation of his disciples
which followed him--I put it thus to distinguish them from his actual
pupils at Pont Aven, Serusier and the rest--carried the tendency
further. One hesitates to mention Derain, for his beginnings, full of
vitality and promise, have given place to a dreary compromise with
Cubism, without visible future, and above all without humour. But there
is no better example of the development of synthetic symbolism than his
first book of woodcuts.

[Footnote: L'Enchanteur pourrissant, par Guillaume Apollinaire,
avec illustrations gravees sur bois par Andre Derain. Paris,
Kahnweiler, 1910.]

Here is work which keeps the merest semblance of conventional
form, which gives its effect by startling masses of black and
white, by sudden curves, but more frequently by sudden angles.

[Footnote: The renaissance of the angle in art is an interesting
feature of the new movement. Not since Egyptian times has it been
used with such noble effect. There is a painting of Gauguin's at
Hagen, of a row of Tahitian women seated on a bench, that
consists entirely of a telling design in Egyptian angles. Cubism
is the result of this discovery of the angle, blended with the
influence of Cezanne.]

In the process of the gradual abandonment of natural form the
"angle" school is paralleled by the "curve" school, which also
descends wholly from Gauguin. The best known representative is
Maurice Denis. But he has become a slave to sentimentality, and
has been left behind. Matisse is the most prominent French artist
who has followed Gauguin with curves. In Germany a group of young
men, who form the Neue Kunstlevereinigung in Munich, work almost
entirely in sweeping curves, and have reduced natural objects
purely to flowing, decorative units.

But while they have followed Gauguin's lead in abandoning
representation both of these two groups of advance are lacking in
spiritual meaning. Their aim becomes more and more decorative,
with an undercurrent of suggestion of simplified form. Anyone who
has studied Gauguin will be aware of the intense spiritual value
of his work. The man is a preacher and a psychologist, universal
by his very unorthodoxy, fundamental because he goes deeper than
civilization. In his disciples this great element is wanting.
Kandinsky has supplied the need. He is not only on the track of
an art more purely spiritual than was conceived even by Gauguin,
but he has achieved the final abandonment of all representative
intention. In this way he combines in himself the spiritual and
technical tendencies of one great branch of Post-Impressionism.

The question most generally asked about Kandinsky's art is: "What
is he trying to do?" It is to be hoped that this book will do
something towards answering the question. But it will not do
everything. This--partly because it is impossible to put into
words the whole of Kandinsky's ideal, partly because in his
anxiety to state his case, to court criticism, the author has
been tempted to formulate more than is wise. His analysis of
colours and their effects on the spectator is not the real basis
of his art, because, if it were, one could, with the help of a
scientific manual, describe one's emotions before his pictures
with perfect accuracy. And this is impossible.

Kandinsky is painting music. That is to say, he has broken down
the barrier between music and painting, and has isolated the pure
emotion which, for want of a better name, we call the artistic
emotion. Anyone who has listened to good music with any enjoyment
will admit to an unmistakable but quite indefinable thrill. He
will not be able, with sincerity, to say that such a passage gave
him such visual impressions, or such a harmony roused in him such
emotions. The effect of music is too subtle for words. And the
same with this painting of Kandinsky's. Speaking for myself, to
stand in front of some of his drawings or pictures gives a keener
and more spiritual pleasure than any other kind of painting. But
I could not express in the least what gives the pleasure.
Presumably the lines and colours have the same effect as harmony
and rhythm in music have on the truly musical. That psychology
comes in no one can deny. Many people--perhaps at present the
very large majority of people--have their colour-music sense
dormant. It has never been exercised. In the same way many people
are unmusical--either wholly, by nature, or partly, for lack of
experience. Even when Kandinsky's idea is universally understood
there may be many who are not moved by his melody. For my part,
something within me answered to Kandinsky's art the first time I
met with it. There was no question of looking for representation;
a harmony had been set up, and that was enough.

Of course colour-music is no new idea. That is to say attempts have been
made to play compositions in colour, by flashes and harmonies.
[Footnote: Cf. "Colour Music," by A. Wallace Rimington. Hutchinson. 6s.
net.] Also music has been interpreted in colour. But I do not know of
any previous attempt to paint, without any reference to music,
compositions which shall have on the spectator an effect wholly divorced
from representative association. Kandinsky refers to attempts to paint
in colour-counterpoint. But that is a different matter, in that it is
the borrowing from one art by another of purely technical methods,
without a previous impulse from spiritual sympathy.

One is faced then with the conflicting claims of Picasso and
Kandinsky to the position of true leader of non-representative
art. Picasso's admirers hail him, just as this Introduction hails
Kandinsky, as a visual musician. The methods and ideas of each
rival are so different that the title cannot be accorded to both.
In his book, Kandinsky states his opinion of Cubism and its fatal
weakness, and history goes to support his contention. The origin
of Cubism in Cezanne, in a structural art that owes its very
existence to matter, makes its claim to pure emotionalism seem
untenable. Emotions are not composed of strata and conflicting
pressures. Once abandon reality and the geometrical vision
becomes abstract mathematics. It seems to me that Picasso shares
a Futurist error when he endeavours to harmonize one item of
reality--a number, a button, a few capital letters--with a
surrounding aura of angular projections. There must be a conflict
of impressions, which differ essentially in quality. One trend of
modern music is towards realism of sound. Children cry, dogs
bark, plates are broken. Picasso approaches the same goal from
the opposite direction. It is as though he were trying to work
from realism to music. The waste of time is, to my mind, equally
complete in both cases. The power of music to give expression
without the help of representation is its noblest possession. No
painting has ever had such a precious power. Kandinsky is
striving to give it that power, and prove what is at least the
logical analogy between colour and sound, between line and rhythm
of beat. Picasso makes little use of colour, and confines himself
only to one series of line effects--those caused by conflicting
angles. So his aim is smaller and more limited than Kandinsky's
even if it is as reasonable. But because it has not wholly
abandoned realism but uses for the painting of feeling a
structural vision dependent for its value on the association of
reality, because in so doing it tries to make the best of two
worlds, there seems little hope for it of redemption in either.

As has been said above, Picasso and Kandinsky make an interesting
parallel, in that they have developed the art respectively of
Cezanne and Gauguin, in a similar direction. On the decision of
Picasso's failure or success rests the distinction between
Cezanne and Gauguin, the realist and the symbolist, the painter
of externals and the painter of religious feeling. Unless a
spiritual value is accorded to Cezanne's work, unless he is
believed to be a religious painter (and religious painters need
not paint Madonnas), unless in fact he is paralleled closely with
Gauguin, his follower Picasso cannot claim to stand, with
Kandinsky, as a prophet of an art of spiritual harmony.

If Kandinsky ever attains his ideal--for he is the first to admit
that he has not yet reached his goal--if he ever succeeds in
finding a common language of colour and line which shall stand
alone as the language of sound and beat stands alone, without
recourse to natural form or representation, he will on all hands
be hailed as a great innovator, as a champion of the freedom of
art. Until such time, it is the duty of those to whom his work
has spoken, to bear their testimony. Otherwise he may be
condemned as one who has invented a shorthand of his own, and who
paints pictures which cannot be understood by those who have not
the key of the cipher. In the meantime also it is important that
his position should be recognized as a legitimate, almost
inevitable outcome of Post-Impressionist tendencies. Such is the
recognition this Introduction strives to secure.



Those interested in the ideas and work of Kandinsky and his
fellow artists would do well to consult:

DER BLAUE REITER, vol. i. Piper Verlag, Munich, 10 mk. This
sumptuous volume contains articles by Kandinsky, Franz Marc,
Arnold Schonberg, etc., together with some musical texts and
numerous reproductions--some in colour--of the work of the
primitive mosaicists, glass-painters, and sculptors, as well as
of more modern artists from Greco to Kandinsky, Marc, and their
friends. The choice of illustrations gives an admirable idea of
the continuity and steady growth of the new painting, sculpture,
and music.

KLANGE. By Wassily Kandinsky. Piper Verlag, Munich, 30 mk. A most
beautifully produced book of prose-poems, with a large number of
illustrations, many in colour. This is Kandinsky's most recent

Also the back and current numbers of Der Sturm, a weekly paper
published in Berlin in the defence of the new art. Illustrations
by Marc, Pechstein, le Fauconnier, Delaunay, Kandinsky, etc. Also
poems and critical articles. Price per weekly number 25 pfg. Der
Sturm has in preparation an album of reproductions of pictures
and drawings by Kandinsky.

For Cubism cf. Gleizes et Metzinger, "du Cubisme," and Guillaume
Apollinaire, "Les Peintres Cubistes." Collection Les Arts. Paris,
Figuiere, per vol. 3 fr. 50 c.




Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the
mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture
produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts
to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an
art that is still-born. It is impossible for us to live and feel,
as did the ancient Greeks. In the same way those who strive to
follow the Greek methods in sculpture achieve only a similarity
of form, the work remaining soulless for all time. Such imitation
is mere aping. Externally the monkey completely resembles a human
being; he will sit holding a book in front of his nose, and turn
over the pages with a thoughtful aspect, but his actions have for
him no real meaning.

There is, however, in art another kind of external similarity
which is founded on a fundamental truth. When there is a
similarity of inner tendency in the whole moral and spiritual
atmosphere, a similarity of ideals, at first closely pursued but
later lost to sight, a similarity in the inner feeling of any one
period to that of another, the logical result will be a revival
of the external forms which served to express those inner
feelings in an earlier age. An example of this today is our
sympathy, our spiritual relationship, with the Primitives. Like
ourselves, these artists sought to express in their work only
internal truths, renouncing in consequence all consideration of
external form.

This all-important spark of inner life today is at present only a
spark. Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after
years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief,
of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism, which
has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game,
is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip.
Only a feeble light glimmers like a tiny star in a vast gulf of
darkness. This feeble light is but a presentiment, and the soul,
when it sees it, trembles in doubt whether the light is not a
dream, and the gulf of darkness reality. This doubt, and the
still harsh tyranny of the materialistic philosophy, divide our
soul sharply from that of the Primitives. Our soul rings cracked
when we seek to play upon it, as does a costly vase, long buried
in the earth, which is found to have a flaw when it is dug up
once more. For this reason, the Primitive phase, through which we
are now passing, with its temporary similarity of form, can only
be of short duration.

These two possible resemblances between the art forms of today
and those of the past will be at once recognized as diametrically
opposed to one another. The first, being purely external, has no
future. The second, being internal, contains the seed of the
future within itself. After the period of materialist effort,
which held the soul in check until it was shaken off as evil, the
soul is emerging, purged by trials and sufferings. Shapeless
emotions such as fear, joy, grief, etc., which belonged to this
time of effort, will no longer greatly attract the artist. He
will endeavour to awake subtler emotions, as yet unnamed. Living
himself a complicated and comparatively subtle life, his work
will give to those observers capable of feeling them lofty
emotions beyond the reach of words.

The observer of today, however, is seldom capable of feeling such
emotions. He seeks in a work of art a mere imitation of nature
which can serve some definite purpose (for example a portrait in
the ordinary sense) or a presentment of nature according to a
certain convention ("impressionist" painting), or some inner
feeling expressed in terms of natural form (as we say--a picture
with Stimmung) [Footnote: Stimmung is almost untranslateable. It
is almost "sentiment" in the best sense, and almost "feeling."
Many of Corot's twilight landscapes are full of a beautiful
"Stimmung." Kandinsky uses the word later on to mean the
"essential spirit" of nature.--M.T.H.S.] All those varieties of
picture, when they are really art, fulfil their purpose and feed
the spirit. Though this applies to the first case, it applies
more strongly to the third, where the spectator does feel a
corresponding thrill in himself. Such harmony or even contrast of
emotion cannot be superficial or worthless; indeed the Stimmung
of a picture can deepen and purify that of the spectator. Such
works of art at least preserve the soul from coarseness; they
"key it up," so to speak, to a certain height, as a tuning-key
the strings of a musical instrument. But purification, and
extension in duration and size of this sympathy of soul, remain
one-sided, and the possibilities of the influence of art are not
exerted to their utmost.

Imagine a building divided into many rooms. The building may be
large or small. Every wall of every room is covered with pictures
of various sizes; perhaps they number many thousands. They
represent in colour bits of nature--animals in sunlight or
shadow, drinking, standing in water, lying on the grass; near to,
a Crucifixion by a painter who does not believe in Christ;
flowers; human figures sitting, standing, walking; often they are
naked; many naked women, seen foreshortened from behind; apples
and silver dishes; portrait of Councillor So and So; sunset; lady
in red; flying duck; portrait of Lady X; flying geese; lady in
white; calves in shadow flecked with brilliant yellow sunlight;
portrait of Prince Y; lady in green. All this is carefully
printed in a book--name of artist--name of picture. People with
these books in their hands go from wall to wall, turning over
pages, reading the names. Then they go away, neither richer nor
poorer than when they came, and are absorbed at once in their
business, which has nothing to do with art. Why did they come? In
each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of
fears, doubts, hopes, and joys.

Whither is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the
competent artist? "To send light into the darkness of men's
hearts--such is the duty of the artist," said Schumann. "An
artist is a man who can draw and paint everything," said Tolstoi.

Of these two definitions of the artist's activity we must choose
the second, if we think of the exhibition just described. On one
canvas is a huddle of objects painted with varying degrees of
skill, virtuosity and vigour, harshly or smoothly. To harmonize
the whole is the task of art. With cold eyes and indifferent mind
the spectators regard the work. Connoisseurs admire the "skill"
(as one admires a tightrope walker), enjoy the "quality of
painting" (as one enjoys a pasty). But hungry souls go hungry

The vulgar herd stroll through the rooms and pronounce the
pictures "nice" or "splendid." Those who could speak have said
nothing, those who could hear have heard nothing. This condition
of art is called "art for art's sake." This neglect of inner
meanings, which is the life of colours, this vain squandering of
artistic power is called "art for art's sake."

The artist seeks for material reward for his dexterity, his power
of vision and experience. His purpose becomes the satisfaction of
vanity and greed. In place of the steady co-operation of artists
is a scramble for good things. There are complaints of excessive
competition, of over-production. Hatred, partisanship, cliques,
jealousy, intrigues are the natural consequences of this aimless,
materialist art.

[Footnote: The few solitary exceptions do not destroy the truth
of this sad and ominous picture, and even these exceptions are
chiefly believers in the doctrine of art for art's sake. They
serve, therefore, a higher ideal, but one which is ultimately a
useless waste of their strength. External beauty is one element
of a spiritual atmosphere. But beyond this positive fact (that
what is beautiful is good) it has the weakness of a talent not
used to the full. (The word talent is employed in the biblical

The onlooker turns away from the artist who has higher ideals and
who cannot see his life purpose in an art without aims.

Sympathy is the education of the spectator from the point of view
of the artist. It has been said above that art is the child of
its age. Such an art can only create an artistic feeling which is
already clearly felt. This art, which has no power for the
future, which is only a child of the age and cannot become a
mother of the future, is a barren art. She is transitory and to
all intent dies the moment the atmosphere alters which nourished

The other art, that which is capable of educating further,
springs equally from contemporary feeling, but is at the same
time not only echo and mirror of it, but also has a deep and
powerful prophetic strength.

The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one
of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and
easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is
the movement of experience. It may take different forms, but it
holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.

Veiled in obscurity are the causes of this need to move ever
upwards and forwards, by sweat of the brow, through sufferings
and fears. When one stage has been accomplished, and many evil
stones cleared from the road, some unseen and wicked hand
scatters new obstacles in the way, so that the path often seems
blocked and totally obliterated. But there never fails to come to
the rescue some human being, like ourselves in everything except
that he has in him a secret power of vision.

He sees and points the way. The power to do this he would
sometimes fain lay aside, for it is a bitter cross to bear. But
he cannot do so. Scorned and hated, he drags after him over the
stones the heavy chariot of a divided humanity, ever forwards and

Often, many years after his body has vanished from the earth, men
try by every means to recreate this body in marble, iron, bronze,
or stone, on an enormous scale. As if there were any intrinsic
value in the bodily existence of such divine martyrs and servants
of humanity, who despised the flesh and lived only for the
spirit! But at least such setting up of marble is a proof that a
great number of men have reached the point where once the being
they would now honour, stood alone.


The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a
large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal
parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment
the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.

The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards
and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is
tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to
the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms
tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.

At the apex of the top segment stands often one man, and only
one. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are
nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they
abuse him as charlatan or madman. So in his lifetime stood
Beethoven, solitary and insulted.

[Footnote: Weber, composer of Der Freischutz, said of Beethoven's
Seventh Symphony: "The extravagances of genius have reached the
limit; Beethoven is now ripe for an asylum." Of the opening
phrase, on a reiterated "e," the Abbe Stadler said to his
neighbour, when first he heard it: "Always that miserable 'e'; he
seems to be deaf to it himself, the idiot!"]

How many years will it be before a greater segment of the
triangle reaches the spot where he once stood alone? Despite
memorials and statues, are they really many who have risen to his
level? [Footnote 2: Are not many monuments in themselves answers
to that question?]

In every segment of the triangle are artists. Each one of them
who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to
those about him, and helps the advance of the obstinate whole.
But those who are blind, or those who retard the movement of the
triangle for baser reasons, are fully understood by their fellows
and acclaimed for their genius. The greater the segment (which is
the same as saying the lower it lies in the triangle) so the
greater the number who understand the words of the artist. Every
segment hungers consciously or, much more often, unconsciously
for their corresponding spiritual food. This food is offered by
the artists, and for this food the segment immediately below will
tomorrow be stretching out eager hands.

This simile of the triangle cannot be said to express every
aspect of the spiritual life. For instance, there is never an
absolute shadow-side to the picture, never a piece of unrelieved
gloom. Even too often it happens that one level of spiritual food
suffices for the nourishment of those who are already in a higher
segment. But for them this food is poison; in small quantities it
depresses their souls gradually into a lower segment; in large
quantities it hurls them suddenly into the depths ever lower and
lower. Sienkiewicz, in one of his novels, compares the spiritual
life to swimming; for the man who does not strive tirelessly, who
does not fight continually against sinking, will mentally and
morally go under. In this strait a man's talent (again in the
biblical sense) becomes a curse--and not only the talent of the
artist, but also of those who eat this poisoned food. The artist
uses his strength to flatter his lower needs; in an ostensibly
artistic form he presents what is impure, draws the weaker
elements to him, mixes them with evil, betrays men and helps them
to betray themselves, while they convince themselves and others
that they are spiritually thirsty, and that from this pure spring
they may quench their thirst. Such art does not help the forward
movement, but hinders it, dragging back those who are striving to
press onward, and spreading pestilence abroad.

Such periods, during which art has no noble champion, during
which the true spiritual food is wanting, are periods of
retrogression in the spiritual world. Ceaselessly souls fall from
the higher to the lower segments of the triangle, and the whole
seems motionless, or even to move down and backwards. Men
attribute to these blind and dumb periods a special value, for
they judge them by outward results, thinking only of material
well-being. They hail some technical advance, which can help
nothing but the body, as a great achievement. Real spiritual
gains are at best under-valued, at worst entirely ignored.

The solitary visionaries are despised or regarded as abnormal and
eccentric. Those who are not wrapped in lethargy and who feel
vague longings for spiritual life and knowledge and progress, cry
in harsh chorus, without any to comfort them. The night of the
spirit falls more and more darkly. Deeper becomes the misery of
these blind and terrified guides, and their followers, tormented
and unnerved by fear and doubt, prefer to this gradual darkening
the final sudden leap into the blackness.

At such a time art ministers to lower needs, and is used for
material ends. She seeks her substance in hard realities because
she knows of nothing nobler. Objects, the reproduction of which
is considered her sole aim, remain monotonously the same. The
question "what?" disappears from art; only the question "how?"
remains. By what method are these material objects to be
reproduced? The word becomes a creed. Art has lost her soul.

In the search for method the artist goes still further. Art
becomes so specialized as to be comprehensible only to artists,
and they complain bitterly of public indifference to their work.
For since the artist in such times has no need to say much, but
only to be notorious for some small originality and consequently
lauded by a small group of patrons and connoisseurs (which
incidentally is also a very profitable business for him), there
arise a crowd of gifted and skilful painters, so easy does the
conquest of art appear. In each artistic circle are thousands of
such artists, of whom the majority seek only for some new
technical manner, and who produce millions of works of art
without enthusiasm, with cold hearts and souls asleep.

Competition arises. The wild battle for success becomes more and
more material. Small groups who have fought their way to the top
of the chaotic world of art and picture-making entrench
themselves in the territory they have won. The public, left far
behind, looks on bewildered, loses interest and turns away.

But despite all this confusion, this chaos, this wild hunt for
notoriety, the spiritual triangle, slowly but surely, with
irresistible strength, moves onwards and upwards.

The invisible Moses descends from the mountain and sees the dance
round the golden calf. But he brings with him fresh stores of
wisdom to man.

First by the artist is heard his voice, the voice that is
inaudible to the crowd. Almost unknowingly the artist follows the
call. Already in that very question "how?" lies a hidden seed of
renaissance. For when this "how?" remains without any fruitful
answer, there is always a possibility that the same "something"
(which we call personality today) may be able to see in the
objects about it not only what is purely material but also
something less solid; something less "bodily" than was seen in
the period of realism, when the universal aim was to reproduce
anything "as it really is" and without fantastic imagination.

[Footnote: Frequent use is made here of the terms "material" and
"non-material," and of the intermediate phrases "more" or "less
material." Is everything material? or is EVERYTHING spiritual?
Can the distinctions we make between matter and spirit be nothing
but relative modifications of one or the other? Thought which,
although a product of the spirit, can be defined with positive
science, is matter, but of fine and not coarse substance. Is
whatever cannot be touched with the hand, spiritual? The
discussion lies beyond the scope of this little book; all that
matters here is that the boundaries drawn should not be too

If the emotional power of the artist can overwhelm the "how?" and
can give free scope to his finer feelings, then art is on the
crest of the road by which she will not fail later on to find the
"what" she has lost, the "what" which will show the way to the
spiritual food of the newly awakened spiritual life. This "what?"
will no longer be the material, objective "what" of the former
period, but the internal truth of art, the soul without which the
body (i.e. the "how") can never be healthy, whether in an
individual or in a whole people.



The spiritual triangle moves slowly onwards and upwards. Today
one of the largest of the lower segments has reached the point of
using the first battle cry of the materialist creed. The dwellers
in this segment group themselves round various banners in
religion. They call themselves Jews, Catholics, Protestants, etc.
But they are really atheists, and this a few either of the
boldest or the narrowest openly avow. "Heaven is empty," "God is
dead." In politics these people are democrats and republicans.
The fear, horror and hatred which yesterday they felt for these
political creeds they now direct against anarchism, of which they
know nothing but its much dreaded name.

In economics these people are Socialists. They make sharp the
sword of justice with which to slay the hydra of capitalism and
to hew off the head of evil.

Because the inhabitants of this great segment of the triangle
have never solved any problem independently, but are dragged as
it were in a cart by those the noblest of their fellowmen who
have sacrificed themselves, they know nothing of the vital
impulse of life which they regard always vaguely from a great
distance. They rate this impulse lightly, putting their trust in
purposeless theory and in the working of some logical method.

The men of the segment next below are dragged slowly higher,
blindly, by those just described. But they cling to their old
position, full of dread of the unknown and of betrayal. The
higher segments are not only blind atheists but can justify their
godlessness with strange words; for example, those of Virchow--so
unworthy of a learned man--"I have dissected many corpses, but
never yet discovered a soul in any of them."

In politics they are generally republican, with a knowledge of
different parliamentary procedures; they read the political
leading articles in the newspapers. In economics they are
socialists of various grades, and can support their "principles"
with numerous quotations, passing from Schweitzer's EMMA via
Lasalle's IRON LAW OF WAGES, to Marx's CAPITAL, and still

In these loftier segments other categories of ideas, absent in
these just described, begin gradually to appear--science and art,
to which last belong also literature and music.

In science these men are positivists, only recognizing those
things that can be weighed and measured. Anything beyond that
they consider as rather discreditable nonsense, that same
nonsense about which they held yesterday the theories that today
are proven.

In art they are naturalists, which means that they recognize and
value the personality, individuality and temperament of the
artist up to a certain definite point. This point has been fixed
by others, and in it they believe unflinchingly.

But despite their patent and well-ordered security, despite their
infallible principles, there lurks in these higher segments a
hidden fear, a nervous trembling, a sense of insecurity. And this
is due to their upbringing. They know that the sages, statesmen
and artists whom today they revere, were yesterday spurned as
swindlers and charlatans. And the higher the segment in the
triangle, the better defined is this fear, this modern sense of
insecurity. Here and there are people with eyes which can see,
minds which can correlate. They say to themselves: "If the
science of the day before yesterday is rejected by the people of
yesterday, and that of yesterday by us of today, is it not
possible that what we call science now will be rejected by the
men of tomorrow?" And the bravest of them answer, "It is

Then people appear who can distinguish those problems that the
science of today has not yet explained. And they ask themselves:
"Will science, if it continues on the road it has followed for so
long, ever attain to the solution of these problems? And if it
does so attain, will men be able to rely on its solution?" In
these segments are also professional men of learning who can
remember the time when facts now recognized by the Academies as
firmly established, were scorned by those same Academies. There
are also philosophers of aesthetic who write profound books about
an art which was yesterday condemned as nonsense. In writing
these books they remove the barriers over which art has most
recently stepped and set up new ones which are to remain for ever
in the places they have chosen. They do not notice that they are
busy erecting barriers, not in front of art, but behind it. And
if they do notice this, on the morrow they merely write fresh
books and hastily set their barriers a little further on. This
performance will go on unaltered until it is realized that the
most extreme principle of aesthetic can never be of value to the
future, but only to the past. No such theory of principle can be
laid down for those things which lie beyond, in the realm of the
immaterial. That which has no material existence cannot be
subjected to a material classification. That which belongs to the
spirit of the future can only be realized in feeling, and to this
feeling the talent of the artist is the only road. Theory is the
lamp which sheds light on the petrified ideas of yesterday and of
the more distant past. [Footnote: Cf. Chapter VII.] And as we
rise higher in the triangle we find that the uneasiness
increases, as a city built on the most correct architectural plan
may be shaken suddenly by the uncontrollable force of nature.
Humanity is living in such a spiritual city, subject to these
sudden disturbances for which neither architects nor
mathematicians have made allowance. In one place lies a great
wall crumbled to pieces like a card house, in another are the
ruins of a huge tower which once stretched to heaven, built on
many presumably immortal spiritual pillars. The abandoned
churchyard quakes and forgotten graves open and from them rise
forgotten ghosts. Spots appear on the sun and the sun grows dark,
and what theory can fight with darkness? And in this city live
also men deafened by false wisdom who hear no crash, and blinded
by false wisdom, so that they say "our sun will shine more
brightly than ever and soon the last spots will disappear." But
sometime even these men will hear and see.

But when we get still higher there is no longer this
bewilderment. There work is going on which boldly attacks those
pillars which men have set up. There we find other professional
men of learning who test matter again and again, who tremble
before no problem, and who finally cast doubt on that very matter
which was yesterday the foundation of everything, so that the
whole universe is shaken. Every day another scientific theory
finds bold discoverers who overstep the boundaries of prophecy
and, forgetful of themselves, join the other soldiers in the
conquest of some new summit and in the hopeless attack on some
stubborn fortress. But "there is no fortress that man cannot

On the one hand, FACTS are being established which the science of
yesterday dubbed swindles. Even newspapers, which are for the
most part the most obsequious servants of worldly success and of
the mob, and which trim their sails to every wind, find
themselves compelled to modify their ironical judgements on the
"marvels" of science and even to abandon them altogether. Various
learned men, among them ultra-materialists, dedicate their
strength to the scientific research of doubtful problems, which
can no longer be lied about or passed over in silence. [Footnote:
Zoller, Wagner, Butleroff (St. Petersburg), Crookes (London),
etc.; later on, C. H. Richet, C. Flammarion. The Parisian paper
Le Matin, published about two years ago the discoveries of the
two last named under the title "Je le constate, mais je ne
l'explique pas." Finally there are C. Lombroso, the inventor of
the anthropological method of diagnosing crime, and Eusapio

On the other hand, the number is increasing of those men who put no
trust in the methods of materialistic science when it deals with those
questions which have to do with "non-matter," or matter which is not
accessible to our minds. Just as art is looking for help from the
primitives, so these men are turning to half-forgotten times in order to
get help from their half-forgotten methods. However, these very methods
are still alive and in use among nations whom we, from the height of our
knowledge, have been accustomed to regard with pity and scorn. To such
nations belong the Indians, who from time to time confront those learned
in our civilization with problems which we have either passed by
unnoticed or brushed aside with superficial words and explanations.
[Footnote: Frequently in such cases use is made of the word hypnotism;
that same hypnotism which, in its earlier form of mesmerism, was
disdainfully put aside by various learned bodies.] Mme. Blavatsky was
the first person, after a life of many years in India, to see a
connection between these "savages" and our "civilization." From that
moment there began a tremendous spiritual movement which today includes
a large number of people and has even assumed a material form in the
THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY. This society consists of groups who seek to
approach the problem of the spirit by way of the INNER knowledge. The
theory of Theosophy which serves as the basis to this movement was set
out by Blavatsky in the form of a catechism in which the pupil receives
definite answers to his questions from the theosophical point of view.
[Footnote: E. P. Blavatsky, The Key of Theosophy, London, 1889.]
Theosophy, according to Blavatsky, is synonymous with ETERNAL TRUTH.
"The new torchbearer of truth will find the minds of men prepared for
his message, a language ready for him in which to clothe the new truths
he brings, an organization awaiting his arrival, which will remove the
merely mechanical, material obstacles and difficulties from his path."
And then Blavatsky continues: "The earth will be a heaven in the
twenty-first century in comparison with what it is now," and with these
words ends her book.

When religion, science and morality are shaken, the two last by
the strong hand of Nietzsche, and when the outer supports
threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to
himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most
sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself
felt. They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show
the importance of what at first was only a little point of light
noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps
they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand they
turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those
substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material
strivings of the soul.

A poet of this kind in the realm of literature is Maeterlinck. He
takes us into a world which, rightly or wrongly, we term
supernatural. La Princesse Maleine, Les Sept Princesses, Les
Aveugles, etc., are not people of past times as are the heroes in
Shakespeare. They are merely souls lost in the clouds, threatened
by them with death, eternally menaced by some invisible and
sombre power.

Spiritual darkness, the insecurity of ignorance and fear pervade
the world in which they move. Maeterlinck is perhaps one of the
first prophets, one of the first artistic reformers and seers to
herald the end of the decadence just described. The gloom of the
spiritual atmosphere, the terrible, but all-guiding hand, the
sense of utter fear, the feeling of having strayed from the path,
the confusion among the guides, all these are clearly felt in his
works.[Footnote: To the front tank of such seers of the decadence
belongs also Alfred Kubin. With irresistible force both Kubin's
drawings and also his novel "Die Andere Seite" seem to engulf us
in the terrible atmosphere of empty desolation.]

This atmosphere Maeterlinck creates principally by purely
artistic means. His material machinery (gloomy mountains,
moonlight, marshes, wind, the cries of owls, etc.) plays really a
symbolic role and helps to give  the inner note. [Footnote: When
one of Maeterlinck's plays was produced in St. Petersburg under
his own guidance, he himself at one of the rehearsals had a tower
represented by a plain piece of hanging linen. It was of no
importance to him to have elaborate scenery prepared. He did as
children, the greatest imaginers of all time, always do in their
games; for they use a stick for a horse or create entire
regiments of cavalry out of chalks. And in the same way a chalk
with a notch in it is changed from a knight into a horse. On
similar lines the imagination of the spectator plays in the
modern theatre, and especially in that of Russia, an important
part. And this is a notable element in the transition from the
material to the spiritual in the theatre of the future.]
Maeterlinck's principal technical weapon is his use of words. The
word may express an inner harmony. This inner harmony springs
partly, perhaps principally, from the object which it names. But
if the object is not itself seen, but only its name heard, the
mind of the hearer receives an abstract impression only, that is
to say as of the object dematerialized, and a corresponding
vibration is immediately set up in the HEART.

The apt use of a word (in its poetical meaning), repetition of this
word, twice, three times or even more frequently, according to the need
of the poem, will not only tend to intensify the inner harmony but also
bring to light unsuspected spiritual properties of the word itself.
Further than that, frequent repetition of a word (again a favourite game
of children, which is forgotten in after life) deprives the word of its
original external meaning. Similarly, in drawing, the abstract message
of the object drawn tends to be forgotten and its meaning lost.
Sometimes perhaps we unconsciously hear this real harmony sounding
together with the material or later on with the non-material sense of
the object. But in the latter case the true harmony exercises a direct
impression on the soul. The soul undergoes an emotion which has no
relation to any definite object, an emotion more complicated, I might
say more super-sensuous than the emotion caused by the sound of a bell
or of a stringed instrument. This line of development offers great
possibilities to the literature of the future. In an embryonic form this
word-power-has already been used in SERRES CHAUDES. [Footnote: SERRES
CHAUDES, SUIVIES DE QUINZE CHANSONS, par Maurice Maeterlinck. Brussels.
Lacomblez.] As Maeterlinck uses them, words which seem at first to
create only a neutral impression have really a more subtle value. Even a
familiar word like "hair," if used in a certain way can intensify an
atmosphere of sorrow or despair. And this is Maeterlinck's method. He
shows that thunder, lightning and a moon behind driving clouds, in
themselves material means, can be used in the theatre to create a
greater sense of terror than they do in nature.

The true inner forces do not lose their strength and effect so
easily. [Footnote: A comparison between the work of Poe and
Maeterlinck shows the course of artistic transition from the
material to the abstract.] An the word which has two meanings,
the first direct, the second indirect, is the pure material of
poetry and of literature, the material which these arts alone can
manipulate and through which they speak to the spirit.

Something similar may be noticed in the music of Wagner. His
famous leitmotiv is an attempt to give personality to his
characters by something beyond theatrical expedients and light
effect. His method of using a definite motiv is a purely musical
method. It creates a spiritual atmosphere by means of a musical
phrase which precedes the hero, which he seems to radiate forth
from any distance. [Footnote: Frequent attempts have shown that
such a spiritual atmosphere can belong not only to heroes but to
any human being. Sensitives cannot, for example, remain in a room
in which a person has been who is spiritually antagonistic to
them, even though they know nothing of his existence.] The most
modern musicians like Debussy create a spiritual impression,
often taken from nature, but embodied in purely musical form. For
this reason Debussy is often classed with the Impressionist
painters on the ground that he resembles these painters in using
natural phenomena for the purposes of his art. Whatever truth
there may be in this comparison merely accentuates the fact that
the various arts of today learn from each other and often
resemble each other. But it would be rash to say that this
definition is an exhaustive statement of Debussy's significance.
Despite his similarity with the Impressionists this musician is
deeply concerned with spiritual harmony, for in his works one
hears the suffering and tortured nerves of the present time. And
further Debussy never uses the wholly material note so
characteristic of programme music, but trusts mainly in the
creation of a more abstract impression. Debussy has been greatly
influenced by Russian music, notably by Mussorgsky. So it is not
surprising that he stands in close relation to the young Russian
composers, the chief of whom is Scriabin. The experience of the
hearer is frequently the same during the performance of the works
of these two musicians. He is often snatched quite suddenly from
a series of modern discords into the charm of more or less
conventional beauty. He feels himself often insulted, tossed
about like a tennis ball over the net between the two parties of
the outer and the inner beauty. To those who are not accustomed
to it the inner beauty appears as ugliness because humanity in
general inclines to the outer and knows nothing of the inner.
Almost alone in severing himself from conventional beauty is the
Austrian composer, Arnold Schonberg. He says in his
Harmonielehre: "Every combination of notes, every advance is
possible, but I am beginning to feel that there are also definite
rules and conditions which incline me to the use of this or that
dissonance." [Footnote: "Die Musik," p. 104, from the
Harmonielehre (Verlag der Universal Edition).] This means that
Schonberg realizes that the greatest freedom of all, the freedom
of an unfettered art, can never be absolute. Every age achieves a
certain measure of this freedom, but beyond the boundaries of its
freedom the mightiest genius can never go. But the measure of
freedom of each age must be constantly enlarged. Schonberg is
endeavouring to make complete use of his freedom and has already
discovered gold mines of new beauty in his search for spiritual
harmony. His music leads us into a realm where musical experience
is a matter not of the ear but of the soul alone--and from this
point begins the music of the future.

A parallel course has been followed by the Impressionist movement
in painting. It is seen in its dogmatic and most naturalistic
form in so-called Neo-Impressionism. The theory of this is to put
on the canvas the whole glitter and brilliance of nature, and not
only an isolated aspect of her.

It is interesting to notice three practically contemporary and
totally different groups in painting. They are (1) Rossetti and
his pupil Burne-Jones, with their followers; (2) Bocklin and his
school; (3) Segantini, with his unworthy following of
photographic artists. I have chosen these three groups to
illustrate the search for the abstract in art. Rossetti sought to
revive the non-materialism of the pre-Raphaelites. Bocklin busied
himself with the mythological scenes, but was in contrast to
Rossetti in that he gave strongly material form to his legendary
figures. Segantini, outwardly the most material of the three,
selected the most ordinary objects (hills, stones, cattle, etc.)
often painting them with the minutest realism, but he never
failed to create a spiritual as well as a material value, so that
really he is the most non-material of the trio.

These men sought for the "inner" by way of the "outer."

By another road, and one more purely artistic, the great seeker
after a new sense of form approached the same problem. Cezanne
made a living thing out of a teacup, or rather in a teacup he
realized the existence of something alive. He raised still life
to such a point that it ceased to be inanimate.

He painted these things as he painted human beings, because he
was endowed with the gift of divining the inner life in
everything. His colour and form are alike suitable to the
spiritual harmony. A man, a tree, an apple, all were used by
Cezanne in the creation of something that is called a "picture,"
and which is a piece of true inward and artistic harmony. The
same intention actuates the work of one of the greatest of the
young Frenchmen, Henri Matisse. He paints "pictures," and in
these "pictures" endeavours to reproduce the divine.[Footnote:
Cf. his article in KUNST UND KUNSTLER, 1909, No. 8.] To attain
this end he requires as a starting point nothing but the object
to be painted (human being or whatever it may be), and then the
methods that belong to painting alone, colour and form.

By personal inclination, because he is French and because he is
specially gifted as a colourist, Matisse is apt to lay too much
stress on the colour. Like Debussy, he cannot always refrain from
conventional beauty; Impressionism is in his blood. One sees
pictures of Matisse which are full of great inward vitality,
produced by the stress of the inner need, and also pictures which
possess only outer charm, because they were painted on an outer
impulse. (How often one is reminded of Manet in this.) His work
seems to be typical French painting, with its dainty sense of
melody, raised from time to time to the summit of a great hill
above the clouds.

But in the work of another great artist in Paris, the Spaniard Pablo
Picasso, there is never any suspicion of this conventional beauty.
Tossed hither and thither by the need for self-expression, Picasso
hurries from one manner to another. At times a great gulf appears
between consecutive manners, because Picasso leaps boldly and is found
continually by his bewildered crowd of followers standing at a point
very different from that at which they saw him last. No sooner do they
think that they have reached him again than he has changed once more. In
this way there arose Cubism, the latest of the French movements, which
is treated in detail in Part II. Picasso is trying to arrive at
constructiveness by way of proportion. In his latest works (1911) he has
achieved the logical destruction of matter, not, however, by dissolution
but rather by a kind of a parcelling out of its various divisions and a
constructive scattering of these divisions about the canvas. But he
seems in this most recent work distinctly desirous of keeping an
appearance of matter. He shrinks from no innovation, and if colour seems
likely to balk him in his search for a pure artistic form, he throws it
overboard and paints a picture in brown and white; and the problem of
purely artistic form is the real problem of his life.

In their pursuit of the same supreme end Matisse and Picasso
stand side by side, Matisse representing colour and Picasso form.


And so at different points along the road are the different arts,
saying what they are best able to say, and in the language which
is peculiarly their own. Despite, or perhaps thanks to, the
differences between them, there has never been a time when the
arts approached each other more nearly than they do today, in
this later phase of spiritual development.

In each manifestation is the seed of a striving towards the
abstract, the non-material. Consciously or unconsciously they are
obeying Socrates' command--Know thyself. Consciously or
unconsciously artists are studying and proving their material,
setting in the balance the spiritual value of those elements,
with which it is their several privilege to work.

And the natural result of this striving is that the various arts
are drawing together. They are finding in Music the best teacher.
With few exceptions music has been for some centuries the art
which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural
phenomena, but rather to the expression of the artist's soul, in
musical sound.

A painter, who finds no satisfaction in mere representation,
however artistic, in his longing to express his inner life,
cannot but envy the ease with which music, the most non-material
of the arts today, achieves this end. He naturally seeks to apply
the methods of music to his own art. And from this results that
modern desire for rhythm in painting, for mathematical, abstract
construction, for repeated notes of colour, for setting colour in

This borrowing of method by one art from another, can only be
truly successful when the application of the borrowed methods is
not superficial but fundamental. One art must learn first how
another uses its methods, so that the methods may afterwards be
applied to the borrower's art from the beginning, and suitably.
The artist must not forget that in him lies the power of true
application of every method, but that that power must be

In manipulation of form music can achieve results which are
beyond the reach of painting. On the other hand, painting is
ahead of music in several particulars. Music, for example, has at
its disposal duration of time; while painting can present to the
spectator the whole content of its message at one moment.
[Footnote: These statements of difference are, of course,
relative; for music can on occasions dispense with extension of
time, and painting make use of it.] Music, which is outwardly
unfettered by nature, needs no definite form for its expression.

[Footnote: How miserably music fails when attempting to express
material appearances is proved by the affected absurdity of
programme music. Quite lately such experiments have been made.
The imitation in sound of croaking frogs, of farmyard noises, of
household duties, makes an excellent music hall turn and is
amusing enough. But in serious music such attempts are merely
warnings against any imitation of nature. Nature has her own
language, and a powerful one; this language cannot be imitated.
The sound of a farmyard in music is never successfully
reproduced, and is unnecessary waste of time. The Stimmung of
nature can be imparted by every art, not, however, by imitation,
but by the artistic divination of its inner spirit.]

Painting today is almost exclusively concerned with the
reproduction of natural forms and phenomena. Her business is now
to test her strength and methods, to know herself as music has
done for a long time, and then to use her powers to a truly
artistic end.

And so the arts are encroaching one upon another, and from a
proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly
monumental. Every man who steeps himself in the spiritual
possibilities of his art is a valuable helper in the building of
the spiritual pyramid which will some day reach to heaven.



To let the eye stray over a palette, splashed with many colours,
produces a dual result. In the first place one receives a PURELY
PHYSICAL IMPRESSION, one of pleasure and contentment at the
varied and beautiful colours. The eye is either warmed or else
soothed and cooled. But these physical sensations can only be of
short duration. They are merely superficial and leave no lasting
impression, for the soul is unaffected. But although the effect
of the colours is forgotten when the eye is turned away, the
superficial impression of varied colour may be the starting point
of a whole chain of related sensations.

On the average man only the impressions caused by very familiar
objects, will be purely superficial. A first encounter with any
new phenomenon exercises immediately an impression on the soul.
This is the experience of the child discovering the world, to
whom every object is new. He sees a light, wishes to take hold of
it, burns his finger and feels henceforward a proper respect for
flame. But later he learns that light has a friendly as well as
an unfriendly side, that it drives away the darkness, makes the
day longer, is essential to warmth, cooking, play-acting. From
the mass of these discoveries is composed a knowledge of light,
which is indelibly fixed in his mind. The strong, intensive
interest disappears and the various properties of flame are
balanced against each other. In this way the whole world becomes
gradually disenchanted. It is realized that trees give shade,
that horses run fast and motor-cars still faster, that dogs bite,
that the figure seen in a mirror is not a real human being.

As the man develops, the circle of these experiences caused by
different beings and objects, grows ever wider. They acquire an
inner meaning and eventually a spiritual harmony. It is the same
with colour, which makes only a momentary and superficial
impression on a soul but slightly developed in sensitiveness. But
even this superficial impression varies in quality. The eye is
strongly attracted by light, clear colours, and still more
strongly attracted by those colours which are warm as well as
clear; vermilion has the charm of flame, which has always
attracted human beings. Keen lemon-yellow hurts the eye in time
as a prolonged and shrill trumpet-note the ear, and the gazer
turns away to seek relief in blue or green.

But to a more sensitive soul the effect of colours is deeper and
intensely moving. And so we come to the second main result of
looking at colours: THEIR PSYCHIC EFFECT. They produce a
corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step
towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical
impression is of importance.

Whether the psychic effect of colour is a direct one, as these last few
lines imply, or whether it is the outcome of association, is perhaps
open to question. The soul being one with the body, the former may well
experience a psychic shock, caused by association acting on the latter.
For example, red may cause a sensation analogous to that caused by
flame, because red is the colour of flame. A warm red will prove
exciting, another shade of red will cause pain or disgust through
association with running blood. In these cases colour awakens a
corresponding physical sensation, which undoubtedly works upon the soul.

If this were always the case, it would be easy to define by
association the effects of colour upon other senses than that of
sight. One might say that keen yellow looks sour, because it
recalls the taste of a lemon.

But such definitions are not universally possible. There are many
examples of colour working which refuse to be so classified. A
Dresden doctor relates of one of his patients, whom he designates
as an "exceptionally sensitive person," that he could not eat a
certain sauce without tasting "blue," i.e. without experiencing a
feeling of seeing a blue color. [Footnote: Dr. Freudenberg.
"Spaltung der Personlichkeit" (Ubersinnliche Welt. 1908. No. 2,
p. 64-65). The author also discusses the hearing of colour, and
says that here also no rules can be laid down. But cf. L.
Sabanejeff in "Musik," Moscow, 1911, No. 9, where the imminent
possibility of laying down a law is clearly hinted at.] It would
be possible to suggest, by way of explanation of this, that in
highly sensitive people, the way to the soul is so direct and the
soul itself so impressionable, that any impression of taste
communicates itself immediately to the soul, and thence to the
other organs of sense (in this case, the eyes). This would imply
an echo or reverberation, such as occurs sometimes in musical
instruments which, without being touched, sound in harmony with
some other instrument struck at the moment.

But not only with taste has sight been known to work in harmony.
Many colours have been described as rough or sticky, others as
smooth and uniform, so that one feels inclined to stroke them
(e.g., dark ultramarine, chromic oxide green, and rose madder).
Equally the distinction between warm and cold colours belongs to
this connection. Some colours appear soft (rose madder), others
hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that even fresh from
the tube they seem to be dry.

The expression "scented colours" is frequently met with. And
finally the sound of colours is so definite that it would be hard
to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass
notes, or dark lake in the treble.

[Footnote: Much theory and practice have been devoted to this
question. People have sought to paint in counterpoint. Also
unmusical children have been successfully helped to play the
piano by quoting a parallel in colour (e.g., of flowers). On
these lines Frau A. Sacharjin-Unkowsky has worked for several
years and has evolved a method of "so describing sounds by
natural colours, and colours by natural sounds, that colour could
be heard and sound seen." The system has proved successful for
several years both in the inventor's own school and the
Conservatoire at St. Petersburg. Finally Scriabin, on more
spiritual lines, has paralleled sound and colours in a chart not
unlike that of Frau Unkowsky. In "Prometheus" he has given
convincing proof of his theories. (His chart appeared in "Musik,"
Moscow, 1911, No. 9.)]

[Footnote: The converse question, i.e. the colour of sound, was
touched upon by Mallarme and systematized by his disciple Rene
Ghil, whose book, Traite du Verbe, gives the rules for
"l'instrumentation verbale."--M.T.H.S.]

The explanation by association will not suffice us in many, and
the most important cases. Those who have heard of chromotherapy
will know that coloured light can exercise very definite
influences on the whole body. Attempts have been made with
different colours in the treatment of various nervous ailments.
They have shown that red light stimulates and excites the heart,
while blue light can cause temporary paralysis. But when the
experiments come to be tried on animals and even plants, the
association theory falls to the ground. So one is bound to admit
that the question is at present unexplored, but that colour can
exercise enormous influence over the body as a physical organism.

No more sufficient, in the psychic sphere, is the theory of
association. Generally speaking, colour is a power which directly
influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the
hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is
the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause
vibrations in the soul.


[Footnote: The phrase "inner need" (innere Notwendigkeit) means
primarily the impulse felt by the artist for spiritual
expression. Kandinsky is apt, however, to use the phrase
sometimes to mean not only the hunger for spiritual expression,
but also the actual expression itself.--M.T.H.S.]


The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov'd with
concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and
spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his
affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted. Mark the
music. (The Merchant of Venice, Act v, Scene I.)

Musical sound acts directly on the soul and finds an echo there because,
though to varying extents, music is innate in man.

[Footnote: Cf. E. Jacques-Dalcroze in The Eurhythmics of
Jacques-Dalcroze. London, Constable.--M.T.H.S.]

"Everyone knows that yellow, orange, and red suggest ideas of joy and
plenty" (Delacroix). [Footnote: Cf. Paul Signac, D'Eugene Delacroix au
Neo-Impressionisme. Paris. Floury. Also compare an interesting article
by K. Schettler: "Notizen uber die Farbe." (Decorative Kunst, 1901,

These two quotations show the deep relationship between the arts,
and especially between music and painting. Goethe said that
painting must count this relationship her main foundation, and by
this prophetic remark he seems to foretell the position in which
painting is today. She stands, in fact, at the first stage of the
road by which she will, according to her own possibilities, make
art an abstraction of thought and arrive finally at purely
artistic composition. [Footnote: By "Komposition" Kandinsky here
means, of course, an artistic creation. He is not referring to
the arrangement of the objects in a picture.--M.T.H.S.]

Painting has two weapons at her disposal:

     1. Colour.
     2. Form.

Form can stand alone as representing an object (either real or
otherwise) or as a purely abstract limit to a space or a surface.

Colour cannot stand alone; it cannot dispense with boundaries of some
kind. [Footnote: Cf. A. Wallace Rimington. Colour music (OP. CIT.) where
experiments are recounted with a colour organ, which gives symphonies of
rapidly changing colour without boundaries--except the unavoidable ones
of the white curtain on which the colours are reflected.--M.T.H.S.] A
never-ending extent of red can only be seen in the mind; when the word
red is heard, the colour is evoked without definite boundaries. If such
are necessary they have deliberately to be imagined. But such red, as is
seen by the mind and not by the eye, exercises at once a definite and an
indefinite impression on the soul, and produces spiritual harmony. I say
"indefinite," because in itself it has no suggestion of warmth or cold,
such attributes having to be imagined for it afterwards, as
modifications of the original "redness." I say "definite," because the
spiritual harmony exists without any need for such subsequent attributes
of warmth or cold. An analogous case is the sound of a trumpet which one
hears when the word "trumpet" is pronounced. This sound is audible to
the soul, without the distinctive character of a trumpet heard in the
open air or in a room, played alone or with other instruments, in the
hands of a postilion, a huntsman, a soldier, or a professional musician.

But when red is presented in a material form (as in painting) it
must possess (1) some definite shade of the many shades of red
that exist and (2) a limited surface, divided off from the other
colours, which are undoubtedly there. The first of these
conditions (the subjective) is affected by the second (the
objective), for the neighbouring colours affect the shade of red.

This essential connection between colour and form brings us to
the question of the influences of form on colour. Form alone,
even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of
inner suggestion. A triangle (without the accessory consideration
of its being acute-or obtuse-angled or equilateral) has a
spiritual value of its own. In connection with other forms, this
value may be somewhat modified, but remains in quality the same.
The case is similar with a circle, a square, or any conceivable
geometrical figure. [Footnote: The angle at which the triangle
stands, and whether it is stationary or moving, are of importance
to its spiritual value. This fact is specially worthy of the
painter's consideration.] As above, with the red, we have here a
subjective substance in an objective shell.

The mutual influence of form and colour now becomes clear. A
yellow triangle, a blue circle, a green square, or a green
triangle, a yellow circle, a blue square--all these are different
and have different spiritual values.

It is evident that many colours are hampered and even nullified
in effect by many forms. On the whole, keen colours are well
suited by sharp forms (e.g., a yellow triangle), and soft, deep
colours by round forms (e.g., a blue circle). But it must be
remembered that an unsuitable combination of form and colour is
not necessarily discordant, but may, with manipulation, show the
way to fresh possibilities of harmony.

Since colours and forms are well-nigh innumerable, their
combination and their influences are likewise unending. The
material is inexhaustible.

Form, in the narrow sense, is nothing but the separating line
between surfaces of colour. That is its outer meaning. But it has
also an inner meaning, of varying intensity, [Footnote: It is
never literally true that any form is meaningless and "says
nothing." Every form in the world says something. But its message
often fails to reach us, and even if it does, full understanding
is often withheld from us.] and, properly speaking, FORM IS THE
metaphor of the piano--the artist is the hand which, by playing
on this or that key (i.e., form), affects the human soul in this

The two aspects of form just mentioned define its two aims. The
task of limiting surfaces (the outer aspect) is well performed if
the inner meaning is fully expressed.

[Footnote: The phrase "full expression" must be clearly
understood. Form often is most expressive when least coherent. It
is often most expressive when outwardly most imperfect, perhaps
only a stroke, a mere hint of outer meaning.]

The outer task may assume many different shapes; but it will
never fail in one of two purposes: (1) Either form aims at so
limiting surfaces as to fashion of them some material object; (2)
Or form remains abstract, describing only a non-material,
spiritual entity. Such non-material entities, with life and value
as such, are a circle, a triangle, a rhombus, a trapeze, etc.,
many of them so complicated as to have no mathematical

Between these two extremes lie the innumerable forms in which
both elements exist; with a preponderance either of the abstract
or the material. These intermediate forms are, at present, the
store on which the artist has to draw. Purely abstract forms are
beyond the reach of the artist at present; they are too
indefinite for him. To limit himself to the purely indefinite
would be to rob himself of possibilities, to exclude the human
element and therefore to weaken his power of expression.

On the other hand, there exists equally no purely material form.
A material object cannot be absolutely reproduced. For good or
evil, the artist has eyes and hands, which are perhaps more
artistic than his intentions and refuse to aim at photography
alone. Many genuine artists, who cannot be content with a mere
inventory of material objects, seek to express the objects by
what was once called "idealization," then "selection," and which
tomorrow will again be called something different.

[Footnote: The motive of idealization is so to beautify the organic form
as to bring out its harmony and rouse poetic feeling. "Selection" aims
not so much at beautification as at emphasizing the character of the
object, by the omission of non-essentials. The desire of the future will
be purely the expression of the inner meaning. The organic form no
longer serves as direct object, but as the human words in which a divine
message must be written, in order for it to be comprehensible to human

The impossibility and, in art, the uselessness of attempting to
copy an object exactly, the desire to give the object full
expression, are the impulses which drive the artist away from
"literal" colouring to purely artistic aims. And that brings us
to the question of composition. [Footnote: Here Kandinsky means
arrangement of the picture.--M.T.H.S.]

Pure artistic composition has two elements:

1. The composition of the whole picture.

2. The creation of the various forms which, by standing in
different relationships to each other, decide the composition of
the whole. [Footnote: The general composition will naturally
include many little compositions which may be antagonistic to
each other, though helping--perhaps by their very antagonism--the
harmony of the whole. These little compositions have themselves
subdivisions of varied inner meanings.] Many objects have to be
considered in the light of the whole, and so ordered as to suit
this whole. Singly they will have little meaning, being of
importance only in so far as they help the general effect. These
single objects must be fashioned in one way only; and this, not
because their own inner meaning demands that particular
fashioning, but entirely because they have to serve as building
material for the whole composition. [Footnote: A good example is
Cezanne's "Bathing Women," which is built in the form of a
triangle. Such building is an old principle, which was being
abandoned only because academic usage had made it lifeless. But
Cezanne has given it new life. He does not use it to harmonize
his groups, but for purely artistic purposes. He distorts the
human figure with perfect justification. Not only must the whole
figure follow the lines of the triangle, but each limb must grow
narrower from bottom to top. Raphael's "Holy Family" is an
example of triangular composition used only for the harmonizing
of the group, and without any mystical motive.]

So the abstract idea is creeping into art, although, only
yesterday, it was scorned and obscured by purely material ideals.
Its gradual advance is natural enough, for in proportion as the
organic form falls into the background, the abstract ideal
achieves greater prominence.

But the organic form possesses all the same an inner harmony of
its own, which may be either the same as that of its abstract
parallel (thus producing a simple combination of the two
elements) or totally different (in which case the combination may
be unavoidably discordant). However diminished in importance the
organic form may be, its inner note will always be heard; and for
this reason the choice of material objects is an important one.
The spiritual accord of the organic with the abstract element may
strengthen the appeal of the latter (as much by contrast as by
similarity) or may destroy it.

Suppose a rhomboidal composition, made up of a number of human
figures. The artist asks himself: Are these human figures an
absolute necessity to the composition, or should they be replaced
by other forms, and that without affecting the fundamental
harmony of the whole? If the answer is "Yes," we have a case in
which the material appeal directly weakens the abstract appeal.
The human form must either be replaced by another object which,
whether by similarity or contrast, will strengthen the abstract
appeal, or must remain a purely non-material symbol. [Footnote:
Cf. Translator's Introduction, pp. xviii and xx.--M.T.H.S.]

Once more the metaphor of the piano. For "colour" or "form"
substitute "object." Every object has its own life and therefore
its own appeal; man is continually subject to these appeals. But
the results are often dubbed either sub--or super-conscious.
Nature, that is to say the ever-changing surroundings of man,
sets in vibration the strings of the piano (the soul) by
manipulation of the keys (the various objects with their several

The impressions we receive, which often appear merely chaotic,
consist of three elements: the impression of the colour of the
object, of its form, and of its combined colour and form, i.e. of
the object itself.

At this point the individuality of the artist comes to the front
and disposes, as he wills, these three elements. IT IS CLEAR,

The more abstract is form, the more clear and direct is its
appeal. In any composition the material side may be more or less
omitted in proportion as the forms used are more or less
material, and for them substituted pure abstractions, or largely
dematerialized objects. The more an artist uses these abstracted
forms, the deeper and more confidently will he advance into the
kingdom of the abstract. And after him will follow the gazer at
his pictures, who also will have gradually acquired a greater
familiarity with the language of that kingdom.

Must we then abandon utterly all material objects and paint
solely in abstractions? The problem of harmonizing the appeal of
the material and the non-material shows us the answer to this
question. As every word spoken rouses an inner vibration, so
likewise does every object represented. To deprive oneself of
this possibility is to limit one's powers of expression. That is
at any rate the case at present. But besides this answer to the
question, there is another, and one which art can always employ
to any question beginning with "must": There is no "must" in art,
because art is free.

With regard to the second problem of composition, the creation of
the single elements which are to compose the whole, it must be
remembered that the same form in the same circumstances will
always have the same inner appeal. Only the circumstances are
constantly varying. It results that: (1) The ideal harmony alters
according to the relation to other forms of the form which causes
it. (2) Even in similar relationship a slight approach to or
withdrawal from other forms may affect the harmony. [Footnote:
This is what is meant by "an appeal of motion." For example, the
appeal of an upright triangle is more steadfast and quiet than
that of one set obliquely on its side.] Nothing is absolute.
Form-composition rests on a relative basis, depending on (1) the
alterations in the mutual relations of forms one to another, (2)
alterations in each individual form, down to the very smallest.
Every form is as sensitive as a puff of smoke, the slightest
breath will alter it completely. This extreme mobility makes it
easier to obtain similar harmonies from the use of different
forms, than from a repetition of the same one; though of course
an exact replica of a spiritual harmony can never be produced. So
long as we are susceptible only to the appeal of a whole
composition, this fact is of mainly theoretical importance. But
when we become more sensitive by a constant use of abstract forms
(which have no material interpretation) it will become of great
practical significance. And so as art becomes more difficult, its
wealth of expression in form becomes greater and greater. At the
same time the question of distortion in drawing falls out and is
replaced by the question how far the inner appeal of the
particular form is veiled or given full expression. And once more
the possibilities are extended, for combinations of veiled and
fully expressed appeals suggest new LEITMOTIVEN in composition.

Without such development as this, form-composition is impossible.
To anyone who cannot experience the inner appeal of form (whether
material or abstract) such composition can never be other than
meaningless. Apparently aimless alterations in form-arrangement
will make art seem merely a game. So once more we are faced with
the same principle, which is to set art free, the principle of
the inner need.

When features or limbs for artistic reasons are changed or
distorted, men reject the artistic problem and fall back on the
secondary question of anatomy. But, on our argument, this
secondary consideration does not appear, only the real, artistic
question remaining. These apparently irresponsible, but really
well-reasoned alterations in form provide one of the storehouses
of artistic possibilities.

The adaptability of forms, their organic but inward variations,
their motion in the picture, their inclination to material or
abstract, their mutual relations, either individually or as parts
of a whole; further, the concord or discord of the various
elements of a picture, the handling of groups, the combinations
of veiled and openly expressed appeals, the use of rhythmical or
unrhythmical, of geometrical or non-geometrical forms, their
contiguity or separation--all these things are the material for
counterpoint in painting.

But so long as colour is excluded, such counterpoint is confined
to black and white. Colour provides a whole wealth of
possibilities of her own, and when combined with form, yet a
further series of possibilities. And all these will be
expressions of the inner need.

The inner need is built up of three mystical elements: (1) Every
artist, as a creator, has something in him which calls for
expression (this is the element of personality). (2) Every
artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of
his age (this is the element of style)--dictated by the period
and particular country to which the artist belongs (it is
doubtful how long the latter distinction will continue to exist).
(3) Every artist, as a servant of art, has to help the cause of
art (this is the element of pure artistry, which is constant in
all ages and among all nationalities).

A full understanding of the first two elements is necessary for a
realization of the third. But he who has this realization will
recognize that a rudely carved Indian column is an expression of
the same spirit as actuates any real work of art of today.

In the past and even today much talk is heard of "personality" in
art. Talk of the coming "style" becomes more frequent daily. But
for all their importance today, these questions will have
disappeared after a few hundred or thousand years.

Only the third element--that of pure artistry--will remain for
ever. An Egyptian carving speaks to us today more subtly than it
did to its chronological contemporaries; for they judged it with
the hampering knowledge of period and personality. But we can
judge purely as an expression of the eternal artistry.

Similarly--the greater the part played in a modern work of art by
the two elements of style and personality, the better will it be
appreciated by people today; but a modern work of art which is
full of the third element, will fail to reach the contemporary
soul. For many centuries have to pass away before the third
element can be received with understanding. But the artist in
whose work this third element predominates is the really great

Because the elements of style and personality make up what is
called the periodic characteristics of any work of art, the
"development" of artistic forms must depend on their separation
from the element of pure artistry, which knows neither period nor
nationality. But as style and personality create in every epoch
certain definite forms, which, for all their superficial
differences, are really closely related, these forms can be
spoken of as one side of art--the SUBJECTIVE. Every artist
chooses, from the forms which reflect his own time, those which
are sympathetic to him, and expresses himself through them. So
the subjective element is the definite and external expression of
the inner, objective element.

The inevitable desire for outward expression of the OBJECTIVE
element is the impulse here defined as the "inner need." The
forms it borrows change from day to day, and, as it continually
advances, what is today a phrase of inner harmony becomes
tomorrow one of outer harmony. It is clear, therefore, that the
inner spirit of art only uses the outer form of any particular
period as a stepping-stone to further expression.

In short, the working of the inner need and the development of
art is an ever-advancing expression of the eternal and objective
in the terms of the periodic and subjective.

Because the objective is forever exchanging the subjective
expression of today for that of tomorrow, each new extension of
liberty in the use of outer form is hailed as the last and
supreme. At present we say that an artist can use any form he
wishes, so long as he remains in touch with nature. But this
limitation, like all its predecessors, is only temporary. From
the point of view of the inner need, no limitation must be made.
The artist may use any form which his expression demands; for his
inner impulse must find suitable outward expression.

So we see that a deliberate search for personality and "style" is
not only impossible, but comparatively unimportant. The close
relationship of art throughout the ages, is not a relationship in
outward form but in inner meaning. And therefore the talk of
schools, of lines of "development," of "principles of art," etc.,
is based on misunderstanding and can only lead to confusion.

The artist must be blind to distinctions between "recognized" or
"unrecognized" conventions of form, deaf to the transitory
teaching and demands of his particular age. He must watch only
the trend of the inner need, and hearken to its words alone. Then
he will with safety employ means both sanctioned and forbidden by
his contemporaries. All means are sacred which are called for by
the inner need. All means are sinful which obscure that inner

It is impossible to theorize about this ideal of art. In real art
theory does not precede practice, but follows her. Everything is,
at first, a matter of feeling. Any theoretical scheme will be
lacking in the essential of creation--the inner desire for
expression--which cannot be determined. Neither the quality of
the inner need, nor its subjective form, can be measured nor

[Footnote: The many-sided genius of Leonardo devised a system of
little spoons with which different colours were to be used, thus
creating a kind of mechanical harmony. One of his pupils, after
trying in vain to use this system, in despair asked one of his
colleagues how the master himself used the invention. The
colleague replied: "The master never uses it at all."
(Mereschowski, LEONARDO DA VINCI).]

Such a grammar of painting can only be temporarily guessed at,
and should it ever be achieved, it will be not so much according
to physical rules (which have so often been tried and which today
the Cubists are trying) as according to the rules of the inner
need, which are of the soul.

The inner need is the basic alike of small and great problems in
painting. We are seeking today for the road which is to lead us
away from the outer to the inner basis.

[Footnote: The term "outer," here used, must not be confused with
the term "material" used previously. I am using the former to
mean "outer need," which never goes beyond conventional limits,
nor produces other than conventional beauty. The "inner need"
knows no such limits, and often produces results conventionally
considered "ugly." But "ugly" itself is a conventional term, and
only means "spiritually unsympathetic," being applied to some
expression of an inner need, either outgrown or not yet attained.
But everything which adequately expresses the inner need is

The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by
frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker
and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for
this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting
point for the exercise of his spirit.

The starting point is the study of colour and its effects on men.

There is no need to engage in the finer shades of complicated
colour, but rather at first to consider only the direct use of
simple colours.

To begin with, let us test the working on ourselves of individual
colours, and so make a simple chart, which will facilitate the
consideration of the whole question.

Two great divisions of colour occur to the mind at the outset:
into warm and cold, and into light and dark. To each colour there
are therefore four shades of appeal--warm and light or warm and
dark, or cold and light or cold and dark.

Generally speaking, warmth or cold in a colour means an approach
respectively to yellow or to blue. This distinction is, so to
speak, on one basis, the colour having a constant fundamental
appeal, but assuming either a more material or more non-material
quality. The movement is an horizontal one, the warm colours
approaching the spectator, the cold ones retreating from him.

The colours, which cause in another colour this horizontal
movement, while they are themselves affected by it, have another
movement of their own, which acts with a violent separative
force. This is, therefore, the first antithesis in the inner
appeal, and the inclination of the colour to yellow or to blue,
is of tremendous importance.

The second antithesis is between white and black; i.e., the
inclination to light or dark caused by the pair of colours just
mentioned. These colours have once more their peculiar movement
to and from the spectator, but in a more rigid form (see Fig. 1).


 First Pair of antitheses.           (inner appeal acting on
         A and B.                           the spirit)

A.       Warm               Cold
        Yellow              Blue      = First antithesis

Two movements:

        (i) horizontal

Towards the spectator <-----<<< >>>-----> Away from the spectator
     (bodily)                                  (spiritual)

                        Yellow      Blue

      (ii)          Ex-         and        concentric

B.  Light                      Dark
    White                      Black       = Second Antithesis

Two movements:

     (i) discordant

Eternal discord, but with                Absolute discord, devoid
 possibilities for the    White   Black  of possibilities for the
    future (birth)                         future (death)

    (ii) ex-and concentric, as in case of yellow and blue, but
         more rigid.

Yellow and blue have another movement which affects the first
antithesis--an ex-and concentric movement. If two circles are
drawn and painted respectively yellow and blue, brief
concentration will reveal in the yellow a spreading movement out
from the centre, and a noticeable approach to the spectator. The
blue, on the other hand, moves in upon itself, like a snail
retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator.
[Footnote: These statements have no scientific basis, but are
founded purely on spiritual experience.]

In the case of light and dark colours the movement is emphasized.
That of the yellow increases with an admixture of white, i.e., as
it becomes lighter. That of the blue increases with an admixture
of black, i.e., as it becomes darker. This means that there can
never be a dark-coloured yellow. The relationship between white
and yellow is as close as between black and blue, for blue can be
so dark as to border on black. Besides this physical
relationship, is also a spiritual one (between yellow and white
on one side, between blue and black on the other) which marks a
strong separation between the two pairs.

An attempt to make yellow colder produces a green tint and checks
both the horizontal and excentric movement. The colour becomes
sickly and unreal. The blue by its contrary movement acts as a
brake on the yellow, and is hindered in its own movement, till
the two together become stationary, and the result is green.
Similarly a mixture of black and white produces gray, which is
motionless and spiritually very similar to green.

But while green, yellow, and blue are potentially active, though
temporarily paralysed, in gray there is no possibility of
movement, because gray consists of two colours that have no
active force, for they stand the, one in motionless discord, the
other in a motionless negation, even of discord, like an endless
wall or a bottomless pit.

Because the component colours of green are active and have a
movement of their own, it is possible, on the basis of this
movement, to reckon their spiritual appeal.

The first movement of yellow, that of approach to the spectator
(which can be increased by an intensification of the yellow), and
also the second movement, that of over-spreading the boundaries,
have a material parallel in the human energy which assails every
obstacle blindly, and bursts forth aimlessly in every direction.

Yellow, if steadily gazed at in any geometrical form, has a
disturbing influence, and reveals in the colour an insistent,
aggressive character. [Footnote: It is worth noting that the
sour-tasting lemon and shrill-singing canary are both yellow.]
The intensification of the yellow increases the painful
shrillness of its note.

[Footnote: Any parallel between colour and music can only be
relative. Just as a violin can give various shades of tone,--so
yellow has shades, which can be expressed by various instruments.
But in making such parallels, I am assuming in each case a pure
tone of colour or sound, unvaried by vibration or dampers, etc.]

Yellow is the typically earthly colour. It can never have
profound meaning. An intermixture of blue makes it a sickly
colour. It may be paralleled in human nature, with madness, not
with melancholy or hypochondriacal mania, but rather with violent
raving lunacy.

The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its
physical movements (1) of retreat from the spectator, (2) of
turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth
is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is

Blue is the typical heavenly colour.

[Footnote: ...The halos are golden for emperors and prophets
(i.e. for mortals), and sky-blue for symbolic figures (i.e.
spiritual beings); (Kondakoff, Histoire de l'An Byzantine
consideree principalement dans les miniatures, vol. ii, p. 382,
Paris, 1886-91).]

The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest.

[Footnote: Supernatural rest, not the earthly contentment of
green. The way to the supernatural lies through the natural. And
we mortals passing from the earthly yellow to the heavenly blue
must pass through green.]

When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly

[Footnote: As an echo of grief violet stand to blue as does green
in its production of rest.]

When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its
appeal to men grows weaker and more distant. In music a light
blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello; a still darker a
thunderous double bass; and the darkest blue of all-an organ.

A well-balanced mixture of blue and yellow produces green. The
horizontal movement ceases; likewise that from and towards the
centre. The effect on the soul through the eye is therefore
motionless. This is a fact recognized not only by opticians but
by the world. Green is the most restful colour that exists. On
exhausted men this restfulness has a beneficial effect, but after
a time it becomes wearisome. Pictures painted in shades of green
are passive and tend to be wearisome; this contrasts with the
active warmth of yellow or the active coolness of blue. In the
hierarchy of colours green is the "bourgeoisie"-self-satisfied,
immovable, narrow. It is the colour of summer, the period when
nature is resting from the storms of winter and the productive
energy of spring (cf. Fig. 2).

Any preponderance in green of yellow or blue introduces a
corresponding activity and changes the inner appeal. The green
keeps its characteristic equanimity and restfulness, the former
increasing with the inclination to lightness, the latter with the
inclination to depth. In music the absolute green is represented
by the placid, middle notes of a violin.

Black and white have already been discussed in general terms.
More particularly speaking, white, although often considered as
no colour (a theory largely due to the Impressionists, who saw no
white in nature as a symbol of a world from which all colour as a
definite attribute has disappeared).

[Footnote: Van Gogh, in his letters, asks whether he may not
paint a white wall dead white. This question offers no difficulty
to the non-representative artist who is concerned only with the
inner harmony of colour. But to the impressionist-realist it
seems a bold liberty to take with nature. To him it seems as
outrageous as his own change from brown shadows to blue seemed to
his contemporaries. Van Gogh's question marks a transition from
Impressionism to an art of spiritual harmony, as the coming of
the blue shadow marked a transition from academism to
Impressionism. (Cf. The Letters of Vincent van Gogh. Constable,

This world is too far above us for its harmony to touch our
souls. A great silence, like an impenetrable wall, shrouds its
life from our understanding. White, therefore, has this harmony
of silence, which works upon us negatively, like many pauses in
music that break temporarily the melody. It is not a dead
silence, but one pregnant with possibilities. White has the
appeal of the nothingness that is before birth, of the world in
the ice age.

A totally dead silence, on the other hand, a silence with no
possibilities, has the inner harmony of black. In music it is
represented by one of those profound and final pauses, after
which any continuation of the melody seems the dawn of another
world. Black is something burnt out, like the ashes of a funeral
pyre, something motionless like a corpse. The silence of black is
the silence of death. Outwardly black is the colour with least
harmony of all, a kind of neutral background against which the
minutest shades of other colours stand clearly forward. It
differs from white in this also, for with white nearly every
colour is in discord, or even mute altogether.

[Footnote: E.g. vermilion rings dull and muddy against white, but
against black with clear strength. Light yellow against white is
weak, against black pure and brilliant.]

Not without reason is white taken as symbolizing joy and spotless
purity, and black grief and death. A blend of black and white
produces gray which, as has been said, is silent and motionless,
being composed of two inactive colours, its restfulness having
none of the potential activity of green. A similar gray is
produced by a mixture of green and red, a spiritual blend of
passivity and glowing warmth.

[Footnote: Gray = immobility and rest. Delacroix sought to
express rest by a mixture of green and red (cf. Signac, sup.

The unbounded warmth of red has not the irresponsible appeal of
yellow, but rings inwardly with a determined and powerful
intensity. It glows in itself, maturely, and does not distribute
its vigour aimlessly (see Fig. 2).

The varied powers of red are very striking. By a skillful use of
it in its different shades, its fundamental tone may be made warm
or cold.

[Footnote: Of course every colour can be to some extent varied
between warm and cold, but no colour has so extensive a scale of
varieties as red.]

Light warm red has a certain similarity to medium yellow, alike
in texture and appeal, and gives a feeling of strength, vigour,
determination, triumph. In music, it is a sound of trumpets,
strong, harsh, and ringing.

Vermilion is a red with a feeling of sharpness, like glowing
steel which can be cooled by water. Vermilion is quenched by
blue, for it can support no mixture with a cold colour. More
accurately speaking, such a mixture produces what is called a
dirty colour, scorned by painters of today. But "dirt" as a
material object has its own inner appeal, and therefore to avoid
it in painting, is as unjust and narrow as was the cry of
yesterday for pure colour. At the call of the inner need that
which is outwardly foul may be inwardly pure, and vice versa.

The two shades of red just discussed are similar to yellow,
except that they reach out less to the spectator. The glow of red
is within itself. For this reason it is a colour more beloved
than yellow, being frequently used in primitive and traditional
decoration, and also in peasant costumes, because in the open air
the harmony of red and green is very beautiful. Taken by itself
this red is material, and, like yellow, has no very deep appeal.
Only when combined with something nobler does it acquire this
deep appeal. It is dangerous to seek to deepen red by an
admixture of black, for black quenches the glow, or at least
reduces it considerably.

But there remains brown, unemotional, disinclined for movement.
An intermixture of red is outwardly barely audible, but there
rings out a powerful inner harmony. Skillful blending can produce
an inner appeal of extraordinary, indescribable beauty. The
vermilion now rings like a great trumpet, or thunders like a

Cool red (madder) like any other fundamentally cold colour, can
be deepened--especially by an intermixture of azure. The
character of the colour changes; the inward glow increases, the
active element gradually disappears. But this active element is
never so wholly absent as in deep green. There always remains a
hint of renewed vigour, somewhere out of sight, waiting for a
certain moment to burst forth afresh. In this lies the great
difference between a deepened red and a deepened blue, because in
red there is always a trace of the material. A parallel in music
are the sad, middle tones of a cello. A cold, light red contains
a very distinct bodily or material element, but it is always
pure, like the fresh beauty of the face of a young girl. The
singing notes of a violin express this exactly in music.

Warm red, intensified by a suitable yellow, is orange. This blend
brings red almost to the point of spreading out towards the
spectator. But the element of red is always sufficiently strong
to keep the colour from flippancy. Orange is like a man,
convinced of his own powers. Its note is that of the angelus, or
of an old violin.

Just as orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow, so
violet is red withdrawn from humanity by blue. But the red in
violet must be cold, for the spiritual need does not allow of a
mixture of warm red with cold blue.

Violet is therefore both in the physical and spiritual sense a
cooled red. It is consequently rather sad and ailing. It is worn
by old women, and in China as a sign of mourning. In music it is
an English horn, or the deep notes of wood instruments (e.g. a

[Footnote: Among artists one often hears the question, "How are
you?" answered gloomily by the words "Feeling very violet."]

The two last mentioned colours (orange and violet) are the fourth
and last pair of antitheses of the primitive colours. They stand
to each other in the same relation as the third antitheses--green
and red--i.e., as complementary colours (see Fig. 2).


Second Pair of antitheses    (physical appeal of complementary
       C and D                            colours)

C.       Red            Green       = Third antithesis
       Movement                 of the spiritually extinguished
                                         First antithesis

Motion within itself   [CIRCLE]  = Potentiality of motion
                                 = Motionlessness


Ex-and concentric movements are absent
                     In optical blend    = Gray
In mechanical blend of white and black   = Gray

D.      Orange            Violet           = Fourth antithesis

Arise out of the first antithesis from:

1. Active element of the yellow in red   = Orange
2. Passive element of the blue in red    = Violet


     In excentric      Motion within      In Concentric
       direction          itself             direction

As in a great circle, a serpent biting its own tail (the symbol
of eternity, of something without end) the six colours appear
that make up the three main antitheses. And to right and left
stand the two great possibilities of silence--death and birth
(see Fig. 3).


                   /      \
                  /        \
                 /          \
                D            C
   B          Orange       Green        B
 White          |            |        Black
                |            |
                |            |
                C            D
               Red         Violet
                 \          /
                  \        /
                   \  A   /

The antitheses as a circle between two poles, i.e., the life of
colours between birth and death.

(The capital letters designate the pairs of antitheses.)

It is clear that all I have said of these simple colours is very
provisional and general, and so also are those feelings (joy,
grief, etc.) which have been quoted as parallels of the colours.
For these feelings are only the material expressions of the soul.
Shades of colour, like those of sound, are of a much finer
texture and awake in the soul emotions too fine to be expressed
in words. Certainly each tone will find some probable expression
in words, but it will always be incomplete, and that part which
the word fails to express will not be unimportant but rather the
very kernel of its existence. For this reason words are, and will
always remain, only hints, mere suggestions of colours. In this
impossibility of expressing colour in words with the consequent
need for some other mode of expression lies the opportunity of
the art of the future. In this art among innumerable rich and
varied combinations there is one which is founded on firm fact,
and that is as follows. The actual expression of colour can be
achieved simultaneously by several forms of art, each art playing
its separate part, and producing a whole which exceeds in
richness and force any expression attainable by one art alone.
The immense possibilities of depth and strength to be gained by
combination or by discord between the various arts can be easily

It is often said that admission of the possibility of one art
helping another amounts to a denial of the necessary differences
between the arts. This is, however, not the case. As has been
said, an absolutely similar inner appeal cannot be achieved by
two different arts. Even if it were possible the second version
would differ at least outwardly. But suppose this were not the
case, that is to say, suppose a repetition of the same appeal
exactly alike both outwardly and inwardly could be achieved by
different arts, such repetition would not be merely superfluous.
To begin with, different people find sympathy in different forms
of art (alike on the active and passive side among the creators
or the receivers of the appeal); but further and more important,
repetition of the same appeal thickens the spiritual atmosphere
which is necessary for the maturing of the finest feelings, in
the same way as the hot air of a greenhouse is necessary for the
ripening of certain fruit. An example of this is the case of the
individual who receives a powerful impression from constantly
repeated actions, thoughts or feelings, although if they came
singly they might have passed by unnoticed. [Footnote: This idea
forms, of course, the fundamental reason for advertisement.] We
must not, however, apply this rule only to the simple examples of
the spiritual atmosphere. For this atmosphere is like air, which
can be either pure or filled with various alien elements. Not
only visible actions, thoughts and feelings, with outward
expression, make up this atmosphere, but secret happenings of
which no one knows, unspoken thoughts, hidden feelings are also
elements in it. Suicide, murder, violence, low and unworthy
thoughts, hate, hostility, egotism, envy, narrow "patriotism,"
partisanship, are elements in the spiritual atmosphere.

[Footnote: Epidemics of suicide or of violent warlike feeling,
etc., are products of this impure atmosphere.]

And conversely, self-sacrifice, mutual help, lofty thoughts,
love, un-selfishness, joy in the success of others, humanity,
justness, are the elements which slay those already enumerated as
the sun slays the microbes, and restore the atmosphere to purity.

[Footnote: These elements likewise have their historical

The second and more complicated form of repetition is that in
which several different elements make mutual use of different
forms. In our case these elements are the different arts summed
up in the art of the future. And this form of repetition is even
more powerful, for the different natures of men respond to the
different elements in the combination. For one the musical form
is the most moving and impressive; for another the pictorial, for
the third the literary, and so on. There reside, therefore, in
arts which are outwardly different, hidden forces equally
different, so that they may all work in one man towards a single
result, even though each art may be working in isolation.

This sharply defined working of individual colours is the basis
on which various values can be built up in harmony. Pictures will
come to be painted--veritable artistic arrangements, planned in
shades of one colour chosen according to artistic feeling. The
carrying out of one colour, the binding together and admixture of
two related colours, are the foundations of most coloured
harmonies. From what has been said above about colour working,
from the fact that we live in a time of questioning, experiment
and contradiction, we can draw the easy conclusion that for a
harmonization on the basis of individual colours our age is
especially unsuitable. Perhaps with envy and with a mournful
sympathy we listen to the music of Mozart. It acts as a welcome
pause in the turmoil of our inner life, as a consolation and as a
hope, but we hear it as the echo of something from another age
long past and fundamentally strange to us. The strife of colours,
the sense of balance we have lost, tottering principles,
unexpected assaults, great questions, apparently useless
striving, storm and tempest, broken chains, antitheses and
contradictions, these make up our harmony. The composition
arising from this harmony is a mingling of colour and form each
with its separate existence, but each blended into a common life
which is called a picture by the force of the inner need. Only
these individual parts are vital. Everything else (such as
surrounding conditions) is subsidiary. The combination of two
colours is a logical outcome of modern conditions. The
combination of colours hitherto considered discordant, is merely
a further development. For example, the use, side by side, of red
and blue, colours in themselves of no physical relationship, but
from their very spiritual contrast of the strongest effect, is
one of the most frequent occurrences in modern choice of harmony.
[Footnote: Cf. Gauguin, Noa Noa, where the artist states his
disinclination when he first arrived in Tahiti to juxtapose red
and blue.] Harmony today rests chiefly on the principle of
contrast which has for all time been one of the most important
principles of art. But our contrast is an inner contrast which
stands alone and rejects the help (for that help would mean
destruction) of any other principles of harmony. It is
interesting to note that this very placing together of red and
blue was so beloved by the primitive both in Germany and Italy
that it has till today survived, principally in folk pictures of
religious subjects. One often sees in such pictures the Virgin in
a red gown and a blue cloak. It seems that the artists wished to
express the grace of heaven in terms of humanity, and humanity in
terms of heaven. Legitimate and illegitimate combinations of
colours, contrasts of various colours, the over-painting of one
colour with another, the definition of coloured surfaces by
boundaries of various forms, the overstepping of these
boundaries, the mingling and the sharp separation of surfaces,
all these open great vistas of artistic possibility.

One of the first steps in the turning away from material objects
into the realm of the abstract was, to use the technical artistic
term, the rejection of the third dimension, that is to say, the
attempt to keep a picture on a single plane. Modelling was
abandoned. In this way the material object was made more abstract
and an important step forward was achieved--this step forward
has, however, had the effect of limiting the possibilities of
painting to one definite piece of canvas, and this limitation has
not only introduced a very material element into painting, but
has seriously lessened its possibilities.

Any attempt to free painting from this material limitation
together with the striving after a new form of composition must
concern itself first of all with the destruction of this theory
of one single surface--attempts must be made to bring the picture
on to some ideal plane which shall be expressed in terms of the
material plane of the canvas. [Footnote: Compare the article by
Le Fauconnier in the catalogue of the second exhibition of the
Neue Kunstlervereinigung, Munich, 1910-11.] There has arisen out
of the composition in flat triangles a composition with plastic
three-dimensional triangles, that is to say with pyramids; and
that is Cubism. But there has arisen here also the tendency to
inertia, to a concentration on this form for its own sake, and
consequently once more to an impoverishment of possibility. But
that is the unavoidable result of the external application of an
inner principle.

A further point of great importance must not be forgotten. There
are other means of using the material plane as a space of three
dimensions in order to create an ideal plane. The thinness or
thickness of a line, the placing of the form on the surface, the
overlaying of one form on another may be quoted as examples of
artistic means that may be employed. Similar possibilities are
offered by colour which, when rightly used, can advance or
retreat, and can make of the picture a living thing, and so
achieve an artistic expansion of space. The combination of both
means of extension in harmony or concord is one of the richest
and most powerful elements in purely artistic composition.


From the nature of modern harmony, it results that never has
there been a time when it was more difficult than it is today to
formulate a complete theory, [Footnote: Attempts have been made.
Once more emphasis must be laid on the parallel with music. For
example, cf. "Tendances Nouvelles," No. 35, Henri Ravel: "The
laws of harmony are the same for painting and music."] or to lay
down a firm artistic basis. All attempts to do so would have one
result, namely, that already cited in the case of Leonardo and
his system of little spoons. It would, however, be precipitate to
say that there are no basic principles nor firm rules in
painting, or that a search for them leads inevitably to
academism. Even music has a grammar, which, although modified
from time to time, is of continual help and value as a kind of

Painting is, however, in a different position. The revolt from
dependence on nature is only just beginning. Any realization of
the inner working of colour and form is so far unconscious. The
subjection of composition to some geometrical form is no new idea
(cf. the art of the Persians). Construction on a purely abstract
basis is a slow business, and at first seemingly blind and
aimless. The artist must train not only his eye but also his
soul, so that he can test colours for themselves and not only by
external impressions.

If we begin at once to break the bonds which bind us to nature,
and devote ourselves purely to combination of pure colour and
abstract form, we shall produce works which are mere decoration,
which are suited to neckties or carpets. Beauty of Form and
Colour is no sufficient aim by itself, despite the assertions of
pure aesthetes or even of naturalists, who are obsessed with the
idea of "beauty." It is because of the elementary stage reached
by our painting that we are so little able to grasp the inner
harmony of true colour and form composition. The nerve vibrations
are there, certainly, but they get no further than the nerves,
because the corresponding vibrations of the spirit which they
call forth are too weak. When we remember, however, that
spiritual experience is quickening, that positive science, the
firmest basis of human thought, is tottering, that dissolution of
matter is imminent, we have reason to hope that the hour of pure
composition is not far away.

It must not be thought that pure decoration is lifeless. It has
its inner being, but one which is either incomprehensible to us,
as in the case of old decorative art, or which seems mere
illogical confusion, as a world in which full-grown men and
embryos play equal roles, in which beings deprived of limbs are
on a level with noses and toes which live isolated and of their
own vitality. The confusion is like that of a kaleidoscope, which
though possessing a life of its own, belongs to another sphere.
Nevertheless, decoration has its effect on us; oriental
decoration quite differently to Swedish, savage, or ancient
Greek. It is not for nothing that there is a general custom of
describing samples of decoration as gay, serious, sad, etc., as
music is described as Allegro, Serioso, etc., according to the
nature of the piece.

Probably conventional decoration had its beginnings in nature.
But when we would assert that external nature is the sole source
of all art, we must remember that, in patterning, natural objects
are used as symbols, almost as though they were mere
hieroglyphics. For this reason we cannot gauge their inner
harmony. For instance, we can bear a design of Chinese dragons in
our dining or bed rooms, and are no more disturbed by it than by
a design of daisies.

It is possible that towards the close of our already dying epoch
a new decorative art will develop, but it is not likely to be
founded on geometrical form. At the present time any attempt to
define this new art would be as useless as pulling a small bud
open so as to make a fully blown flower. Nowadays we are still
bound to external nature and must find our means of expression in
her. But how are we to do it? In other words, how far may we go
in altering the forms and colours of this nature?

We may go as far as the artist is able to carry his emotion, and
once more we see how immense is the need for true emotion. A few
examples will make the meaning of this clearer.

A warm red tone will materially alter in inner value when it is
no longer considered as an isolated colour, as something
abstract, but is applied as an element of some other object, and
combined with natural form. The variety of natural forms will
create a variety of spiritual values, all of which will harmonize
with that of the original isolated red. Suppose we combine red
with sky, flowers, a garment, a face, a horse, a tree.

A red sky suggests to us sunset, or fire, and has a consequent
effect upon us--either of splendour or menace. Much depends now
on the way in which other objects are treated in connection with
this red sky. If the treatment is faithful to nature, but all the
same harmonious, the "naturalistic" appeal of the sky is
strengthened. If, however, the other objects are treated in a way
which is more abstract, they tend to lessen, if not to destroy,
the naturalistic appeal of the sky. Much the same applies to the
use of red in a human face. In this case red can be employed to
emphasize the passionate or other characteristics of the model,
with a force that only an extremely abstract treatment of the
rest of the picture can subdue.

A red garment is quite a different matter; for it can in reality
be of any colour. Red will, however, be found best to supply the
needs of pure artistry, for here alone can it be used without any
association with material aims. The artist has to consider not
only the value of the red cloak by itself, but also its value in
connection with the figure wearing it, and further the relation
of the figure to the whole picture. Suppose the picture to be a
sad one, and the red-cloaked figure to be the central point on
which the sadness is concentrated--either from its central
position, or features, attitude, colour, or what not. The red
will provide an acute discord of feeling, which will emphasize
the gloom of the picture. The use of a colour, in itself sad,
would weaken the effect of the dramatic whole. [Footnote: Once
more it is wise to emphasize the necessary inadequacy of these
examples. Rules cannot be laid down, the variations are so
endless. A single line can alter the whole composition of a
picture.] This is the principle of antithesis already defined.
Red by itself cannot have a sad effect on the spectator, and its
inclusion in a sad picture will, if properly handled, provide the
dramatic element. [Footnote: The use of terms like "sad" and
"joyful" are only clumsy equivalents for the delicate spiritual
vibrations of the new harmony. They must be read as necessarily

Yet again is the case of a red tree different. The fundamental
value of red remains, as in every case. But the association of
"autumn" creeps in.

The colour combines easily with this association, and there is no
dramatic clash as in the case of the red cloak.

Finally, the red horse provides a further variation. The very
words put us in another atmosphere. The impossibility of a red
horse demands an unreal world. It is possible that this
combination of colour and form will appeal as a freak--a purely
superficial and non-artistic appeal--or as a hint of a fairy
story [Footnote: An incomplete fairy story works on the mind as
does a cinematograph film.]--once more a non-artistic appeal. To
set this red horse in a careful naturalistic landscape would
create such a discord as to produce no appeal and no coherence.
The need for coherence is the essential of harmony--whether
founded on conventional discord or concord. The new harmony
demands that the inner value of a picture should remain unified
whatever the variations or contrasts of outward form or colour.
The elements of the new art are to be found, therefore, in the
inner and not the outer qualities of nature.

The spectator is too ready to look for a meaning in a picture--i.e.,
some outward connection between its various parts. Our materialistic age
has produced a type of spectator or "connoisseur," who is not content to
put himself opposite a picture and let it say its own message. Instead
of allowing the inner value of the picture to work, he worries himself
in looking for "closeness to nature," or "temperament," or "handling,"
or "tonality," or "perspective," or what not. His eye does not probe the
outer expression to arrive at the inner meaning. In a conversation with
an interesting person, we endeavour to get at his fundamental ideas and
feelings. We do not bother about the words he uses, nor the spelling of
those words, nor the breath necessary for speaking them, nor the
movements of his tongue and lips, nor the psychological working on our
brain, nor the physical sound in our ear, nor the physiological effect
on our nerves. We realize that these things, though interesting and
important, are not the main things of the moment, but that the meaning
and idea is what concerns us. We should have the same feeling when
confronted with a work of art. When this becomes general the artist will
be able to dispense with natural form and colour and speak in purely
artistic language.

To return to the combination of colour and form, there is another
possibility which should be noted. Non-naturalistic objects in a
picture may have a "literary" appeal, and the whole picture may
have the working of a fable. The spectator is put in an
atmosphere which does not disturb him because he accepts it as
fabulous, and in which he tries to trace the story and undergoes
more or less the various appeals of colour. But the pure inner
working of colour is impossible; the outward idea has the mastery
still. For the spectator has only exchanged a blind reality for a
blind dreamland, where the truth of inner feeling cannot be felt.

We must find, therefore, a form of expression which excludes the
fable and yet does not restrict the free working of colour in any
way. The forms, movement, and colours which we borrow from nature
must produce no outward effect nor be associated with external
objects. The more obvious is the separation from nature, the more
likely is the inner meaning to be pure and unhampered.

The tendency of a work of art may be very simple, but provided it
is not dictated by any external motive and provided it is not
working to any material end, the harmony will be pure. The most
ordinary action--for example, preparation for lifting a heavy
weight--becomes mysterious and dramatic, when its actual purpose
is not revealed. We stand and gaze fascinated, till of a sudden
the explanation bursts suddenly upon us. It is the conviction
that nothing mysterious can ever happen in our everyday life that
has destroyed the joy of abstract thought. Practical
considerations have ousted all else. It is with this fact in view
that the new dancing is being evolved--as, that is to say, the
only means of giving in terms of time and space the real inner
meaning of motion. The origin of dancing is probably purely
sexual. In folk-dances we still see this element plainly. The
later development of dancing as a religious ceremony joins itself
to the preceding element and the two together take artistic form
and emerge as the ballet.

The ballet at the present time is in a state of chaos owing to
this double origin. Its external motives--the expression of love
and fear, etc.--are too material and naive for the abstract ideas
of the future. In the search for more subtle expression, our
modern reformers have looked to the past for help. Isadora Duncan
has forged a link between the Greek dancing and that of the
future. In this she is working on parallel lines to the painters
who are looking for inspiration from the primitives.

[Footnote: Kandinsky's example of Isadora Duncan is not perhaps
perfectly chosen. This famous dancer founds her art mainly upon a
study of Greek vases and not necessarily of the primitive period.
Her aims are distinctly towards what Kandinsky calls
"conventional beauty," and what is perhaps more important, her
movements are not dictated solely by the "inner harmony," but
largely by conscious outward imitation of Greek attitudes. Either
Nijinsky's later ballets: Le Sacre du Printemps, L'Apres-midi
d'un Faune, Jeux, or the idea actuating the Jacques Dalcroze
system of Eurhythmics seem to fall more into line with
Kandinsky's artistic forecast. In the first case "conventional
beauty" has been abandoned, to the dismay of numbers of writers
and spectators, and a definite return has been made to primitive
angles and abruptness. In the second case motion and dance are
brought out of the souls of the pupils, truly spontaneous, at
the call of the "inner harmony." Indeed a comparison between
Isadora Duncan and M. Dalcroze is a comparison between the
"naturalist" and "symbolist" ideals in art which were outlined in
the introduction to this book.--M.T.H.S.]

In dance as in painting this is only a stage of transition. In
dancing as in painting we are on the threshold of the art of the
future. The same rules must be applied in both cases.
Conventional beauty must go by the board and the literary element
of "story-telling" or "anecdote" must be abandoned as useless.
Both arts must learn from music that every harmony and every
discord which springs from the inner spirit is beautiful, but
that it is essential that they should spring from the inner
spirit and from that alone.

The achievement of the dance-art of the future will make possible
the first ebullition of the art of spiritual harmony--the true

The composition for the new theatre will consist of these three

     (1) Musical movement
     (2) Pictorial movement
     (3) Physical movement

and these three, properly combined, make up the spiritual
movement, which is the working of the inner harmony. They will be
interwoven in harmony and discord as are the two chief elements
of painting, form and colour.

Scriabin's attempt to intensify musical tone by corresponding use of
colour is necessarily tentative. In the perfected stage-composition the
two elements are increased by the third, and endless possibilities of
combination and individual use are opened up. Further, the external can
be combined with the internal harmony, as Schonberg has attempted in his
quartettes. It is impossible here to go further into the developments of
this idea. The reader must apply the principles of painting already
stated to the problem of stage-composition, and outline for himself the
possibilities of the theatre of the future, founded on the immovable
principle of the inner need.

From what has been said of the combination of colour and form,
the way to the new art can be traced. This way lies today between
two dangers. On the one hand is the totally arbitrary application
of colour to geometrical form--pure patterning. On the other hand
is the more naturalistic use of colour in bodily form--pure
phantasy. Either of these alternatives may in their turn be
exaggerated. Everything is at the artist's disposal, and the
freedom of today has at once its dangers and its possibilities.
We may be present at the conception of a new great epoch, or we
may see the opportunity squandered in aimless extravagance.

[Footnote: On this question see my article "Uber die Formfrage"--in "Der
Blaue Reiter" (Piper-Verlag, 1912). Taking the work of Henri Rousseau as
a starting point, I go on to prove that the new naturalism will not only
be equivalent to but even identical with abstraction.]

That art is above nature is no new discovery. [Footnote: Cf. "Goethe",
by Karl Heinemann, 1899, p. 684; also Oscar Wilde, "De Profundis"; also
Delacroix, "My Diary".] New principles do not fall from heaven, but are
logically if indirectly connected with past and future. What is
important to us is the momentary position of the principle and how best
it can be used. It must not be employed forcibly. But if the artist
tunes his soul to this note, the sound will ring in his work of itself.
The "emancipation" of today must advance on the lines of the inner need.
It is hampered at present by external form, and as that is thrown aside,
there arises as the aim of composition-construction. The search for
constructive form has produced Cubism, in which natural form is often
forcibly subjected to geometrical construction, a process which tends to
hamper the abstract by the concrete and spoil the concrete by the

The harmony of the new art demands a more subtle construction
than this, something that appeals less to the eye and more to the
soul. This "concealed construction" may arise from an apparently
fortuitous selection of forms on the canvas. Their external lack
of cohesion is their internal harmony. This haphazard arrangement
of forms may be the future of artistic harmony. Their fundamental
relationship will finally be able to be expressed in mathematical
form, but in terms irregular rather than regular.


The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret
way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence
casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful
strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and
has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner
standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad
one. If its "form" is bad it means that the form is too feeble in
meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul.

[Footnote: So-called indecent pictures are either incapable of
causing vibrations of the soul (in which case they are not art)
or they are so capable. In the latter case they are not to be
spurned absolutely, even though at the same time they gratify
what nowadays we are pleased to call the "lower bodily tastes."]
Therefore a picture is not necessarily "well painted" if it
possesses the "values" of which the French so constantly speak.
It is only well painted if its spiritual value is complete and
satisfying. "Good drawing" is drawing that cannot be altered
without destruction of this inner value, quite irrespective of
its correctness as anatomy, botany, or any other science. There
is no question of a violation of natural form, but only of the
need of the artist for such form. Similarly colours are used not
because they are true to nature, but because they are necessary
to the particular picture. In fact, the artist is not only
justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms
which fulfil his own need. Absolute freedom, whether from anatomy
or anything of the kind, must be given the artist in his choice
of material. Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it
is in life. [Footnote: This freedom is man's weapon against the
Philistines. It is based on the inner need.]

Note, however, that blind following of scientific precept is less
blameworthy than its blind and purposeless rejection. The former
produces at least an imitation of material objects which may be
of some use.

[Footnote: Plainly, an imitation of nature, if made by the hand
of an artist, is not a pure reproduction. The voice of the soul
will in some degree at least make itself heard. As contrasts one
may quote a landscape of Canaletto and those sadly famous heads
by Denner.--(Alte Pinakothek, Munich.)]

The latter is an artistic betrayal and brings confusion in its
train. The former leaves the spiritual atmosphere empty; the
latter poisons it.

Painting is an art, and art is not vague production, transitory
and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the
improvement and refinement of the human soul--to, in fact, the
raising of the spiritual triangle.

If art refrains from doing this work, a chasm remains unbridged,
for no other power can take the place of art in this activity.
And at times when the human soul is gaining greater strength, art
will also grow in power, for the two are inextricably connected
and complementary one to the other. Conversely, at those times
when the soul tends to be choked by material disbelief, art
becomes purposeless and talk is heard that art exists for art's
sake alone.

[Footnote: This cry "art for art's sake," is really the best
ideal such an age can attain to. It is an unconscious protest
against materialism, against the demand that everything should
have a use and practical value. It is further proof of the
indestructibility of art and of the human soul, which can never
be killed but only temporarily smothered.]

Then is the bond between art and the soul, as it were, drugged
into unconsciousness. The artist and the spectator drift apart,
till finally the latter turns his back on the former or regards
him as a juggler whose skill and dexterity are worthy of
applause. It is very important for the artist to gauge his
position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to
himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant
of a nobler purpose. He 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.


[Footnote: Naturally this does not mean that the artist is to
instill forcibly into his work some deliberate meaning. As has
been said the generation of a work of art is a mystery. So long
as artistry exists there is no need of theory or logic to direct
the painter's action. The inner voice of the soul tells him what
form he needs, whether inside or outside nature. Every artist
knows, who works with feeling, how suddenly the right form
flashes upon him. Bocklin said that a true work of art must be
like an inspiration; that actual painting, composition, etc., are
not the steps by which the artist reaches self-expression.]

The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live
idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a
cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling,
and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to
arise, that he is free in art but not in life.

The artist has a triple responsibility to the non-artists: (1) He
must repay the talent which he has; (2) his deeds, feelings, and
thoughts, as those of every man, create a spiritual atmosphere
which is either pure or poisonous. (3) These deeds and thoughts
are materials for his creations, which themselves exercise
influence on the spiritual atmosphere. The artist is not only a
king, as Peladan says, because he has great power, but also
because he has great duties.

If the artist be priest of beauty, nevertheless this beauty is to
be sought only according to the principle of the inner need, and
can be measured only according to the size and intensity of that


Maeterlinck, one of the first warriors, one of the first modern
artists of the soul, says: "There is nothing on earth so curious
for beauty or so absorbent of it, as a soul. For that reason few
mortal souls withstand the leadership of a soul which gives to
them beauty." [Footnote: De la beaute interieure.]

And this property of the soul is the oil, which facilitates the
slow, scarcely visible but irresistible movement of the triangle,
onwards and upwards.


The first five illustrations in this book show the course of
constructive effort in painting. This effort falls into two

(1) Simple composition, which is regulated according to an
obvious and simple form. This kind of composition I call the

(2) Complex composition, consisting of various forms, subjected
more or less completely to a principal form. Probably the
principal form may be hard to grasp outwardly, and for that
reason possessed of a strong inner value. This kind of
composition I call the SYMPHONIC.

Between the two lie various transitional forms, in which the
melodic principle predominates. The history of the development is
closely parallel to that of music.

If, in considering an example of melodic composition, one forgets
the material aspect and probes down into the artistic reason of
the whole, one finds primitive geometrical forms or an
arrangement of simple lines which help toward a common motion.
This common motion is echoed by various sections and may be
varied by a single line or form. Such isolated variations serve
different purposes. For instance, they may act as a sudden check,
or to use a musical term, a "fermata." [Footnote: E.g., the
Ravenna mosaic which, in the main, forms a triangle. The upright
figures lean proportionately to the triangle. The outstretched
arm and door-curtain are the "fermate."] Each form which goes to
make up the composition has a simple inner value, which has in
its turn a melody. For this reason I call the composition
melodic. By the agency of Cezanne and later of Hodler [Footnote:
English readers may roughly parallel Hodler with Augustus John
for purposes of the argument.--M.T.H.S.] this kind of composition
won new life, and earned the name of "rhythmic." The limitations
of the term "rhythmic" are obvious. In music and nature each
manifestation has a rhythm of its own, so also in painting. In
nature this rhythm is often not clear to us, because its purpose
is not clear to us. We then speak of it as unrhythmic. So the
terms rhythmic and unrhythmic are purely conventional, as also
are harmony and discord, which have no actual existence.
[Footnote: As an example of plain melodic construction with a
plain rhythm, Cezanne's "Bathing Women" is given in this book.]

Complex rhythmic composition, with a strong flavour of the
symphonic, is seen in numerous pictures and woodcuts of the past.
One might mention the work of old German masters, of the
Persians, of the Japanese, the Russian icons, broadsides, etc.
[Footnote: This applies to many of Hodler's pictures.]

In nearly all these works the symphonic composition is not very
closely allied to the melodic. This means that fundamentally
there is a composition founded on rest and balance. The mind
thinks at once of choral compositions, of Mozart and Beethoven.
All these works have the solemn and regular architecture of a
Gothic cathedral; they belong to the transition period.

As examples of the new symphonic composition, in which the
melodic element plays a subordinate part, and that only rarely, I
have added reproductions of four of my own pictures.

They represent three different sources of inspiration:

(1) A direct impression of outward nature, expressed in purely
artistic form. This I call an "Impression."

(2) A largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner
character, the non-material nature. This I call an

(3) An expression of a slowly formed inner feeling, which
comes to utterance only after long maturing. This I call a
"Composition." In this, reason, consciousness, purpose, play
an overwhelming part. But of the calculation nothing appears,
only the feeling. Which kind of construction, whether
conscious or unconscious, really underlies my work, the
patient reader will readily understand.

Finally, I would remark that, in my opinion, we are fast
approaching the time of reasoned and conscious composition, when
the painter will be proud to declare his work constructive. This
will be in contrast to the claim of the Impressionists that they
could explain nothing, that their art came upon them by
inspiration. We have before us the age of conscious creation, and
this new spirit in painting is going hand in hand with the spirit
of thought towards an epoch of great spiritual leaders.

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