“A Circle is a Living Wonder”—Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, Landscape with Red Spots, No. 2, 1913,
oil on canvas, 117.5 x 140 cm
( Peggy Guggenheim collection)

. . . An empty canvas is a living wonder—far lovelier than certain pictures.

What are its basic elements? Straight lines, a straight, narrow surface, hard inflexible, maintained without regard to anything but itself and apparently going on its own gait like a destiny that has already been fulfilled. Thus and not otherwise. Stretched, free, tense, evading and yielding, elastic, and indeterminate in semblance like the fate which awaits us. It could become something different, but abstains from doing so. Hardness and softness at once, and combinations of both that are infinite in their possibilties.

Every line says “Here I am!” Each holds its own, reveals its own eloquent features, and whispers “Listen, listen to my secret!”

A line is a living wonder.

A dot. Lots of little dots which are just a little smaller here and just a little larger there. All of them have their place within its compass, and yet retain their mobility—a host of little tnesions ceaselessly repeating their chorus of “Listen! Listen!” They are little messages which by echoing each other in unison help to build up the one great central affirmation, “Yes.”

A black circle—distinct thunder, a world apart which seems to care for nothing and retires within itself, a conclusion on the spot. A “Here I am!” pronounced slowly, rather coldly.

A red circle—it stands fast, holds its ground is immersed in itself. Yet it also moves because it covets each other place as well as its own. Its radiance overcomes every obstacle and penetrates into the remotest corners. Thunder and lightning together. A passionate “Here I am!”

A circle is a living wonder.

But the most wonderful thing of all is this: to combine all these voices with still others, lots and lots of them (for besides the simple basic forms and colors already mentioned, there are plenty more really), in one picture—a picture which thus becomes a simple and integral “H E R E   I   A M !”

Limitation, a grudging economy, wild richness, prodigality, thunderclaps, the buzzing of mosquitoes; and everything that lies between them. Milenaries would be only just time enough to get to the bottom of it all, to the utmost limits of these possibilities. And then, after all, finality does not exist.

For close on twenty-five years I have been communing with these “abstract” things. Even before the war I loved the thunder-clap and the buzzing of mosquitoes and turned them to account. But their diapason was the “dramatic” note: explosions, patches violently impacting on one another, lines without hope, eruptions, rumblings, outbursts, catastrophies. The elements—the line-colours, the structure, the brush-work, the very technique, the general ensemble—were, as they ought to be, “dramatic” and subordinated to that aim. Balance was lost, but there was no destruction—only an informing presage of resurrection carried to the pitch of cold serenity. . .

—Wassily Kandinsky, The Painter’s Object (1937)

Wider Connections

Kandinsky in museums

The Chess Theory Visual Art Museum—Pictorial essay on the development of Kandinsky

Kandinsky—Concerning the Spiritual in Art

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