Thursday, January 14, 2010

Seeing Sound, Hearing Color

“Everything starts from a dot.”
~ Wassily Kandinsky

The older I get, the more I am determined to enjoy the cultural riches of New York City. And so it was that yesterday afternoon I dropped everything and spent two fascinating hours at the Guggenheim Museum soaking up the Wassily Kadinsky retrospective on its final day. As museum visitors walked up the Guggenheim's spiraling ramp, paintings traced the evolution of Kandinsky's work from its beginnings in Russia to his final paintings in Paris.

As a young painter, Kandinsky searched for a visual vocabulary of colors and symbolic images that would parallel the notes and chords of music. The audio tour described Kandinsky's fascination with and affinity for the composer and music theorist Arnold Schoenberg. As I looked at paintings with titles like "Improvisation" and "Composition," I wondered if he experienced synesthesia — the criss-crossing of the senses that enables some people to hear colors or see or taste sound. Moments later the audio guide actually used the word synesthesia in speaking of Kandinsky's desire to merge the worlds of music, literature and art.

Kandinsky began as a rigorously intellectual painter and author of books about colors and symbols. He incorporated various fascinations into his work — geometry, scientific instruments, cosmology and biology. The results were explosions of color and profusions of shapes that changed art and influenced generations of  artists. Later in life, with his visual vocabulary complete and integrated into his nature, he seemed to paint for the sheer joy of it. Below are a few random examples of his work. They in no way do justice to the canvases Kandinsky created. In many cases, the colors he worked with were stunningly intense. They need to be seen in person.


"Colour is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically."
~ Wassily Kandinsky


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