Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866. He was raised in Odessa, where concepts of music were instilled in him at a young age by his parents. This influence would prove fruitful later in his life as a painter. He enrolled for a Degree in Law and Economics at the University of Moscow and after successful completion of the course, he lectured on the discipline for three years. He subsequently left for Munich, Germany to pursue studies in art.
While in Germany, Kandinsky became an active member of notorious art movements that opposed all conventions of art at the time. It is during this rebellious run that Kandinsky and his colleagues formulated modern abstract art. He later admitted in his memoirs that the concept of abstract forms came to him by accident. He was entering his studio, when he noticed a painting that was illuminated by light from behind. The illumination affected the way he saw the painting- he could only see colorful forms that had no meaning. He later learnt that the painting was actually his. From this incident, he developed a penchant for abstract drawing.
He therefore embarked on making abstract works that had no connection to the physical world. He derived his inspiration from music and named his works after them. Music to Kandinsky represented the greatest form of non-objective art that would stir strong emotions in listeners. He therefore wanted his art to have the same power of music and evoke the same emotions to people. His use of abstract objects was to create a form of universal language that could be understood by all people from all corners of the earth.
Apart from making life defining art, Kandinsky had a lot of achievements under his name. He co-founded the Phalanx School of Art in Munich, and became both the school’s president and the director of the Phalanx school of painting. His art was also exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, a fete for artists at the time. He also founded the Blue Rider movement, which released a yearly calendar on art and successfully hosted two exhibitions.
After relocating back to Russia, as a result of the First World War, he became deeply involved in reformation of art in the nation. His radical views of art were however rejected by the general populace of Russia’s art elites. He eventually returned to Germany to teach painting at the Bauhaus. As the Nazis ascended to power, they confiscated 57 of Kandinsky’s works and branded them as degenerate art. Currently, most of his works are located at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Art Commentary and Analysis
Kandinsky is considered to be one of the pioneers of abstract art. Working with the likes of Kazimir Malevich, Liubov Popova and Aleksandr Rodchenko, his works had elements of suprematism and constructivism. Composition 8 is one such art and was one of Kandinsky’s first abstract art forms. It deviates from real life forms that had been the basis of his previous works and leans towards abstract forms that are really hard to decipher.
Composition 8 resembles more like an ensemble of geometric shapes, cleverly smeared with paint rather than actual work of art. It has intersecting flat planes with disjointed images that have no form of connection. This pioneer abstract piece has one dominant feature though, the overutilization of the circle. Kandinsky had an unexplained obsession with the circle. He extensively used it in his successive works. When describing his later piece (several circles, 1926), he was quoted saying,
“The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.”
He depicted the circle as the epitome of opposition to all other shapes. It cannot be a coincidence that he obsessively used an object he equated to rebellion, when his whole career had been based on opposing the status quo of the art world. He may have used the circles to convey something that we may never know. That is the limitation of abstract art. It has no distinct message and everyone has the opportunity to interpret it the way they want, with less regard to what the artist actually intended.
No element in the picture can pinpoint to any life form. The few repeated components are therefore nothing but ‘geometric vocabulary’- lines, planes, circles, semicircles, rectangles and angles. Not only are the elements disjointed, even viewers have no psychological connection to the art-form. Apart from his genius in geometry and apparent love for detail, composition 8 does not evoke any substantial feelings. It only alienates the viewers from the artist.
“Color is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul.”
These words by Kandinsky echo in all his works, including this is one. Thus, the greatest aspect of this painting is his skillful use of color. He does not assign a particular color to any object, but uses them randomly- a clear revelation of his unorthodox ways. Although composition 8 has no reliable meaning attached to it, the perfect blend of color variations with the incredible placement and inclination of shapes makes it one of the most revered portraits in history.
The mixed reaction that the painting elicits from viewers is what Kandinsky was looking for. He believed that “Form itself, even if completely abstract had its own sound.” Though the sound of this painting has left us confused, it formed the basis of Kandinsky’s abstract expressions that have cemented his name in the artistic realms, as one of the pioneers of abstract painting in modern times.
- Wassily Kandinsky – Composition VIII, 1923
- Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky Facts & History