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January 18, 2019

How to Look at Art: Art serves the soul

Vasiliy Kandinsky, Tempered Elan, 1944
Vasiliy Kandinsky, Tempered Elan, 1944

Keep an eye on your wealth but always keep an eye on your well-being. I recently met a person who told me he searched for the answer to the question 'why do people create art?' and discovered that art is born out of our spiritual need - a deep need for connection to something bigger than ourselves, for meaning of life, and a sense of well-being.

In 1912, a legendary Russian painter and art theorist Vasiliy Kandinsky (1866-1944) wrote a famous and influential book 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art'. In it, he explores the motives for art which he believes is the human need to express the soul. Art, believes Kandinsky, is the spiritual antidote to the material. Great art preserves the soul from coarseness, strengthens it, and elevates it to heights. If art refrains from doing this work, no other power can take its place.

Art is a movement forwards and upwards. It is led by artists who look at ‘the emotional reality behind familiar material appearances’ with the ‘spiritual eyes’. "Not wrapped in lethargy, the artists long for spiritual life, knowledge and progress. They see what lies behind,” wrote Kandinsky.

All great true artists experience art as a spiritual process and try to articulate the 'spiritual atmosphere' in their art. Kandinsky believed that colour and form, the interplay of them, are 'the outward expression' of the spiritual. A yellow triangle, a blue circle, a green square, or a green triangle, a yellow circle, a blue square - all these have different spiritual values and influences on the soul. Bad art - feeble in form and colour - fails the soul. To those who define art as 'beauty', Kandinsky reminds that the spiritual does not produce only the 'beauty', it produces the 'ugly' too. But everything which expresses the need of the soul is beautiful, he says.

Today, in a chase for the material, art often fails to awaken the capacity for experiencing the spiritual. As consumerism sweeps the field, people think of art in materialistic terms. "Do not reduce art to technique or skill", pleads with us Kandinsky, "A picture is a whole lifetime captured, a lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Art is not a thing – to own, to sell, to display – it is a spiritual experience.”

Art serves the soul. The soul should serve art too. If the human soul fails art it gets choked by the material.

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