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[teacherartexchange] Kandinsky and music


From: Pam Stephens (pgstephens_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Feb 18 2007 - 08:58:48 PST


Kandinsky is generally considered to have had the neural condition called
synaesthesia wherein two senses cross over or combine. Not only was he
deeply influenced by music, but Kandinsky is believed to have seen it. Much
of his work is believed to be visual representations of music; what he
actually saw in his mind's eye when he heard musical sound. Wagner's
"Lohengrin" was an early influence upon Kandinsky's art.

Sometime later Kandinsky was closely aligned with the thinking of Viennese
composer, Arnold Schoenberg, whose music rejected thematic repetition.
Listen to some of Schoenberg's music and you'll see an immediate
correlation. Kandinsky's thinking was also aligned with Russian composer
Scriabin who looked for similarities between tone and color. Scriabin's
symphony "Prometheus: A Poem of Fire" is an example of this.

It's interesting that Kandinsky, who was also a trained musician, felt that
music was a superior language to painting. His goal was what the German
language refers to as "gesamtkuntswerk" (total work of art).

There are some interesting studies that have been and that are being
conducted in synaesthesia. One classic study asks people to look at a
star-like shape and a more rounded shape. When asked to identify the "kiki"
or "bouba" shape, most people call the pointed shape Kiki because the word
sounds pointed. In similar fashion, bouba sounds rounded. Here's a
non-academic site that shows the test.

Although this probably seems off base from the original question about music
and Kandinsky, consider that Kandinsky--because of synaesthesia--more than
likely saw in his mind's eye colors and shapes that were associated with
musical sound and that he transcribed in paint what he saw.

Sorry to get so off track, but I have recently been reading and writing
about this topic and find it fascinating. I'd be curious to see what sort of
artwork your students create.

From Sedona,

Pamela Geiger Stephens, PhD
Northern Arizona University
School of Art
Department of Art Education
PO Box 6020
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6020

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