Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky

By Moshe Barasch | Go to book overview

27
Composition and Harmony

So far we have discussed the concepts and doctrines of color and line, and the particular problems they pose, separately. In this we were, in fact, following Kandinsky and Mondrian. But the founders of abstract painting and of its theory were profoundly aware that the work of art, quite particularly as they envisaged it, was not an accumulation of colors and lines; it was a unified whole. Adding color to line, even if both were expressive, was not sufficient to create a painting. As we have seen, the wholeness or totality of a picture is not defined and often not even clearly spelled out in the theoretical notes of the abstract painters. But the observations scattered in their writings enable us to reconstruct their main line of thought on this central subject.

But what do we mean when we say that the painting is a whole? A picture's wholeness obviously does not reside in its material integrity. We know of pictures by such masters as Rembrandt and Titian parts of which, in the course of time, have been crudely cut off (mainly at the margins), perhaps to make them fit the empty stretches of some late owner's crowded wall. Museum catalogs often tell us the sad story of how much and occasionally even when the original pictures were trimmed. Yet these pictures remain great works of art; the damage caused to their material completeness has obviously not destroyed their eminently artistic character. What, then, is it that makes the picture a whole, and how do we explain this wholeness?

Kandinsky and Mondrian did not concern themselves with questions that interest the art historian, such as when and where some great paintings were mutilated. Nor did they explicitly and systematically formulate the question when and under what conditions a picture could be described as “whole” or complete. But implicitly the problem of the painting's wholeness was always present in their deliberations; it formed the background to their reflections on art.

That this was so is perhaps best seen in their assertion that the individual shape and color are not perceived in isolation; they form part of a com

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Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Impressionism 9
  • 1: Introduction the Crisis of Realism 11
  • 2: Aesthetic Culture in the Literature of the Time 13
  • 3: Impressionism and the Philosophical Culture of the Time 24
  • 4: Science and Painting 34
  • 5: Impressionism Reflections on Style 45
  • 6: The Fragment as Art Form 69
  • Part II - Empathy 79
  • 7: Introduction an Empathy Tradition in the Theory of Art 81
  • 8: Gustav Fechner 84
  • 9: Charles Darwin the Science of Expression 93
  • 10: Robert Vischer 99
  • 11: Empathy Toward a Definition 109
  • 12: Wilhelm Dilthey 116
  • 13: Conrad Fiedler 122
  • 14: Adolf Hildebrand 133
  • 15: Alois Riegl 143
  • 16: Wilhelm Worringer Abstraction and Empathy 171
  • Part III - Discovering the Primitive 189
  • 17: Introduction Conditions of Modern Primitivism 191
  • 18: The Beginnings of Scholarly Study Gottfried Semper 199
  • 19: Discovering Prehistoric Art Early Questions and Explanations 210
  • 20: Understanding Distant Cultures the Case of Egypt 243
  • 21: Gauguin 262
  • 22: African Art 272
  • Part IV - Abstract Art 291
  • 23: Abstract Art Origins and Sources 293
  • 24: The Subject Matte of Abstract Painting 309
  • 25: Color 320
  • 26: Line 341
  • 27: Composition and Harmony 352
  • Bibliographical Essay 371
  • Name Index 383
  • Subject Index 386
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