The theory of abstract art, unlike other trends in contemporary art, was directly and explicitly concerned with the basic “material” elements of painting, such as line, color, and certain aspects of composition. It is significant that among these basic building blocks of the art of painting, color held pride of place. The importance that the artists and writers who founded the school of abstract painting assigned to color is manifest in two ways: on the one hand, the sheer amount of reflection devoted to color sometimes far exceeds the attention devoted to line and composition; on the other hand, the effects and powers ascribed to color go beyond what at the time was commonly believed color could achieve.
It may be useful to begin with a text which has one of the most outspoken discussions of color in the programmatic and theoretical writings on abstract painting: the chapter called “Effects of Color” in Kandinsky's On the Spiritual in Art (pp. 156–60). Significantly Kandinsky opened the second part of On the Spiritual in Art, that devoted to “Painting,” with this chapter. (The first part went under the title “General.”) In it Kandinsky set out to describe and to explain the mystery of colors and the effect they can have on the spectator. He began with the search for “pure” colors, that is, colors divorced from the representation of any identifiable objects we know from other experiences. To imagine such pure colors, he evoked a painter's palette with unmixed colors laid out on it. What does the spectator who lets his eye wander over such a palette experience in his mind? This was the question Kandinsky asked himself. In a sense this is, of course, the question of what color is both to the artist and to the spectator looking at a painting.
In color experience Kandinsky distinguished two, or possibly three, levels. He also called these “effects,”“results,” or “consequences” of color. The very