Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky

By Moshe Barasch | Go to book overview

25
Color

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.


Levels of Color Experience

In color experience Kandinsky distinguished two, or possibly three, levels. He also called these “effects,”“results,” or “consequences” of color. The very

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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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