What is the form in modern art? According to Kandinsky, “form stands alone as a representative of realistic or unrealistic object, or as an abstract limitation of space or surface”.
But how can one represent a certain color in a material form? The answer is given by Kandinsky in his book “Concerning the spiritual in art” /Über das Geistige in der Kunst/ that created the foundations of the color theory in the history of modern art.
Wassily Kandinsky, Dominant Curve, 1936
In his book, Kandinsky reflects about the influence of the colors in art on the human soul, comparing the different colors to various musical instruments in order to illustrate their character. And each color has its “inner sound” or “inner vibration” according to the colors theory of Kandinsky.
But how colors can be expressed in a material form in the paintings? If we take the red color, we already know how it sounds, as according to Kandinsky, it sounds like a trumpet. Unlike the sounds, when expressing a color through forms, first the color needs to have a certain shade, a specific variation of the almost endless variations of red color for example, if we are to express the red color. It must therefore be given a certain “subjective characteristic” and then, it must have a limited surface, that is separated from the other colors. Other colors in a painting are also there and they in fact help the artist better express the specific one, in our case the red color.
Wassily Kandinsky, Heavy Red, 1924
This is how, through the “limitation and proximity”, the subjective characterization of the red color is changed, giving it an “objective note”. This unavoidable influence and mutual relation between form and colour causes the spectator of a painting to observe the effect which the form has on colour. As for Kandinsky, “the form, even if entirely abstract and resembling a geometric figure, has its inner harmony and is a spiritual being with characteristics identical to it”.
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition II, 1923
In his theory of forms as way to expressing colors, quite similar to the unique sound of colors trough musical sound, presented in our previous article, Kandinsky reveals the spiritual sense of the forms, that is quite revolutionary. “A triangle (whether it is pointed, flat, or equilateral)”, says the artist “… is a decided being, possessing its very own spiritual essence. Although joined in conjunction with other forms, this essence changes and assumes novel shades, while basically it remains unaltered, as the scent of the rose, which can never be mistaken for a violet. The same is applicable to the circle, square, and other forms”.
Wassily Kandinsky, Green Tip, 1931
Bearing a spiritual sense of its own, the form produces a contrasting effect on the colors expressed through it, that is very different depending on what forms is filled with which color. Thus, the effects of certain colours are emphasized by certain forms and downplayed by others, having however the correlation that makes the sharp colours sound stronger in sharp forms (for example, yellow color in a triangle). Those inclined to be deep are intensified by round forms (for example blue in a circle). On the other hand, if a form does not fit the colour, the conjunction should not be considered "inharmonious" but rather as a new possibility and, therefore, as harmony. As the number of colours or forms is endless, the combinations and effects are, also, infinite. “A triangle filled in with yellow, a circle painted blue, a green square, another triangle in green, a yellow circle, a square in blue, these are different forms that have separate distinctive effects”, says Kandinsky.
Wassily Kandinsky, White, 1930 / Wassily Kandinsky, Three Rectangles, 1930
It is interesting to observe how the artist defines what is the form exactly. As for him, “…the form, in the narrower sense, is nothing but the separating line between surfaces. That is its outer meaning. As everything external also contains an inner meaning (more or less noticeable), every form also has its inner substance)”. Further, Kandinsky explains that in fact, forms can convey some of their inner meaning through expression of their surface and through the division of lines.
Wassily Kandinsky, Diagonal, 1930
To confirm this theory, Kandinsky gives an example of a piano, replacing the “color” with “form”. In such case, the artist touches various keys that are represented by the forms in a painting, that produces the effects on the human soul to respond to certain inner vibrations of the forms and colors. In order to form a harmonious painting that has the desired by the artist effect on the human soul, the artist needs to make the composition of the whole picture, placing the creation of the various forms, which stand in different relationship to each other and subordinate themselves to the combination of the whole.
In this way, the painting contains many objects that are subordinated to the dominant form in a painting (for example a pyramid or square) that creates the main composition, and are so altered as to fit themselves into this form, and create this form. In this way, the composition of the painting has its own form, containing the other forms and objects in it, that produces the whole effect of vibration to the spectator.
Wassily Kandinsky, Black and Violet, 1923
Thus, as Kandinsky points out, “…the single form will have little personal meaning, it serves mainly the purpose of creating the major composition and should be mainly regarded as an element of this composite form. The single form is fashioned in no other way; aside from the major composition not because its own inner harmony implicitly demands it, but mostly because it is destined to serve as the building material of this composition”.
Wassily Kandinsky, Several Circles, 1926
Even more interesting is however to note, that Kandinsky claims that each single form has its own movement that needs to be somehow reflected by the artist making the whole composition of a painting. Thus, “…for example, a triangle directed upwards has a quieter, more steadfast, stable appeal than the same triangle set obliquely on its side”, according to the theory of colors and forms of Kandinsky.
Wassily Kandinsky, Conclusion, 1926 / Wassily Kandinsky, Little Game, 1928
The ideal harmony of forms in a composition therefore changes according to its relation to other forms. The relation of other forms is further dependent on the inner vibration of each form. The challenge therefore that an artist making a composition of a painting, and more specifically in abstract paintings faces, is to decide how to place the different forms in a composition depending on what is the desired effect on the human soul.
To illustrate this notion, Kandinsky gives the example that much like “every spoken word (tree, sky, man)”, has “an inner vibration”, as the same vibration has every object represented, further developing his theory that the forms are so fragile and sensitive, that they are resembling to a “could” or “smoke”, and therefore every alteration is changing them completely in such a way as to being impossible to be repeated with a truly exact repetition.
Wassily Kandinsky, Shine, 1929
Thus, in order for an artist to be truly able to produce specific vibrations to the human soul though forms and colors, and create a harmonious composition, especially in the abstract paintings, it shall be mastering in dept the movement of the forms, as well as the different variations of the colors and which color shades produce what vibrations in the human soul. Again, as Kandinsky points out, at artist must be able to play with such effects much like the pianist, composing a melody, uses the keys of a piano or the strings of a violin.
This in dept analysis of the correlation of forms, colors and music, the interrelation of the different forms of art and the study of how these forms of art influence the human psychology is what makes the theory of colors and forms revolutionary in the modern art. It explains that abstract act in particular has its own harmony and composition and is designed in a specific way as to produce specific vibrations in the human soul, thus helping both artist and spectators to better understand the in dept influence of art on the human soul.
Wassily Kandinsky, Serious- Fun, 1930