One of the most prominent achievements of Kandinsky in his artistic life was the publishing of his theory of colors and art. The book “Concerning the spiritual in art” /Über das Geistige in der Kunst/ is a pioneering work in the movement to free art from its traditional bonds to material reality. It embodies the revolutionary theory of Kandinsky about colors and their influence on the human body and soul.
Wassily Kandinsky / Original book cover, published in 1911 by Piper, Munich, dated 1912
It also talks about the way Kandinsky perceived colors corresponding to music and how these forms of art relate to each other and subsequently relate together to the human impressions and perception of art, as well as to the human emotions and it became revolutionary in modern art. In this book, Kandinsky makes psychological searches and examines a series of studies as to how the human mind perceives colors in different situations and how perceiving colors can be related to music and different forms or shapes.
What the artist observes is the gradual build of the impression of colors of a man with age and time. He makes a parallel to how an innocent child perceives the world and objects in it for the first time and then gradually starts to process that information info his mind a creates different perceptions.
Wassily Kandinsky, In Grey, 1919
As Kandinsky observes, “…the color at first, makes only a superficial impression upon a soul hardly developed to sensitiveness, an impression which disappears shortly after it has been evoked. Even the simplest effect varies in quality. The eye is attracted by light colors and still more by the lightest, warmest ones. Vermilion attracts and stimulates like the flame eternally craved for by all men. The bright yellow of a lemon hurts the eye after a while, as a shrill trumpet note may disturb the ear. The eye becomes restless, is unable to fix its gaze for any length of time, and seeks distraction and rest in blue or green.” According to Kandinsky, this effect of elementary perception comes to form a deep-reaching emotion that is often due to some spiritual development of the person in question.
Wassily Kandinsky, Brown with supplement, 1935
The effects of colors on the human perception of art is of utmost interest for Kandinsky and he examines not only how various persons may perceive different colors, but also how a taste in colors is developed. Kandinsky gives an example of a doctor in Dresden, who recalls a patient telling him that finds a certain sauce invariably tasting as “blue” to him, meaning that it reminds him of the blue color. Kandinsky however emphasizes that such profound perception for colors can be found in people that are, according to him “spiritual and exceptionally superior”. He assumes that such color impressions can reach such highly developed people so quickly and directly that the effect created by this developed taste in the colors is communicated immediately to the soul and to the senses of the person in question. Kandinsky gives an example of such taste and relation to colors with the musical instruments. “This would be…” says Kandinsky, “..so to speak, an echo or reverberation such as occurs when musical instruments, which are not being played, often resound to instruments which are being played. In accordance with this explanation, to see is not only a question of harmonious taste but also one of effect on the other senses. In the case of the eye, some colors can look sharp or piercing, while others appear smooth like velvet, so that one feels inclined to stroke them (dark ultramarine, chrome oxide green, and rose madder); even the distinction between the warmth and coldness of a shade is based on such feelings.”
Wassily Kandinsky, Yellow-Red-Blue, 1925
What Kandinsky also observes is that some colors appear immediately soft to people (he gives an example with the “rose madder”) while others seem to be cold and hard ( such as cobalt green or blue-green), so that even when such colors are freshly put on the canvas, they still appear as dry and uninviting.
Relating to the effects of colors, Kandinsky mentioned also the expression "scented colors", as very frequently used. One of the most interesting theories of Kandinsky about colors is however the so-called “sound of color”. As Kandinsky says…” the sound of color is so precise that it would be difficult to locate anyone who would attempt to express the impression of bright yellow in the bass notes of the piano or rose-madder as a soprano voice”.
Wassily Kandinsky, Cerchio e quadrato, 1943
The artist explains further in his book what can be the relation of color to the music and what can chromo therapy do to the human soul. Regarding chromotherapy, as Kandinsky observes, “...many theory and practice have been devoted to this question. An attempt is made to give painting a possibility of building its counterpoint on the basis of the many similarities, also, physical light and air vibration”. He also quotes some Russian scholars, such as Mrs. A. Sacherjin-Unkowsky /Сахаринa-Унковская А. В./, who made a successful attempt to impress a certain melody on unmusical children with the aid of color. Another such method of studying the effects of color on human nature was "to write music from the color of nature, to paint the sounds of nature, to see sound in color and hear color musically.", as Kandinsky observed, a method used by the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913
Another one of the theories of Kandinsky is that the colors on the painter's palette evoke a purely physical effect on the eye which is charmed by the beauty of colors, similar to the joyful impression when we eat a delicacy. This effect can be much deeper, however, causing a vibration of the soul or an "inner resonance"—a spiritual effect in which the color touches the soul itself.
The specific relation of musical tones to particular colors is unique for Kandinsky who studied music in his early life. This perspective will be examined in the next article on ArtWizard.
Wassily Kandinsky, Points, 1920