As a continuation to the ongoing study of the elements of composition, (and following my prior post on Bachelard’s unique reflection on Jose Corti’s art from a phenomenologist’s point of view), I turn to the thoughts and experience of Kandinsky that center on the creative process itself – with an account that parallels my own experience – and addresses both the areas of design “problems” and creative blocks.
Following is Kandinsky’s reflection on his painting Composition VI. He shares with us his insight on his working process.
“Then came the subtle, enjoyable and yet exhausting task of balancing the individual elements one against the other. How I used to torture myself previously when some detail seemed to be wrong and I tried to improve it! Years of experience now taught me that the mistake is rarely to be found where one looks for it. It is often the case that to improve the bottom-left-hand-corner, one needs to change something in the upper right. If the left-hand scale goes down to far, then you have to put a heavier weight on the right-and the left will come up of its own accord. The exhausting search for the right scale, for the exact missing weight, the way in which the left scale trembles at the merest touch upon the right, the tiniest alterations of drawing and color in such a place that the whole picture is made to vibrate – this permanently living, immeasurably sensitive quality of a successful picture – this is the third, beautiful tormenting moment in painting…” Kandinsky, On the Spirituality in Art about Composition VI
Composition VI, Kandinsky
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
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It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles
Interestingly, when I went in search of this painting, I found out that Kandinsky went through a creative block while working on it. His experiences were two fold in nature: one was the natural process he followed to resolve “problems” in his artwork, and the second was the unorthodox way that he went about breaking out of this particular “block”. Here is the story:
Kandinsky spent nearly six months preparing to create this painting, at first intending the work to evoke a flood, baptism, destruction and rebirth all at the same time. He first outlined the work on an oversized wooden panel, but soon experienced an artistic block, and found himself unable to paint. Gabrielle Munter, his assistant at the time, told him that he was blocked, and he needed to release himself from his intellectual trappings surrounding the painting. She suggested that he simply repeat the word “uberflut,” meaning “flood” or “deluge,” focusing on the sound of the word rather than its meaning, releasing his mind from the artistic block and focusing only on the music of the word. Kandinsky set down to work, and completed the painting in three days, all the while repeating the word like a mantra. (Source: The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.)
Kandinsky is so much more human and relatable here. I imagine most of our shared experiences as creative individuals are reflected in these two aspects of Kandinsky’s experience with Composition VI. The fact that Kandinsky’s artwork was about a deluge – storm – is another fun “coincidence.”
I share these reflections about Kandinsky and his artwork, because I wonder about two a-typical paintings Wheel within a Wheel 92 and 93 that evolved through a similar creative “block” for me. They were the precursors to a “loosening up” of my style in the more recent works in the Wheel within a Wheel panel composition series. My work has a more pronounced organic quality at this point.
Wheel within a Wheel 92 and 93 are reflective of a stormy stretch of upheaval, new exploration and re-structuring that ignited ( by pressing through a creative block) a new style.
Wheel within a Wheel 92 and 93, Acrylic on Panel, each 48 in x 36 in, 2013
I had to develop a whole new approach to my work – it involved a sander, bristled brushes (to scrape off paint), gesso and other unusual methods (for me at the time) that added texture and distressed the panel surface. I thought that I may have entered a new style of work that would lead to a new series of artworks in that vein. Yet, I slowly re-entered my geometric abstract work mode but with a more fluid and dance-like compositional bent.
In my perspective, the process of getting through a creative block and the steps towards resolving design problems are fundamental ones. Most of the time, what results is a unique “cathartic” journey with a particular work of art. It tends to involve an inner travail of sorts. It can be a rather solitary and taxing period of disorientation while an artist feels disconnected from the artwork’s soul. All the efforts that have been tried and true ring hollow, and clearly something different is needed. Once the “block” is resolved, the design process flows through the artist’s creative awareness, and the process grasps at the essence of the artwork’s nature.
Next: Elements of Color and Form – Matisse’s work at the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence