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FROM THE VAULT | Concerning the Spiritual in Art

FROM THE VAULT
Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky

“It is the conviction that nothing mysterious can ever happen in our everyday life that has destroyed the joy of abstract thought.”

Students and aspiring artists will find the entirety of Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky a fascinating read. Throughout, Kandinsky attempts to lay out a theory of art through analogy to the composition of music. In doing so, Kandinsky is explicitly seeking to promote the inner expression or spirituality of the artist in the creation of a truly abstract art. For architects, urban designers, and urban planners, it is likely that they will find particular sections of Concerning the Spiritual in Art more useful to their own area of interest than others in the book; in particular, page 21-45 on the psychological effect and language/form of color. As might be expected from an artist of Kandinsky’s standing, he has some very interesting and insightful ideas about the use and mixture of colors in composition. It seems like some of these ideas might prove useful application in the built environment, especially for those who find themselves constrained in an oppressive world of beige. Certainly, the use of color in the built environment appears to be a poorly understood subject, especially in the United States. It couldn’t hurt for some professionals to better understand the topic.

About Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky (December  16, 1866 – December 13, 1944) was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting one of the first purely abstract works. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa, where he graduated from Grekov Odessa Art school. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession, he was offered a professorship (Chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat. Kandinsky began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30. In 1896, Kandinsky settled in Munich, studying first at Anton Ažbe’s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Moscow in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I. Kandinsky was unsympathetic to the official theories on art in Communist Moscow and returned to Germany in 1921. He taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed the school in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art (Source: Wikipedia).

Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky
Paperback (76 pages), English
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 11, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1453627426
ISBN-10: 1453627421

You can purchase Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky on Amazon here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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FROM THE VAULT | Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit

REVIEW: Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

When I first heard about Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit, I was really excited to read it. While Soinit certainly deserves some credit for daring to tackle a subject that is a fundamental reality of human existence while also extremely difficult to discuss, the result is profoundly disappointing. Simply put, this is a very uneven book with not enough high points (e.g. socio-cultural implications of automobile-dependent suburban sprawl in America, walking as described in 18th and 19th European literature, concepts of artists incorporating walking into their contemporary work) to compensate for the many low points. These include regular regurgitation of common misconceptions about walking and associated (often tangential) subjects, a brief swim in the treacherous waters of ‘rape culture’ with its troubling connotations of Orwellian thought crime, and even outright historical revisions. It is a type of historical revisionism (or post-rationalization by way of apologia) that occurs all too often in popular culture today, preying on historical ignorance in the hopes that if a lie is told frequently enough it will eventually become the truth. Herein lies the fatal flaw of the book. Soinit chooses to focus her history of walking on extraordinary events rather than ordinary, everyday occurrences (and their observation): this where the real richness about walking as a subject truly lies. It is unfortunate because, while Soinit’s focus is not always objective, she does, on occasion, provide keen observations about some subjects (a brief section on gyms near the end of the book is particular interesting). This unevenness makes Wanderlust: A History of Walking a real endurance test for the reader. There are some gems buried within the text but it is hard work along the path to find them. It will try and defeat most readers’ patience. I endured but I am unsure it was worth the effort.

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (June 1, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140286012
ISBN-13: 978-0140286014

Available for purchase from Amazon here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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FROM THE VAULT | Paul Klee on Modern Art

FROM THE VAULT |  Paul Klee on Modern Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Paul Klee on Modern Art (with Introduction by Herbert Read) is the text of a lecture delivered in 1924 at the opening of a museum exhibit of modern art (thus it reads in the first person). It is a series of brief commentaries on the Modernist creative process. Herbert Read’s brief but excellent introduction is an enlightening, concise summary of Klee’s intent in the lecture as well as the difficulties some readers might encounter while reading the text. Because Klee focuses on the creative process, he looks inward rather than outward (as he did in Creative Confessions), which gives the text a bit of an ego-centric viewpoint. In this sense, Modern Art is really about the artist in the world (in this case, Klee himself). Klee’s explicit reservations about speaking about his art also tends to make Modern Art feel somewhat defensive.

Because of this, Modern Art is not as rich with interesting observations, concepts and quotes that might find a common expression in architecture or urban planning (except perhaps its worst excesses, i.e. the architectural genius). Indeed, some of Klee’s text seems to pull back on his thoughts in Creative Confessions. For example, he states “line is the most limited”, which seems to contradict the ‘inherent energy’ he discussed in the other work. Instead, he shifts his focus to tone and color as an unmeasurable ‘quality’ in art, with explicit references to ‘mood’ in the artist and the emotions provoke in the character of a piece of art. In this sense, Modern Art represents a counter (and lesser) movement to Creative Confessions, of more limited application outside the realm of the artistic compulsion itself where there is “more value on the powers (i.e. the artist) which do the forming than the final forms themselves” residing “in the womb of nature” where the artist literally becomes a God himself in a creative act of genesis.

Paul Klee on Modern Art
by Paul Klee (with Introduction by Herbert Read)
55 pages
Faber and Faber Ltd. London. Paper Covered Editions (1967)

You can purchase Paul Klee on Modern Art from Amazon here.

Check out the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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FROM THE VAULT | Creative Confessions | Paul Klee

FROM THE VAULT | Creative Confessions and other writings by Paul Klee
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Creative Confessions is a series of short essays (vignettes, really) by Modern abstract artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) on art and composition, which the artist wrote while teaching at the Bauhaus in Germany during the 1920s with a postscript essay by the editor, Matthew Gale. In this, it is a thought-provoking read that can be managed in a single sitting (in a real sense: perfect for the Internet Era). It is stuffed full with quotes that have direct bearing on composition in art (“art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible”). However, Klee’s vignettes also carry (perhaps indirect) importance for composition in architecture and urban planning. For example, “a tendency towards the abstract is inherent in linear expression” when you think of this concept in terms of movement in the city. When Klee discusses “the formal elements of graphic art are the dot, line, plane, and space – the last three charged with energy of various kind”, we can easily translate this into built environment terms (dot=location, line=axis of movement, plane=convex space, and space itself is self-explanatory). Klee means this in terms of the energy of artistic gesture but we can also easily understand how these things in an urban environment are similarly ‘charged with energy’ in terms of movement, avoidance, and encounter.

Indeed, it is easy to make transitions such as these from art to architecture/planning since Klee himself tends to express these ideas in terms of movement/counter movement in encounter and vision, i.e. a journey across “an unploughed field” or crossing a “river” or “walking across the deck of a steamer”, which are described in terms of linear expression. Klee’s explicitly acknowledges this, arguing that “movement is the source of all change” and “space, too, is a temporal concept.” “When a dot begins to move and becomes a line, this require time.” In planning terms, we can think of this as our location in space changing by the action of our movement and thus our experience of space evolves with that movement. This is not only expressed in terms of geospatial reality but also in time since we, as human beings, are bound in space and time.

“Movement is the basic datum” of the universe, Klee tells us. In understanding this (in art as well as the science of urbanism), we can “reveal the reality that is behind visible things”.  Klee argues “the object grows beyond its appearance through our knowledge that the thing is more than its outward aspect suggests”. Indeed, in discussing art, is Klee begins to tap into the inherent nature of observation and science itself.

Creative Confessions and other writings
by Paul Klee (Matthew Gale, Editor and Postscript)
32 pages
Tate; Act edition (May 6, 2014), London UK

You can purchase Creative Confessions and other writings from Amazon here.

 

Check out the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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