Anthroposophy in Art
An exploration of the anthroposophical movement and its existence in various Russian art forms of the 20th century.

Vasily Vasilyevich Kandinsky was raised with a European and Asian cultural heritage: his mother was a Muscovite, his father a native of Kyakhta, a small town near the Chinese border. His family traveled a great deal, and Kandinsky was exposed to many cultures at a young age. He is said to recall an adolescent conviction that every color had a life of its own. Although he began his studies as a social scientist, pursuing law and economics, he worked as an amateur painter from a young age. Kandinsky traveled to Russia’s northern areas in 1889 and returned with a lasting interest in the brightly colored and fanciful style of Russian folk painting. His interest in the social sciences faded away, and in 1896 he left Russia for German with the intent of becoming a painter.

Kandinsky’s artistic beginnings were framed in the context of several styles: Impressionism, Art Nouveau, with its strong lines, the dot technique of Pointillism, and by the unrealistic use of strong colors in central European Expressionism and French Fauvism. In 1903, he held his first one-man show. For a deeper look at Kandinsky’s art and its meanings, please investigate the links under the “Kandinsky” heading.

Kandinsky was not just an artist. He also published On the Spiritual in Art in 1911, and additionally published numerous poems, as well as creating the stage composition The Yellow Sound. His art was deeply melded with his philosophical beliefs. In Reminiscences (1913), Kandinsky wrote that his aim in writing On the Spiritual in Art and the Blaue Reiter [Almanac] was to “awaken this capacity for experiencing the spiritual in material and in abstract phenomena, which will be indispensable in the future, making unlimited kinds of experiences possible. My desire to conjure up in people who still did not possess it this rewarding talent was the main purpose of both publications.” (from Becks-Malorny, p. 74.)

Kandinsky… became a prolific writer on the theory behind abstract art. Initially these writings drew heavily on the fields of theosophy and anthroposophy, reflecting Kandinsky’s belief that his paintings were manifestations of a new spirituality. Kandinsky also believed that the purity of his geometric compositions expressed a personal form of mystic salvation, delivering him from the depersonalising industrialisation of European society.”