kandinsky and steiner

This is from an article by Sixten Ringbom, Art in the ‘epoch of the great spiritual’, published in 1966.

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In the article, which is quite interesting, we also learn that Paul Klee thought anthroposophy was ‘either false or a piece of self-deception’. (Though, Ringbom points out, Klee’s own ideas were hardly more rational.)

I came across it when meandering my way through the internet, reading all kinds of things about art inspired by occultism and esotericism, because, well, I’m still obsessed with Hilma af Klint and one thing led to another. (Perhaps someone will enjoy this article! I did.) And because I recently read Kandinsky’s On the spiritual in art. Fascinating indeed. And I realize that I must read more by Steiner on art. Ringbom mentions, among other texts, this piece.

Ringbom’s article is available for free, but you have to register to read it. You’ll find it here.

hilma af klint: a pioneer of abstraction (exhibition)

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If you happen to be in Stockholm this spring, the Hilma af Klint exhibition is worth visiting.* It runs until May 26 at Moderna Museet. She’s obviously an immensely fascinating person, but even I (who was already fascinated) was quite surprised at how impressive her works are, when I viewed them at the museum early this morning. I had seen only a few of them before, in real life, and many of them in print — it turns out, the latter is a very different thing from seeing them in reality, which perhaps hardly needs pointing out, but I felt it particularly true this time. Much of her abstract art is stunning, both the shapes and the colours are amazing in themselves, but her interests and inspirations in occultism and spiritual ideas and movements add an extra layer of fascination (although deciphering the occult meaning of it is quite a task! as it has to be). Her early works were lovely too — I particularly liked the paintings of flowers and plants, which are beautiful although not at all spectacular in the same way. In her later works — succeeding these now famous abstract paintings which were the main focus of the exhibition and of interest in general — the inspiration from anthroposophy and anthroposophical artistic ideals is evident; there’s actually stuff looking more or less like any wet-on-wet painting, indistinguishable from the children’s paintings you typically find pinned on the walls of any waldorf school (especially the early grades… to make matters worse). There’s a nice exhibition catalogue which includes an interview with Helmut Zander, whom many of the anthroposophically interested are familiar with already. (For looking at her artwork, I — obviously — recommend that you get the catalogue. My images don’t do it justice at all.)

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Painting (the red one) which af Klint supposedly showed to Rudolf Steiner, when he came to her studio during his visit to Stockholm in 1908. (She herself went to the Goetheanum, and also wrote to Steiner to ask him for advice on what to do with her art. She hoped that Steiner, and the anthroposophists, would be interested.)

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Notebooks, preprations for paintings. (She also kept notebooks in which she wrote extensively about her work and her paintings.)

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Assistant curator, Jo Widoff, spoke about af Klint and the exhibition (very good!).

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There are ten very large paintings, appropriately named The Ten Largest. They’re supposed to symbolize life. The blue and the lighter blue ones (with more orange elements) are childhood, the orange ones youth, maube or purple (there are four) adulthood, and on the picture just before this one you see the two last in the series, with paler backgrounds, representing the later stages of life. This idea fits fairly well in the scheme of the 7-year life cycles known from theosophy (and anthroposophy).

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(Sorry about the ugly reflection; it certainly doesn’t help. I thought it was worth showing one of her early flower studies I mentioned above, and unfortunately had no better image.)

afklint2Hilma af Klint ad. (That’s her. On the advertisement pillar. She looks so rational, and almost stern.)

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*I mentioned it, and her, a while ago. I also recently wrote  (in Swedish) about a couple of books about her. There has been some media coverage lately. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has a whole page dedicated to the exhibition today (February, 20), but sadly it’s not online. Other articles you might want to look at include these, most of them are in Swedish, but if I find anything interesting I will add it later: SvD, ExpressenKunstkritikk, FokusArtDaily.

Edits (several additions made at different times): Aftonbladet, the epic FAZ article now online, SR in German, SR (Swedish), DN, WSJ, DN, El País, Expressen, art, Kunstkritikk, NZZ, NYT.

hilma af klint

klintSoon, on february 16, opens a new exhibition at the Moderna Museet (museum for modern art) in Stockholm. It is a major exhibition of the works of Hilma af Klint, an abstract painter who was influenced by spiritism, theosophy and anthroposophy. The museum writes:

Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre builds on the awareness of a spiritual dimension of consciousness, an aspect that was being marginalised in an increasingly materialistic world. When she painted, she believed that a higher consciousness was speaking through her. In her astonishing works she combines geometric shapes and symbols with ornamentation. Her multifaceted imagery strives to give insights into the different dimensions of existence, where microcosm and macrocosm reflect one another.

I’ve seen some of her paintings before, but this will be fun. For those of you who are in Stockholm, you should definitely go. I spent some time last evening searching for articles about her. I’ll share links to a few of them, in case you want to read more.

Here’s a very interesting article in FAZ (actually worth running through google translate if you don’t read german!):

Hilma af Klint gründete 1892 mit einer Freundin aus der Kunstakademie einen Zirkel für spiritistische Zusammenkünfte. Am Beginn solcher Séancen wurde aus der Bibel vorgelesen; was dann folgte, bezeugen die Aufzeichnungen im Nachlass. Wie unter Strom füllten die zeichnenden Frauen Seiten um Seiten, zum Teil mit floralen Motiven, zum Teil auch mit blitzartigen Linien, ein Stil, den man im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert „expressionistisch“ nennen wird.

Eine Zeichnung ist aber noch kein Ölbild, abstrakte Skizzen gibt es in der Kunstgeschichte wie Sand am Meer. 1905 meldete sich jedoch eine Stimme, die folgende Nachricht an Klint hatte: „Du sollst eine neue Lebensanschauung verkünden. Deine Bemühungen werden Früchte tragen.“ Im November 1906 beginnt Klint ihre Arbeiten am „Tempel“, ein Projekt, das schließlich 193 Gemälde umfasst, die meisten davon abstrakt. Nach dem Willen von Klint hätte ein Gebäude dafür errichtet werden sollen, aber es kam nicht dazu. 1908 besuchte nämlich Rudolf Steiner ihr Atelier, der bis dahin noch der Theosophischen Gesellschaft angehörte und in Stockholm Vorträge hielt. Steiner ermahnte Klint, sie solle nicht unbewusst malen – daraufhin hörte sie erst einmal vier Jahre damit auf.

She visited the Goetheanum; Steiner never said much about her paintings, apparently, but prophesied that they would not be understood until at least fifty years had passed.

Here’s another one in the Guardian:

In many ways, even her most abstract paintings are diagrams and abstractions from ideas – not wholly abstract, more representations of elements of an unseen world, and of invisible forces. Her art also moved backwards and forwards between the apparently abstract and the embarrassingly kitsch. She was unable to paint convincing figures, astral or otherwise. Simpering nudes and crying nuns were more her line. That said, what arresting images these are. Too often for it to be an accident, Af Klint had an innate sense of how to make a painting, often with no artistic models to turn to. Her best paintings are airy, their forms and geometries delivered with an evident pleasure and openness. She had a great touch, as careless and confident as it was committed. The scale and frontality and freshness of her work still stand up, in a way that many Kandinskys don’t. Yet looking at photographic portraits of the artist, we see a stern woman who was far from cosmopolitan, and in whom there are few outward signs of emancipation. For a woman to be an artist at all in Sweden in the early 20th century was difficult enough. To be an artist who believed as she did must have made matters even more difficult.

This article is also worth mentioning, although it doesn’t add much.

(Picture borrowed from the museums website.)

jewellery

This is anthroposophical jewellery. Or so I think. Does anyone have an explanation for these items? One of them looks like a skull with red eyes and another one like the face of a blue-eyed alien (or is it grey? purple?). Anyway, this (below) is parts of the Sloterdijk talk; the screenshot above is from that film. Watch it! In the beginning, they show various anthroposophical items.

night rises

‘I’ve always felt that night doesn’t fall; night rises.’ — That’s from an interview with James Turrell (whose work is exhibited in Järna right now) in the American magazine aptly named Interview. He talks about art, light, flying and the Quakers. Worth reading. (‘I should have been a Pharaoh. That would have helped.’) The photo above shows night falling — or rising! — over the Stockholm archipelago and our cliffs and fox-gloves. End of June, some time past 11 pm.

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I also want to say I’m aware that I have unanswered emails; I have neglected the blog, too, lately. Things are better, but not exactly splendid. Today I wanted to prioritize an update with further comments on a recent debate about anthroposophical measles advice (it should have been written days ago). Though I spent most of the day reading a wonderful book, and wrote the update later. And yet again postponed everything else.

colour as nutrient (pink like raw flesh)

By a strange co-incidence, just after writing about the See! Colour! exhibition in Järna this year, I received a google alert for a link about German artist Jürgen Kadow:

The main focus of Juergen Kadows work is experimenting with colour. Already during his education at the university, he was very much interested in the chromatics by Goethe and Rudolf Steiner. [. . .] Juergen Kadow describes his work as follows: “I dont want to disclose secrets, but create new ones”. His paintings convey an atmosphere of mystic silence and are very impressive because of their gracefulness and aesthetic.

According to Kadow’s website, he’s worked with the colour schemes in a new building for anthroposophical cosmetics company Weleda. Apparently (pdf):

Das Blau des Bürogebäudes steht für die denkerische Tätigkeit. Die Fenster als prägnantestes architektonisches Element sind passend dazu streng übereinander angeordnet. Das Rot des pharmazeutischen Bereichs steht für die Umwandlungs- und Wärmeprozesse der Produktion. Hier sind Fenstergrößen und -anordnung in Bewegung gekommen. Das Orange des Logistikgebäudes ist noch nahe am Rot, löst sich aber schon davon. Im naturfarbenen Mittelbau wird der Mensch empfangen. Das transparent lasierte Holz ist ebenso nahbar wie der eingeschossige, durch Glas geöffnete Baukörper.

[. . .]

»Eine spannungsreiche Komposition darf durchaus auch einmal disharmonisch sein«, erklärt der Farbexperte. »Dann regenerieren Menschen durch das Farberleben. Sie bekommen Farbe als Nahrung.«

See his bio too. The paintings are very pink, very glittery. In light of the quote above, they make me think of raw flesh. In the Weleda calendar 2008 — which contains his paintings — there’s a short piece in English.

Colour is at the very centre of Jürgen Kadow‘s work. He has been exploring Goethe’s and Steiner’s theories of colour ever since his formative years. [. . .] How do the forces of light act externally on Nature to bring about metamorphosis, how do they manifest themselves in people as qualities of the soul? He finds an answer in colour, in the way it becomes visible through light and darkness, in its mediatorial role.

Well, read for yourselves, it’s full of fluffy words and twelve paintings (pdf).

hilma af klint

I received link to this article about Swedish artist Hilma af Klint a while ago, and I think it’s worth a little promotion. Quote:

‘Af Klint belonged to a group of women artists, known as “The Five,” who claimed to channel artistic visions directly from “High Masters” in another dimension. The Liljevalchs exhibition makes clear that from 1907 to 1915 af Klint claimed to be making paintings commissioned by her invisible leaders, pictures that stood as automatic transcriptions of their spiritual and esoteric messages taken down while she was untethered from consciousness. Her theoretical anchor was Rudolf Steiner, the mystic philosopher and founder of Anthroposophy, a heady metaphysical cocktail of Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Christianity, and the writings of Plato and Goethe. Steiner, also an influence on the early work of Kandinsky and Mondrian, professed to have clairvoyant visions and to see ancient events embossed on the cosmic ether. Af Klint’s conviction that she was in synch with Steiner helped insulate her even further from the mainstream of modern art at the turn of the last century.’ Read!

I was also made aware of this review in The Guardian, written when af Klint’s artworks were exhibited in London a few years ago. Quote:

‘In some respects, the world never will be ready for the occult symbolism and spiritualist gibberish that her work was derived from, and from which she gained her inspiration. Although the same peculiar beliefs attend the work of pioneering artists such as Mondrian, Kandinsky and Malevich, they never suggested, as did Af Klint, that their work was guided by an imaginary “leader in the spiritual world”. For Af Klint, this was a certain Ananda, who in 1904 told her “she was to execute paintings on the astral plane”.’

And:

‘In many ways, even her most abstract paintings are diagrams and abstractions from ideas – not wholly abstract, more representations of elements of an unseen world, and of invisible forces. Her art also moved backwards and forwards between the apparently abstract and the embarrassingly kitsch. She was unable to paint convincing figures, astral or otherwise. [. . .] We might see Af Klint’s art and her whole life struggle as symptomatic of an age, a culture and the peculiarities of her psychological and emotional make up. A century ago, the occult, spiritualism and in particular the theosophical teachings of Madame Blavatsky were all the rage.’ Read!

the blackboard drawings

I found this old review from 1998 in New York Times of an exhibition of Steiner’s blackboard drawings.

Steiner wasn’t a professional artist; he dabbled in painting, to insipid effect. But he was a tireless lecturer and drew diagrams in colored chalk on slate blackboards as he talked. In 1919, one of his followers, Emma Stolle, hit on the idea of preserving the drawings by covering the slate with sheets of black paper before lectures began. She then dated the sheets and stored them away. […]

Some of the sparest images are the most evocative. The drawing titled ”Devoted Attention to the Least Thing” consists of nothing more than a tidy lineup of two circles, a cube, an upright pole and a mantra-like inscription (”In me is God, I am in God”).

The drawing mentioned is this one:

It’s from a lecture on curative pedagogy which Steiner held on July 5, 1924 (see GA 317). Continue reading “the blackboard drawings”

modern life for the spiritually sensitive

this is a funny lecture on technology and the spiritual (Technology and Art: Their Bearing on Modern Culture). It is funny because Steiner so clearly mocks the exact behaviour typical of anthroposophists. And anthroposophy does just what he warns it against doing: focuses on material things — painting the walls in the right colours, avoiding modern technology and other advancements — and withdraws from society, preferring a secluded lifestyle… Nowhere is it more apparent than in the raising and education of children, given that parenting always seems to include a certain amount of unhealthy obsessions bordering on fundamentalism: children should be sheltered from modernity, and instead be surrounded by colours, materials and shapes that lull them (and restrict them, in my opinion) — according to waldorf philosophy. But doesn’t Steiner actually say this is essentially wrong? He does speak, of course, about adults — anthroposophists — here:

“Naturally I say this without making the slightest implication, either general or specific, for in speaking of such a thing one immediately opens the way for the passing of judgments. What I mean by this arrogance is that someone may say to himself: ‘I must guard against exposing my own body to these destructive forces; I must strictly protect myself from all the influences of modern life, retire into a sanctum with the right surroundings and walls painted in colours suitable for spiritual sensitivity, so that none of the adjuncts of modern life may come into contact with my bodily constitution.’

“The last thing I want is that what I say should have this effect. All desire to withdraw, to protect oneself from the influences of unavoidable world-karma, emanates from weakness. But it is Anthroposophy alone that can make the human heart and will vigorous enough to develop the force which arms and strengthens us in face of these influences. Any kind of advice to withdraw from modern life, or to engage in a sort of hothouse cultivation of the spiritual life, should never find favour in the sphere of our movement. … Although it is understandable that weaker natures would like to withdraw from modern life into communities where they will be untouched by it, it must nevertheless be emphasised that such an attitude is not the outcome of strength, but of weakness of the soul.”

Continue reading “modern life for the spiritually sensitive”