Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kandinsky's triangle

In 1911 the greatest modern painter wrote:

"The spiritual life can be accurately represented by a diagram of a large acute triangle divided into unequal parts, with the most acute and smallest division at the top. The farther down one goes, the larger, broader, more extensive, and deeper become the divisions of the triangle. The whole triangle moves slowly, barely perceptibly, forward and upward, so that where the highest point is “today;” the next division is “tomorrow,” i.e., what is today comprehensible only to the topmost segment of the triangle and to the rest of the triangle is gibberish, becomes tomorrow the sensible and emotional content of the life of the second segment.

At the apex of the topmost division there stands sometimes only a single man. His joyful vision is like an inner, immeasurable sorrow. Those who are closest to him do not understand him and in their indignation, call him deranged: a phoney or a candidate for the madhouse."

Kandinsky's system is to apply the selectively naturalistic logic of Burke or Hayek to the masterpieces of art. The triangle is a metaphor for the sublation of the indefinite. Suppose a masterpiece of art is ordinarily defined along the lines of "an artwork considered to be especially excellent from a set of works of art". According to Kandinsky, masterpieces of art not only represent a kind of "conclusion" to the "syllogisms" of ordinary art. But also, ordinary art itself no longer needs to be submitted to critical judgement. It is formally subsumed by the masterpieces of art, and may remain undefined.

What Kandinsky has done is to apply the functionalist argument from Burke or Hayek to something which is meant to be, by the standards of art pour art, which he also wants to uphold, absolutely functionless. Some strange arguments follow from this...

No comments: