If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Sunday 6 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
An empty canvas is a living wonder… far lovelier than certain pictures.
Wassily Kandinsky (16 Dec 1866 – 13 Dec 1944)
Leaping laterally from paints to words, I liken Russian Kandinsky’s brilliant observation to English John Keats’ (1795-1821) equally brilliant lines from Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819):
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on.
The delightful synesthesia that the two artists create in my mind prompts the following riff about perception – perception broadly defined.
But first: if you’ve never heard of Kandinsky or seen any of his works, well, admittedly, he may not be everybody’s shot of vodka as it were. And even though in general I am definitely not a huge fan of abstractionism in art, some abstractionists (certainly Picasso among them) do do work that appeals to me for reasons I have not yet entirely sorted out in my own esthetic sensibilities. Kandinsky, too, is one of them. I suggest that at some point you take a leisurely few moments and check out some of his riotously colorful and whimsical abstractions to see if you think they merit your further consideration.
But now, his and Keats’ words.
Superficially – on the surface, so to speak – both seem at first meeting denotatively rather contradictory: the blank canvas is lovelier than any painting? a melody you do not hear is sweeter than the melody you actually hear? As the ear hears what is not audible so the eye sees what is invisible? Literally, of course impossible; imaginatively, totally doable.
When I see a painting, say, a favorite of mine like ‘El Aguador’ (about which I have expressed some thoughts elsewhere) by Velázquez (6 Jun 1599 – Aug 1660), even a master like him cannot paint the entire painting but is, in the end, dependent on me to give birth to the full sense that lurks everywhere unexpressed – as in the darks to the upper right of the old man’s head — in this already pregnant painting. Only my imagination can complete his artistic suggestions.
Now, analogously, it is perhaps even more true of a Kandinsky abstraction that it is the viewer who must fill the countless interstices in his busy canvases, and only so do they attain anything like completion. And then thinking about what you do with the interstices in the paintings, imagine what you could do with a blank canvas – and you begin to get some sense of what Kandinsky meant when he was talking about an empty canvas more lovely than some actual paintings.
Further, if that is what an empty canvas is for a viewer, there is quite literally no limit to what it represents and could become in the imaginative hands of the artist himself, and you begin to get some deeper sense of what lies beneath the surface of Kandinksy’s seemingly self-contradictory observation.
And, finally, surely you perceive by now likewise what Keats’ unheard melodies are all about, and how in your head and heart they will surely always be sweeter than anything that you could possibly hear.