The Illusion of Change

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Filippo Marinetti (1876-1944)
Gino Severini (1883-1966)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

The false self is endlessly clever in finding ways to avoid the present moment. It prefers to remain in the unsatisfying and delusional P-B. Some of humanity’s most adventurous artists, reacting against the imagined strictures of the past, mistake their artwork as heralding a new paradigm, a new creative consciousness. The world of form, even in art, is more often than not an expression of reactive human suffering, rather the “second coming.”

Wassily (aka Vasily) Kandinsky combined poetry, playwriting, painting and music with terms taken from the music to champion his new worldview. “According to his own account, he strove to reproduce on his canvases the ‘choir of colors which nature has so painfully thrust into my very soul,’ and he believed that a painting should be ‘an exact replica of some inner emotion.’ Works that required ‘an evenly sustained pitch of inner emotional uplift sometimes lasting for days’ he called ‘compositions.’ Spontaneous shorter works, sketches, and watercolors that ‘do not last the span of a longer creative period’ he designated ‘improvisations.’” 

Kandinsky was reacting against representational painting using his lines, colors and shapes to create completely abstract paintings. His nonobjective art (for example his 1913 Picture with White Edge, No. 173) paved the way for the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and 1950s that made New York a cauldron of avant-garde creative activity.

The Italian poet and dramatist, Filippo Marinetti expressed an extreme reaction against what he believed to be the wrong paradigm for early twentieth century Italy. He called his idealistic narrative “futurism” and he romanticized the new technology emerging in the Western world. In his Manifesto of 1909 he revealed that he was glorifying the anti-intellectual, mechanical style of the new paradigm “‘to deliver Italy from its plague of professors, archeologists, tourist guides and antique dealers.’ The futurists wanted to destroy the museums, libraries, academies, and universities in order to make way for their particular wave of the future. ‘A roaring motor car, which runs like machine gun,’ they said, ‘is more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace.’ Theirs was a vision of a state ruled by a mechanical superman, in which the people would be reduced to cogs in the gigantic wheel of a fully mechanized society.” 

Gino Severini’s oil on canvas entitled Armored Train (1915) also shows us what a futurist painting looks like. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) by sculptor Umberto Boccioni shows an automaton “superman” striding with purposeful intent. That intent of this soul-less creature obviously is being determined by a false-self identity.

Worldviews, we know, are very powerful in determining the identity and behavior of people. Perhaps the futurists and their art were helping pave the way for the “supermen” like Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin who would soon be arriving on the scene in their respective countries.

The opposite of the big-city, technology-driven futurists is the small village- centered romantic reverie found in the art of Marc Chagall. He describes his painting I and My Village (1911): “Clouds and blue stars penetrated along with the smell of the fields, the stable and the roads and my head detaches itself gently from my body and weeps near the kitchen where the fish is being prepared.”   Chagall’s art remained centered in the “folksy” idealized past in the Russia of his childhood.

In contrast to Chagall and rebelling against painting landscapes and interior scenes typical of the artistic tradition of his native Holland, Piet Mondrian had a unique reaction to that artistic worldview. “‘The new style will spring from the metropolis.’ He delighted in the criss-cross patterns of city streets [seen in his 1942 painting, New York City], architect’s blueprints, giant structural steel skeletons of skyscrapers under construction, and simple faces of buildings of the international architectural style.”

Mondrian’s worldview reminds us of the anti-human reaction of the futurists a few decades earlier. “All references to the ‘primitive and animal nature of man’ should be rigidly excluded in order to reveal ‘true human nature.’”

True human nature would embrace all creativity past and present as the good, the true and the beautiful. Inclusion and compassion are among the responses that would indicate an authentic and healthy human paradigm. The creative impulse throughout human history has left us with much beauty that we can find nourishing and uplifting for the human soul. As we continue to express our creative energy, we will come to learn that our work is qualitatively different when expressed as a response rather than a reaction, an expression of mindful consciousness rather than as an expression of fear and suffering.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry. 

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