From outer to inner; essence revealed.

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The following references provide some specific examples of the radical shift in Western visual art away from an outward directed cultural world view, centuries in the making, that formed so much of the character of  image making over that time. In his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky wrote: “The Renaissance …. derived its inspiration solely from those periods of Greek and Roman art which were preoccupied with the expression of external reality.” And further: “The relationships in art are not necessarily ones of outward form, but are founded on an inner sympathy of meaning.”

By 1910, following the ground breaking work of Cezanne, Picasso, and Braque, Kandinsky was able to formulate a new definition of subject matter for art, one that removed the last vestiges of natural representation from it. He writes: “The artist’s eye should always be turned in upon his inner life, and his ear should be always alert for the voice of inward necessity. This is the only way of giving expression to what the mystic vision commands.” Kandinsky reduced the three dimensional world of natural appearances to flat shape, line, and chromatic relationships in accordance with his internal promptings. The products of this way of working came to be called abstract or non-objective art.

Another radical departure from traditional aesthetic values occurred in 1913 when Malevich wrote: “… in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the burden of the object, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field.” Malevich is reverting to primary forms as part of his search for something fundamental on which to rely after the dissolution of former criteria in producing visual art became subject to question. While we rely on the five senses to navigate the world of objective reality, the inputs we receive from the sensorium is subjectively interpreted. In turning away from the practice of rendering the external appearance of things in visual art, artists began to explore the interior domain of subjectivity itself.

We will give the last word today to Paul Klee who writes: “It is the artist’s mission to penetrate as far as may be toward that secret ground where primal law feeds growth. Which artist would not wish to dwell at the central organ of all motion in space-time (be it the brain or heart of creation) from which all functions derive their life? In the womb of nature, in the primal ground of creation where the secret key to all things lies hidden? … Our beating heart drives us downward, far down to the primal ground.” What is encountered on this journey  – “must be taken most seriously when it is perfectly fused with the appropriate artistic means in visible form. It is not a question of merely reproducing what is seen, the secretly perceived is made visible.”

The above references provide some examples supporting the Richard Tarnas quote in Context 2 of this blog that says: “… the outward moving ascent and construction of the modern self that began in the Renaissance … to the inward-moving descent and deconstruction of the self that commenced at the end of the 19th century and brought forth the postmodern era.”

And so, the essence contained in the invisible forces that form the substratum of our personal and collective lives, and by extension the social, cultural, and spiritual climate out of which our art forms arise, ever dynamic and ever in flux – begins to be revealed.