November 2022

Kandinsky Anew | Lissa Tyler Renaud | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Roll Over Kandinsky:
How to Whistle a Work of Art


Introductory Note

All the writings I've read over the years by wtRobina (formerly Clay Gold) have been adventures in thinking. It is my deep pleasure to welcome him again as Guest Writer in the Kandinsky Anew series, for which he wrote one of the earliest entries [see here], a compelling and important piece on Kandinsky's stage play, Yellow Sound.

This time, turning his distinctive lens on Kandinsky, wtRobina unfurls his thinking on resonance—that is, a kind of shared experience that artists of various disciplines achieve with those on the receiving end of their work. As in: contact, vibration, transmittal.

From wtRobina: a meditation, a caution, a pathway.

Lissa Tyler Renaud

Oakland, California



The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way.

From them it gains life and being.

Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent,

but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in
its material and spiritual life.

It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere;

and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is
a good work of art or a bad one.

If its form is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth

corresponding vibrations of the soul.


Wassily Kandinsky


Look upon a painting, a landscape for example, realistic and natural, and it's easy to think about a painter's talent, without necessarily considering the depicted location or its own beauty; the natural beauty. It is the beauty of the painting and not the represented place which seems to capture the attention – and this is related to authenticity, accuracy, and detail – the search for, and expression of, truth.


In a photograph we find the opposite to be true. Authenticity, accuracy, and detail are taken as given. The camera never lies. We do not think of the photographer unless we are instructed to. We think about the time and place relating to the image rather than the artist who happened to frame it. Photography is evidence of experience. Painting is evidence of talent.


Arguably, those physical or conscious ways of viewing art or hearing music, have been disturbed by the avant-garde. The likes of Ilse Bing, Man Ray, John Cage, Nadezhda Udaltsova and Wassily Kandinsky, in dissolving or distorting objectivity in art, have raised the question: what am I looking at? what am I listening to? What am I supposed to think?


Wassily Kandinsky believed a successful work of art should create precisely the same sensation in the observer as was felt by the artist. They resonate, he said, like a stringed instrument vibrating in sympathy with another plucked instrument; art is communication between souls, not minds – the movement of air creating an equal or equivalent movement of air. It is metaphor.


The message is not logical; it is resonant, emotional, spiritual, or psychic.


However, to achieve Kandinsky's measure of success, an observer is required to be perfectly attuned to an artist – they ought to know the work and the personal history of the artist to a high degree, or at least be of the same culture or community, having shared experiences with the artist or the subject on some level. The observer must be made to feel emotionally that which the artist has felt physically.


The expression of a thing is not always a successful transmission or communication of emotion. The message sent is rarely the message received, and for this reason Kandinsky's idea creates a high standard for visual artists to attain. As a synaesthete, the physical resonance of shape and colour was strongly present for Kandinsky – he could feel its effect. For most people, music is the art with the strongest emotional impact; its waves physically manipulate the body, its tones are culturally, as well as personally, meaningful – the major and the minor chords, for example, in western music, immediately transmit emotional resonance. This is perhaps why Kandinsky uses the metaphor of the plucked instrument. Sound is the perceivable cause of both physically and emotionally felt resonance. Shape, form and colour operate at radically higher frequencies – the speed of light – and their effect is therefore subtle for the non-synaesthetic observer, occasionally to the point of ignorance.


Vision seems to engage the brain much faster than sound – we think fast about what we see, whereas sound has an organic, analogue interaction with the body; it feels like an older sense, somehow, less connected to the conscious intellect, and more of an engagement for the instinctive body. We feel music with the body and, simultaneously, metaphorically feel its emotional effect. This is the interconnected centre of the target that Kandinsky was aiming for with the arrow of his visual art; the phenomenal impact of two-dimensional shape and colour, via the body, on the emotions.


The desperate desire of an artist, correspondingly expressed in the words of others, besides Kandinsky: Matisse, Tolstoy, Wagner – that emotion or meaning be precisely transmitted to the audient or observer – is impossible but for the simplest of artforms; pantomime, fairy-tale, pictures of kittens and other baby animals, art which resonates with basic experience, requiring little knowledge or sensitivity – its impact being somehow instinctual – obvious. It refers to the most common or trite symbols of a culture. Complex emotional experience is not universally transmittable. Mass culture is therefore simple and facile – a joke that everyone can get. The conclusion of a simplex – one way – transmission.


Mass appeal is mass resonance – common ground in apperception.


People may reject complexity while others may reject simplicity, though the latter will always win popularity because a simple melody sticks in the mind more thoroughly than a complex fugue. Simplicity can be remembered and recalled with ease (it can be whistled, to paraphrase Paul McCartney's measure of success – which is not dissimilar to Kandinsky's, though more easily weighed or measured – more physical). Complexity meanwhile requires an education or understanding of the subject. A simple nursery rhyme, once heard, can be recalled from childhood to adulthood, whereas a Beethoven concerto, as moving as it may be for some, is hard to recall in detail after a single hearing – but for the simple sections or the basic motifs. The hook-lines. The audient may recall how it felt, but they cannot transmit that feeling to others.


This is why The Beatles have retained such popularity – from childhood to adulthood – whereas Stockhausen, Cage, even Beethoven (arguably) have specifically cult or erudite patronage by comparison. The avant-garde antagonist makes complex, challenging, often dissonant music, experimental, confusing or unappealing to those with whom it did or does not resonate – there are concepts to comprehend beyond the basic ideas of harmony and duration. Whereas The Beatles made simple to remember rhymes and rhythms (for the most part), even in the later years when they tried to align themselves with the avant-garde (see the incorporation of Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs, James Joyce and Stockhausen on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album). Like them or loathe them, The Beatles' music unquestionably resonates through multiple generations of people from many different backgrounds, nationalities or cultures.


This is the resonance Kandinsky was longing for, the memorable melodies which defy space and time, but he was distracted by his own synaesthesia. Many people in multiple cultures love his work but whether they are receiving the message that the artist transmitted is quite another matter. Many are confused or find it merely decorative – in a sense like a Beatles song – but another synaesthete might feel the "Beethoven" – the music or the mind, the metaphor – which is extending from the work.


Part of The Beatles' appeal, it might be said, lies in the "Kandinsky" which happens to be lurking in their music – the harmonising, the use of motif, and the satisfaction of expectation by way of joyous resolution. A late Kandinsky painting is quite easily described – there is a certain order or rationality – yet the keen observer feels transcendent, sensing something more than mere nursery rhymes that stick in the memory.


Prehistoric cave art is simplex and simple. It resonates today not just because of its great age and anthropological value, but also because we are able to relate to the images. They reveal a respect for nature and the animals which shared the environment with the artist. The message is straightforward, it resonates across millennia. We share the sensations of the ancient artist – not least because the art remains in the very location where it was created. It cannot be moved or
sold. It is part of the environment, as was the artist. The resonance is all the greater because the context is authentic.


With literature it ought to be easy to convey meaning of course, but that is not the purpose of literature necessarily. The transmission of emotional resonance – beautifully conveyed by music – with no intellectual acknowledgement of the felt experience, is key to great fiction writing. What is said is said best without words. Resonance is not the literal transference of a specific experience, it is the arousal of buried emotion. It draws out of the observer, it does not preach, or teach, or put in. It simply alludes, and the experience occurs within the observer having been provoked




wtRobina, Guest Writer
wtRobina is a sound engineer, poet and author with a broad affection for the intangible, the absent, and the abandoned. Accordingly, he writes for "The Annihilation of Disbelief" at Substack. In a former incarnation, as Clay Gold, he co-wrote "Parallelist" (with Laura Moody) for Aldeburgh Festival, numerous experimental film soundtracks (for Filmgruppe Chaos), and a graphic operator's manual entitled Operation of a Complex Fuzzbox. His other books, including Technical Manifesto for the Deviant Sound Engineer, can be found on Amazon. He lives in Canterbury, Kent, in the UK.

Lissa Tyler Renaud | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com
Curator, writer and editor, Kandinsky Anew Series
Lissa Tyler Renaud MFA Directing, PhD Dramatic Art with Art History (thesis on Kandinsky's theatre), summa cum laude, UC Berkeley (1987). Lifelong actress, director. Founder, Oakland-based Actors' Training Project (1985- ) for training based on Kandinsky's teachings. Book publications: The Politics of American Actor Training
(Routledge); an invited chapter in the Routledge Companion to Stanislavsky, and ed. Selected Plays of Stan Lai (U. Michigan Press, 3 vols.) She has taught, lectured and published widely on Kandinsky, acting, dramatic theory and the early European avant -garde, throughout the U.S., and since 2004, at major theatre institutions of Asia, and in England, Mexico, Russia and Sweden. She is a senior writer for Scene4.  
For her other commentary and articles, check the Archives.


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