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,
From wtRobina: a meditation, a caution, a pathway.
Lissa Tyler Renaud
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.