Wassily Kandinsky, Rudolf Steiner, and the missing object
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This thesis examines the resonances between the thought of philosopher and Theosophist/Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) by locating Steiner, and in turn Kandinsky, in the emerging occult movement at the turn of the twentieth century. The goal is to offer a new perspective on Kandinsky’s development of abstraction in the period of 1910 to 1913. After the introduction, the second section considers the previous approaches to Kandinsky’s possible engagement with Steiner, outlining the range of opinions both for and against this engagement and their supporting evidence. Section three provides a thorough overview of Kandinsky’s stylistic progression between 1896 and 1913. The next chapter is dedicated to an examination of Steiner and his epistemology. This chapter highlights Steiner’s intellectual ties to the German Idealists, the romantics, and to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Section five describes briefly the occult resurgence at the turn of the twentieth century with a particular focus on the movement of Theosophy and Steiner’s eventual conversion to this group. In section six, I discuss the two primary Steiner sources on which Kandinsky took notes, the Lucifer-Gnosis journals and Theosophy in order to explore the evolution of Steiner’s philosophy into an occult cosmology. My focus then turns to an in-depth analysis of the hand-written notes and annotations taken by Kandinsky on these sources in light of the theories put forward by Steiner. I argue that Steiner’s synthesis of idealist epistemology, romantic Naturphilosophie, Goethe’s aesthetics, and Theosophy provided Kandinsky with an example of a comprehensive worldview that supported his theory of active agency in art. Section seven delves into Kandinsky’s aesthetic theory as presented in Über das Geistige in der Kunst and several other contemporary essays. I propose that Kandinsky developed Steiner’s ideas on the evolution of consciousness into a theory of the development of art towards abstraction. This thesis maintains that Kandinsky advanced a spiritual equation for the creative process that echoes Steiner’s theory of the relationship between the spirit, soul, and body in the physical world. In conclusion, these ideas are considered through a formal analysis of Kandinsky’s Improvisation 19 and Composition VII.