Symphony. Buenos Aires, winter 2014. Painting, Oil on canvas, Size: 47.2 W x 39.4 H in (120 W x 100 H cm). © 2014 Florencia San Martin Brück/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Kandinsky is believed to have had synaesthesia, a harmless condition that allows a person to appreciate sounds, colours or words with two or more senses simultaneously. In his case, colours and painted marks triggered particular sounds or musical notes and vice versa.
The idea that music is linked to visual art goes back to ancient Greece, when Plato first talked of tone and harmony in relation to art. The spectrum of colours, like the language of musical notation, has long been arranged in stepped scales, Beethoven, who called B minor the black key and D major the orange key, or Schubert, who saw E minor as “a maiden robed in white with a rose-red bow on her chest”.
The artist explored these sensations in unconventional, artistic ways. Conceived for the theatre, Kandinsky created experimental performance-based expressions of synesthesia–The Yellow Sound being the most famous–which utilized original musical scores, lighting, and various media to explore prevalent color theories of the time.
Music played an important role in the development of Kandinsky’s abstract paintings. The famous Viennese composer Arnold Schönberg was one influence. Schönberg abandoned tonal and harmonic conventions in his compositions the same way that Kandinsky rejected the figure or recognizable object in favor of shapes, lines, and discordant colors in his work. He deployed color, line, shape, and texture to create a rhythmic visual experience that evoked an emotional response. Not surprisingly, Kandinsky gave many of his paintings musical titles, such as Composition or Improvisation.
For Kandinsky, color also had the ability to put viewers in touch with their spiritual selves. He believed that yellow could disturb, while blue awakened the highest spiritual aspirations. Just a year before he painted Fragment 2 for Composition VII, Kandinsky wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art. An important statement of Kandinsky’s theories on art’s potential to evoke psychological, physical, and emotional responses, the treatise is considered the first theoretical foundation of abstraction.