It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that (Clive Bell)


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Monday, April 21, 2014

Der Blaue Reiter Almanac: Preface

Kandinsky, watercolor
 cover design for the Almanac, 1911

I've skipped Kandinsky's essay on stage design, but below have included some of the images that accompanied it.

Here are the  prefaces to the first and second editions:

Almanac: Der Blaue Reiter

A great era has begun: the spiritual “awakening,” the increasing tendency to regain “lost balance,” the inevitable necessity of spiritual plantings, the unfolding of the first blossom. We are standing at the threshold of one of the greatest epochs that mankind has ever experienced, the epoch of great spirituality.

In the nineteenth century just ended, when there appeared to be the most thoroughgoing flourishing—the “great victory”—of the material, the first “new” elements of a spiritual atmosphere were formed almost unnoticed. They will give and have given the necessary nourishment for the flourishing of the spiritual.
Art, literature, even “exact” science are in various stages of change in this “new” era; they will all be overcome by it.

Kandinsky, watercolor
 cover design for the Almanac, 1911

Our [first and] most important aim is to reflect phenomena in the field of art that are directly connected with this change and the essential facts that shed light on these phenomena in other fields of spiritual life.
Therefore, the reader will find works in our volumes that in this respect show an inner relationship although they may appear unrelated on the surface. We are considering on making note not of work that has a certain established, orthodox external form (which usually is all there is), but of work that has an inner life connected with the great change. It is only natural that we want not death but life. The echo of a living voice is only a hollow form, which has not arisen out of a distinct inner necessity; in the same way, there have always been created and will increasingly be created, works of art that are nothing but hollow reverberations of works rooted in this inner necessity. They are hollow, loitering lies that pollute the spiritual air and lead wavering spirits astray. Their deception leads the spirit not to life but to death. [With all available means we want to try to unmask the hollowness of this deception. This is our second goal.]

These are points that he will later make in his essay.

But his assertion that "an echo of a living voice is only a hollow form"  contradicts his attack on critics who denounce such echoes, and his defense of Gabrielle Munter's echo of  Gauguin.

It is only natural that in questions of art the artist is called upon to speak first. Therefore the contributors to our volumes will be primarily artists. Now they have the opportunity to say openly what previously they had to hide. We are therefore asking those artists who feel inwardly related to our goals to turn to us as brethren. We take the liberty of using this great word because we are convinced that in our case the establishment automatically ceases to exist.

The artist essentially works for people who are called laymen or the public and who as such have hardly any opportunity to speak. It is natural that their feelings about art and their ideas should be expressed as well. So we are ready to provide space for any serious remarks from this quarter. Even short and unsolicited contributions will be published in the “opinions” column.

Unfortunately, a second edition was never published -- so the "opinions" column never appeared.

[In the present situation of the arts we cannot leave the link between the artist and the public in the hands of others. Reviews are mostly sickening. Because of the growth of the daily press, many unqualified art critics have stolen in among the serious ones; with their empty words they are building a wall in front of the public instead of a bridge. We will devote one special column to this unfortunate, harmful power so that not only the artist but also the public can be enabled to see the distorted face of contemporary art criticism in a clear light.]

Unfortunately, this kind of essay about specific art critics did not appear either.

Works like ours do not happen at fixed intervals, nor can living creations be ordered by man. Our volumes will therefore not appear at fixed times but rather spontaneously, whenever there is enough important material.

Sadly, this was all too true.  But who could have predicted the Great War ?

It should be almost superfluous to emphasize specifically that in our case the principle of internationalism is the only one possible. However, in these times we must say that an individual nation is only one of the creators of all art; one alone can never be a whole. As with a personality, the national element is automatically reflected in each great work. But in the last, resort this national coloration is merely incidental. The whole work, called art, knows no borders or nations, only humanity.

The Editors:

And so from the very beginning, Modernism was presented as being an international phenomenon.


Prefaces to the Second Edition

Two years have passed since this book first appeared. One of our aims
—to me the main one—has remained virtually unattained. It was to demonstrate through examples, practical juxtapositions, and theoretical proofs that the question of form in art was secondary, that the question of art was primarily one of content.

But how important can content be if it's only described as being "spiritual" in the vaguest possible way ?

In practice the Blaue Reiter was right: its formal creation is dead. It has lived—or ostensibly lived—-for scarcely two years. But the necessity for its existence has “developed” further. Thanks to the rashness of our time, the more easily understandable ideas have formed “schools.” So the movement represented here has generally become broader and yet more compact as well. The explosions necessary for the initial breakthrough are abating in favor of a quieter, increasingly stronger, broader, more compact current.
This spreading of the spiritual movement, as well as its strong concentric force that powerfully attracts more and more new elements, manifests its natural destiny and its visible goal.

Thus life, reality, goes its own way. The thunderous characteristics of a great era are almost inexplicably ignored; the public (including many art theoreticians), in opposition to the spiritual trend of the time, more than ever continues to consider, to analyze, to systematize, the formal element exclusively. Maybe the time has not yet come for “hearing” and “seeing.”

But the justified hope that that time will come is rooted in necessity. And this hope is the most important reason for a further edition of the Blaue Reiter. - In the course of these two years we have come closer to the Future in particular instances. Precision and evaluation have become even more possible. Everything else grows organically out of the general idea. This development, this particularly clear relationship of spiritual fields that were formerly distinctly separate, their mutual approach, and their occasional mutual penetration resulting in mixed and therefore richer forms—all these factors demonstrate the necessity for a further development of these ideas in a new publication.


If only we might be shown that "clear relationship between spiritual fields that were formerly distinctly separate"

“Everything that comes into existence on earth can be only a beginning.” This statement by Däubler (Theodor Daubler (1876-1934)  could well be the motto for our work and our intentions. There will be a fulfillment sometime, in a new world, in another existence. On earth we can furnish only the theme. This first book is the opening note of a new theme. The alert listener must have sensed the meaning of the book in its disconnected, restlessly moving manner. He found himself near some headwaters where, at a hundred different places at once, there was mysterious bubbling, now hidden, now openly singing and murmuring. With a divining rod we searched through the art of the past and the present. We showed only what was alive, what was not touched by the tone of convention. We gave our ardent devotion to everything in art that was born out of itself, lived in itself, did not walk on crutches of habit. We pointed to each crack in the crust of convention only because we hoped to find there an underlying force that would one day come to light. Some of these cracks have closed again, our hope was in vain; out of others a lively spring is now gushing. But this is not the only reason for the book. It has always been the great consolation of history that nature continuously thrusts up new forces through outlived rubbish. If we saw our task as simply pointing out the natural spring of a new generation, we could calmly leave this to the course of time; there would be no need to conjure up the spirit of a great epoch of change with our cries.

Tragically, Daubler's quote applied all too well to Marc's life (and death)

We say No to the great centuries. We know that with this simple denial we cannot stop the serious methodical development of the sciences and triumphant “progress.” Also we do not even dream of anticipating this development, but to the scornful amazement of our contemporaries, we take a side road, one that hardly seems to be a road, and we say: this is the main road of mankind’s development.

I can understand, though not share, Marc's rejection of the great centuries of art. But would he also oppose "the serious, methodical development of the sciences"?

Was he a Luddite ?

 This "side road" of modernism  rejects the 6000 year trajectory of human civilization. It might better be called 'primitivism'.

We know that the great mass cannot follow us today; the path is too steep and too far from the beaten track for them. But a few already do want to walk with us. The fate of this first book taught us this. Now we let the book go forth again unchanged, while we ourselves are detached from it and involved in new projects. We do not know yet when we will get together for the second book. Perhaps only when we are entirely alone again, when the cult of modernity has stopped trying to industrialize the virgin forest of new ideas. Before the second book is completed, many things that fastened onto the movement in those years must be cast off or torn away, even by force. We know that everything could be destroyed if the beginnings of a spiritual discipline are not protected from the greed and dishonesty of the masses.

It does not appear to me that this new 'spiritual discipline' ever got beyond artists calling their work spiritual.

 We are struggling for pure ideas, for a world in which pure ideas can be thought and proclaimed without becoming impure. Only then will we or others who are more talented be able to show the other face of the Janus head, which today is still hidden and turns its gaze away from the times.
We admire the disciples of early Christianity who found the strength for inner stillness amid the roaring noise of their time. For this stillness we pray and strive every hour.

March 1914 F[RANZ] M[ARC]

Sad, very sad.

I'm so glad that unlike Marc, I survived my youthful idealism.

Foreword to the Planned Second Volume of the Blaue Reiter

Once more and many times more we are trying to divert the attention of ardent men from the nice and pretty illusion inherited from the olden days toward existence, horrible and resounding.
Whenever the leaders of the crowds turn right, we turn left; when they point to a goal, we turn our backs; whatever they warn us against we hurry toward.
The world is crammed to suffocation. On every stone man has put the brand of his cleverness. Every word is leased or invested. What can man do for salvation but give up everything and flee? What but draw a dividing line between yesterday and today?
This is the great task of our time—the only one worth living and dying for. Not the slightest contempt for the great past is involved in this. We want something else. We do not want to live as carefree heirs or to live on the past. Even if we wanted to live like that, we could not. The inheritance is used up, and substitutes are making the world base.
Therefore we venture forth into new fields, and we are shocked to find that everything is still untrodden, unspoken, uncultivated, unexplored. The world lies virginal before us; our steps are shaky. If we dare to walk, we must cut the umbilical cord that ties us to our maternal past.
The world is giving birth to a new time; there is only one question:
has the time now come to separate ourselves from the old world? Are we ready for the vita nuova? This is the terrifying question of our age. It is the question that will dominate this book. Everything in this volume is related to this question and to nothing else. By it alone should we measure its form and its value.

February 1914 Fz. MARC

Van Gogh, "Portrait of Dr. Gachet", 1890
(note: there is some question whether this version
was painted by someone else)

Even if Van Gogh did paint them both,
it's hard to imagine anyone showing
the one to the right if familiar with both.

Kandinsky, Composition V,1911

Pierre Girieud
(this piece is similar to the one printed in the Almanac
which was destroyed in the war)

Alfred Kubin,
ink drawing

Paul Klee, "Stonecutter", pen and wash, 1910

Gabrielle Munter, "Man at Table", 1911
(the man might be Kandinsky)

Natalia Goncharova, Grape Harvest, 1911

Hans Arp, sketch for a bust,1911-1912

Several of these pieces cannot now be found on the internet (or anywhere else for that matter),
so the Almanac does us  quite a service by preserving their images.

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