Wassily (Wassilyevich) Kandinsky was born on December 16, 1866 in Moscow, but spent his childhood in what is now Ukraine. He lived a comfortable, middle class life. His father was a tea merchant from Siberia, his mother descended from Mongolian aristocracy. Although he studied a variety of subjects in school, including economics and law, he often said that he was drawn to art and especially color from a very young age. He talked about noticing the colors of the landscape around him and feeling like he was stepping into a painting when he was a young boy. It wasn’t until he was thirty, however, that he left a thriving career teaching law to pursue art full time. It was slow to start. He wasn’t immediately accepted into art school so he worked on his own, taking classes where possible.

His early work was heavily influenced by Russian folk tales and often had themes from these stories as well as stories from the bible loosely depicted. Although his early work was much more representational (meaning it has an identifiable person, place. and/or thing) it was still somewhat abstract. Kandinsky wanted his view to focus more on the emotion they felt. He wasn’t traditionally religious, but he was deeply spiritual. To him, painting was a spiritual action and he wanted the view to be involved in creating the meaning behind each piece.

You can see this even more as his art quickly becomes more and abstract (meaning that you can tell exactly what it represents). He is considered to be one of the fathers of abstract art and the term ‘abstract expressionist’ (which would become more common in later years) was coined to describe his work.

Kandinsky was passionate about music and felt that visual art and music went hand in hand. He said “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul” He used color to show his emotion or response to the subject, rather than to describe what the subject looks like. He once said that he is trying to express his soul rather than represent the world. He believed in color as it’s own form, not as something that helps describe an object. He also used musical terms to describe his work. He called his most spontaneous paintings “improvisations” and described more elaborate works as “compositions.”

Although people had a hard time understanding his work during the first few showings, he became successful fairly quickly and was teaching art as well as painting in Germany when WWI started. He was targeted by the Nazis and many of his paintings were burned. After the war, he settled in France where he lived the rest of his life, dying of a stroke at age 78 on December 13, 1944.

Today we will experiment with line and color to make an abstract painting like Wassily Kandinsky. Instead of thinking of a picture that you would like to draw, think of a feeling. Do you want your painting to be happy or sad? Chaotic or peaceful? Kandinsky, like many other artists, felt that warm colors (Red, yellow, orange) showed energy and excitement. While cool colors (blue, green, purple) were calming and peaceful.

1. Play the CD on the art cart, tell the students to listen to the music and see if they can see what Kandinsky might have been trying to paint as they listen to “Titan” by Gustav Mahler.

2. Use the crayons to create the shapes on a piece of cardstock, make it as simple or complex as you’d like!

3. Use the watercolors to add color and interest. Observe how the paint doesn’t stick to the crayon. How can you use this to make interesting designs.

*Fast finishers are welcome to try more than one painting!