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In Living Color

“I applied streaks and blobs of colors onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could…” Wassily Kandinsky

Who can paint pictures that sing? A synesthete, that’s who. In Kandinsky’s case, his colors and painted strokes set off sounds or musical notes. And sometimes the other way around, too.

Composition VII, No. 196, 1913. What do you hear?

Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866, but grew up in Odessa playing the piano and cello at a young age. He studied law and economics and lectured at the Moscow Faculty of Law.

At the age of thirty, he abandoned law and moved to Munich for art school. He studied life-drawing, sketching and anatomy, the traditional subjects for artists at the time, after not recognizing a Monet haystack. Kandinsky’s early style was marked by a liberation of color from defined form. When his teacher, Franz Stuck, told him that his palate was too bright, Kandinsky worked in black-and-white for a year, focusing more on form and less on the music of his colors.

What effect did that absence of color have on his condition and his art? Returning to Russia, he worked more on the analysis of color and form. He and his wife emigrated to Paris in 1926-1933, where he painted in oil and water colors. Sadly, the Nazis considered his work degenerate and destroyed many of them.

When Steffie Tomson mentioned Kandinsky, I instantly remembered studying his paintings in my college art history course years ago. Vivid colors and abstract lines mark his art. When I looked at his paintings again, after watching Steffie, I was struck by the intensity of his work.

But it all makes sense now. It seems as if he feels his strokes and I can almost sense now the music he heard as he applied the paint to the canvas.

I’ll have a new respect for his art next time I see it up close. I can’t wait to get to the museum. What a way to view the world—in living color.

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Shirley Duke

    Shirley Duke writes for children in a variety of genres. She is the author of a picture book, “No Bows!,” a YA novel, “Unthinkable,” and most recently, two science books, “Infections, Infestations, and Disease” and “You Can’t Wear These Genes.” She’s written commissioned novels, teacher guides, and teen magazine articles. She taught science and ESL in public schools for twenty-five years at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She holds degrees in Biology and Education. She’s on a TWU book review committee and blogs weekly about books and science ideas at SimplyScience. Shirley is excited about science and loves NOVA.