Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky
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Michel Henry was one of the leading French philosophers of the twentieth century. His numerous works of philosophy are all organized around the theme of life. In contrast to the scientific understanding of life as a biological process, Henry's philosophy develops a conception of life as an immediate feeling of one's own living.
Seeing the Invisible marks Henry's most sustained engagement in the field of aesthetics. Through an analysis of the life and works of Wassily Kandinsky, Henry uncovers the philosophical significance of Kandinsky's revolution in painting: that abstract art reveals the invisible essence of life. Henry shows that Kandinsky separates color and line from the constraints of visible form and, in so doing, conveys the invisible intensity of life. More than just a study of art history, this book presents Kandinsky as an artist who is engaged in the project of painting the invisible and thus offers invaluable methodological clues for Henry's own phenomenology of the invisible.
movement of going beyond the sensible appearances to a monotonous and stereotypical background of practical objects—is sharply interrupted by the artist’s regard. By setting aside this practical background, colours and forms cease to depict the object and to be lost in it. They themselves have and are seen to have their own value; they become pure pictorial forms. 28 PURE PICTORIAL FORM With respect to colours, Kandinsky offered a wonderful description of the elimination of the objective world
fading, and 2. The ornamental form that proceeds from the autonomous project of a drawing that is enchanted with itself and ultimately represents nothing. Here we want to say that there would be no real, abstract content, if not for this pure effusion, this play that is guided and determined by nothing and that does not ﬂow from an Inner Necessity. Pure pictorial forms are elaborated without any reference to the world and ‘chase away the objective origin of forms’; they have no consistency by
inner element is the foundation of the external element’s reality and is what is at stake in painting. Now, we must set out the pure theory of elements not through any elements whatsoever but through the basic elements of painting, that is, the properly pictorial elements. Let us begin with graphic forms. 45 Point In the Bauhaus period, Kandinsky offers a systematic overview of his reﬂection on graphic elements, elaborating the experiments and exercises whose result was in part the second
the action of one or two forces. The form produced by one single force acting on the point in a constant manner is a line that continues indeﬁnitely in the same direction, that is, a straight line. Among the inﬁnite possibilities of movement, 50 LINE this one represents its ‘most concise form’. It makes evident the superimposition of a ‘tension’ in every line from the force that produces it and a ‘movement’ which results from the way that this force has overcome the point’s concentric tension
himself with his magical signs—pursue their work within the pictorial tradition of the West, outside of the ﬁeld opened by Kandinsky’s radically innovative presuppositions. Is his painting thus unique in its genre? 1 SEEING THE INVISIBLE Kandinsky’s singularity is due, moreover, to a circumstance that is vital for our project. The ‘Pioneer’ did not just produce a body of work whose sensuous magniﬁcence and rich inventiveness eclipse even the most remarkable of his contemporaries. He also