Harnessing the Power of Intuition in Art

Exploring the uniqueness of Kandinsky’s expressionist painting

Christopher P Jones
6 min readSep 26, 2023

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Improvisation 35 (1914) by Wassily Kandinsky. Oil on canvas. 110.3 × 120.3 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland. Image source Kunstmuseum Basel (public domain)

This painting Improvisation 35, was made by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky in 1914. It was part of a long series of paintings in which he used intuition as his guiding principle.

He described his process as “a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, non-material nature.”

The composition is a bursting riot of colour. Forms rush, oscillate, tremble, collide, staccato, float, recede, stretch out, open, and even dance with a freshness of energy. There are no barriers here, no repetition, just the interplay of free colour and form.

As for its meaning, trying to “read” a painting like this can make it seem inscrutable. Instead, you have to find your way by feeling.

What makes this “non-material” image particularly fascinating — along with the era of art history it dates from — is the preoccupation shared by Kandinsky along with many other artists about the true essence of reality and the extent to which modern science could authentically describe it.

For Kandinsky, it was harnessing the intuitive potential of human creativity that held the key. And perhaps more than any other painter of the time, he felt the need to develop a complete theoretical system to explain why.

Altered States

Like many of Kandinsky’s paintings from around this time, Improvisation 35 seeks to reveal itself from within, seeming to suggest altered states, dreams and half-forgotten memories. The colour palette is intentionally intense and musical — you might say symphonic.

Detail of ‘Improvisation 35’ (1914) by Wassily Kandinsky. Oil on canvas. 110.3 × 120.3 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland. Image source Kunstmuseum Basel (public domain)

In his writings, he associated yellow tones of paint with warmth and blue tones with coolness, positing that yellows appear to advance towards the observer, radiating outward from the canvas, while blues seem to retreat, diminishing into the picture and their own infinite depth.

For Kandinsky, Blue was a heavenly colour, whilst yellow was the colour of the earth.

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