Concerning the Spiritual in Art

“Art must feed the spirit by revealing the internal truth of art, the soul.”-Wassily Kandinsky

“There is no must in art because art is free”-Kandinsky

The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul.-Kandinsky

The above book means a great deal to me and it’s author Wassily Kandinsky is one of my favorite artist, though he and I would disagree on many theological issues (Kandinsky being a influenced by Theosophical Society and me being a follower of Christ). I think we would both agree that art springs from the divine. Kandinsky is credited as being the father of abstract art. I am very interested in painting that is led by the spirit in a free style type of way and his works serves as an inspiration for this. The Amazon review below gives a great summary of the book’s main message:

“Kandinsky spent a lifetime painting in search of the spiritual. Kandinsky believed that art had a duty to be spiritual in nature, an expression of “inner need,” as he came to call it. He called “art for art’s sake” a “vain squandering of artistic power.” This book was both his call to artists to meet their obligation to humanity and his attempt to define and explain color and form in its relation to expressing the message of the soul”.-Anonymous Amazon Reviewer

“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul”.-Kandinsky

What I love about Kandinsky is that he did not believe in “art for art’s sake” but he believed it needed to have a spiritual purpose. The art world in NYC is connected to the higher class but as a child of the hip hop generation I know first hand that poor people have always created art. I don’t believe art is to be created in a vacuum of vanity but it must speak to something deeper. The following interview is a follow-up to a conference in Govan, Scotland that grapples with class, spirituality, art and Kandinsky in the 100th anniversary of Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The conference: Kandinsky in Govan: Art, Spirituality & The Future could have taken place in Paris, NY or Milan but the organizers choose a lower income community, which in my opinion is more in line with what Kandinsky was attempting to say in his work. This interview also addresses the connections between poverty and health and how art can be used as a preventive health measure.

Kandinsky in Govan Post Conference Interview:

The Guardian Article on Kandinsky in Govan: Face to faith: “Narcissistic modern art cannot help us in these troubled times” by

For more information on Kandinsky, including his bio and work visit WebMuseum Paris

Vincent van Gogh

Though I still love Kandinsky I have to show some love to my Christian brother Vincent van Gogh. Many may not know that he was a missionary early in life and tried to become a minister but failed in theology school and was fired from his missionary post for actually following in Christ foot steps and living among the poor miners he ministered to; he actually slept on the floor and lived in poverty by choice. The church felt his choice demeaned the office of minister-wow what spiritual ignorance. What many may not know is that Van Gogh’s most well known work Starry Night is a powerful indictment on the church because all the buildings in the painting have lights that are turned on except–the church. Starry Night always challenges me to consider about my role as a faith-based organizer and spiritual person-is the light of Christ turned on in my life? On one hand I have always wondered what the church lost because Van Gogh was not allowed to minister, but the Holy Spirit allowed me to see that actually by kicking Van Gogh out of the church the entire world is able to benefit from his ministry through art. “Van Gogh aspired to become an artist in God’s service, stating: “…to try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God; one man wrote or told it in a book; another in a picture.” Van Gogh can teach us much about what ministry is, the role of depression in the life of many clergy(yes many clergy suffer with depression, even Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King faced bouts of depression) and artist face. Personally, I have struggled with depression and though I am healed from the darkest bouts, to stay in that healing I have to lean on God’s grace and make choices each day to live in joy. What can the life and work of Van Gogh teach us about the role of depression in the life of ministers and artist?

This is Art??? Have a Piece of Venus Hottentot Cake for World Arts Day

Posted on June 17, 2012

A few months ago a grave spectacle of so-called art took place in Sweden where a cake of an African-American woman’s body (created by a biracial man) was cut by the Swedish minister of “culture”, while those in the room cheered and laughed. What is shocking about this is that the cake was created to look like a black face caricature of a Black woman and the cake was cut where the reproductive organs would be. This cake is known as the “Venus Hottentot Cake”. Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman a slave became known as “Venus Hottentot” and was taken to Europe to have her body exhibited, she was sometimes kept as an animal in a zoo and the cake looked like a caricature of her likeness. This was not art but a barbaric reenactment of female genital mutilation and yet another example of how the Black woman’s womb is under attack. I have written about the high incidents of fibroids among Black women and though diet plays a great role in this health crisis stress, psycho-social and spiritual issues also play a role in reproductive heath. Though we may feel that all is well and that we are seen as fully human a quick look around in the media, music and now contemporary art shows that the Black woman’s sexuality is still being used to sell everything and her womb is still being exploited. Sadly this art was created by an African-Swedish man who has made weak attempts to address the criticism of this art “exhibit” Dr. Claudette Carr wrote an Open Letter from African Women to the Minister of Culture: The Venus Hottentot Caketo address this travesty.

In the letter Dr. Carr states: “Internalized racism has been one of the primary means by which we are constantly forced to perpetuate and collude in our own oppression and the oppression of others of our race. In the case of the “Venus Hottentot Cake”, equally devastating is that the artist Makode Aj Linde is Afro-Swedish. His own head adorned with long locks forms that of the naked Black woman in the cake, lying motionless on a table in a room surrounded by a laughing crowd. Not one Black woman, not one Black person in the room, except the artist and his cake. Makode Aj Linde is seen with a blackened face screaming with pain each time a Swedish guest cuts a slice from the cake. We are horrified as we try to make sense of this artist’s actions and we are perplexed by his explanation of the art as an awareness raising piece on the “practice of female genital mutilation” in certain African communities, or a practice that many African women’s rights defenders have come to rename female genital cutting (FGC). The moment that cake was presented; the moment that cake was eaten; the moment that cake caused joy and excitement, re-opening the marvel that white Europeans felt at exploiting African women’s bodies—specifically, the sexualized celebration, the entrapment, the cutting of the genitalia of the Sara Baartman-like black body, the ethics of the artist comes into serious question, even if not the art itself, for the sake of “art”, for the sake of non-censorship. Racism was propped up in its ugliest form, facilitated by a Black artist and perpetuated on the representation of the body of a Black female.”

This incident not only brings up not only the history of Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman aka “Venus Hottentot” but the history of western medicine where Black women were mutilated for gynecological “research”, this history is recounted in Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington. Though we should be outraged by the Swedish Minister of Culture we also have to interrogate how a man of African descent could create and facilitate this for his “art”. If we are going to to attack rappers for calling Black women bitches and hoes we have to critique all artist and men who disrespect Black women. We also have to teach Black women the history of how our bodies were exploited so that they do not willing sign-up to be modern day Venus Hottentot’s in music videos or magazines. Sarah “Sarrtjie” Baartman was promised wealth and fame for traveling to Europe but she was not told of the exploitation that faced her, today many of our video models and musicians are promised wealth for exploiting their bodies but most often this wealth and fame are just smoke screen and mirrors and the cycle continues.

This is an example of what can happen when art is created devoid of spirituality, social responsibility and cultural sensitivity but it also an example of the ways in which these scripts of racism, sexism, internalized racial oppression and disrespect of Black womanhood are deeply embedded into our culture on conscious and subconscious levels. As much as things appear to have changed they have stayed the same and if we are not conscious we can all play into the scripts that have been laid out by this racist culture.

For more information visit:

[News] Swedish minister of culture carves up racist cake of Sarah Baartman -World Arts Day

THE VENUS HOTTENTOT CAKE: WHEN ART IS RACIST PROPAGANDA

“There is only one reason for art in America, and that is that the people of America learn the means of expressing themselves in their own time, and on their own land.” -Robert Henri

6 thoughts on “Concerning the Spiritual in Art

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