Hearing Colors

Welcome to the world of synesthesia

Impression III (Concert) (1911) by Wassily KandinskyStädtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau

Kandinsky painted Impression III (Concert) the day after a concert by composer Arnold Schönberg, which he went to see with Franz Marc on January 2, 1911 in Munich, and which he found fascinating. 

This painting shows that according to Kandinsky, "external impressions" are as much visual as auditory and make relationships between music and painting visible. 


Thanks to this synesthesia,  Kandinsky, who  associates hearing with vision, was amazed by what he  called "color hearing."    

Über Das Geistige in der Kunst (Of the Spiritual in Art) Über Das Geistige in der Kunst (Of the Spiritual in Art) (1912) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

In his work Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and in painting, in particular, (1912) which was intended to lay the foundations of a true "grammar" for colors and shapes, Kandinsky demonstrated his attachment to the modern theory of "correspondence" and to one of its key aspects: synesthesia. 

By relying on sources both medical and esoteric, Kandinsky compared the color palette to the timbres linked to each instrument and made this synesthesia phenomenon the very heart of an esthetic of "dissonance." 

By following his intuition, his painting freely invited a contradictory kind of harmony.   

Mit dem schwarzen Bogen (Picture with a Black Arch) (1912) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Kandinsky, who had theorized this phenomenon of synesthesia in his seminal treatise in which he set out a language of interacting shapes and colors, defended himself from his detractors, who rebuked him for painting music. 

In his view, the analogy between painting and music rests, in essence, on the laws of abstract composition.  

Impression V (Park) (1911) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

As he wrote in his treatise: 

"Painting has, in this sense, captured music, and the two have a growing tendency to create 'absolute' works—that is, 'objective' works which stand as independent beings in compliance with the laws of nature."  

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