Research: what’s in a name?

I subscribe to the magazine Artist & Illustrator and in this month’s edition there was a free gift of a print and without looking my instant reaction was one of disdain and dismissive because I simply didn’t like it.


Wassily Kandinsky. Blue Crest. 1917. Oil on canvas. 133 x 140 cm. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Initially I did not look at the print that was worth £4.99 and noted later I thought the colours and shapes were of interest but still not really feeling it was worth the reproduction but then I looked at the back and realised in fact the art work was one by Wassily Kandinsky.  I am almost embarrassed to admit but my perception changed instantaneously and without thinking – suddenly this print was one of interest and great skill and clearly worthy of my attention and at that point I also scolded myself for being so quick to react in this manner even though my response was without any thought.

My reactionary response has made me angry at myself particularly considering I had studied Kandinsky or the period during my art history course and should have known better but I also should have learnt enough to look closely and enquire and observe the composition for line, form, colour etc before making any judgement.

This brings me to the question of what difference does a label or name make to an art work?  the knowledge of the maker of an art work, or indeed quilt or craft, can have a profound effect on how we perceive an artist and how we visually appraise the work.  For many of us the name of the artist does affect our perception and opinion of a piece although it should make no difference – if an artist or maker is well known we assume that they have spent time perfecting their skills and techniques and therefore it is worthy of our attention because they have become masters at their crafts but should we not judge the work purely on the technical aspects alone?  by this I am referring back to the question of the craft lagoon or indeed whether art quilts and similar crafts could be classed as art works or just simply  does it mean that a lesser well known artist should not receive the same recognition and attention of a well known one?  for many becoming well known is by chance – an agent or gallery may spot a piece of work and offer an exhibition or invite to become part of a gallery and patrons or collectors still play the part in the art world today that they did in centuries gone by but that does not mean the lesser known artist is not as skilled.

I looked at the Blue Crest and dismissed the print until I realised the artist and then I studied it more closely and this has been a very valuable lesson – our perception of identity and how we perceive art or crafts is affected by labels, personal experience and the simple fact of knowledge. My parents appreciated art but I would not say were art lovers – my late Mum’s and my interests lay in textiles and my Dad and my brother were both interested in photography with all of us keen music lovers and so it is my personal experiences that have broadened my horizons and exposed me to the art I am so interested in today.  Labels have a direct effect as I have already said but labels do not just refer to the differing genres or categories but also include names – would that Kandinsky piece have had the same reactionary response if I had learned the name of the artist was just a plain Joe Bloggs for instance?  would I have appreciated it in the same way if it had been one of the artists at the local art fair? for me yes now it would have done – I have been to enough local art fairs and worked long and hard enough at my own art even at this stage to understand the skill and hours that go into creating the pieces on display or up for sale.  I have also been to some larger exhibitions and studied the great artists and the name is rapidly becoming irrelevant which makes me even more annoyed at my own reaction to this print!!  If a piece of work is abstract then I need to make the effort to find out the inspiration behind the piece by either speaking to the artist if I am at an art fair or doing my research later so again lessons learnt.

So what is in a name? it seems everything and everything that we see can be affected by a change in name or label however simple or complex. Other questions I know I should ask before making a judgement include what does learning about the era in which the painting was done tell me?  what about the country in which it was painted? how do the social, economic and political situations reflect in the work?  these are all questions that can be asked of textile works too no matter what the genre in which they fall whether it is fiber art, quilting or embroidery. All the questions I mention can be asked because they can all influence the maker and these are all enquiring questions I am trying to keep at the forefront of my mind from my art history studies in order to further my understanding of historical or contemporary textiles and artists themselves.

For my own interest I the following is a loose annotation of Blue Crest:

Blue Crest was painted after Kandinsky had returned to Russia after a period in Germany between 1896 and 1914 and was during a time of Avant-Garde artistic creativity in Moscow.  There can be almost no doubt of the influences of the First World War and the years of revolution and consequently according Kandinsky varied his styles between Impressionist landscapes, semi-abstract works and also romantic ideals – the stylistic and artistic movements in which he created his works include Expressionism, Blau Reiter and Bauhaus.

I note the separate elements of the Blue Crest with geometric overtones and the strong use of colours and this ties in with the fact for Kandinsky painting was  deeply spiritual and he used his work as a way of expressing inner emotions or universal emotions and ideas.  The colour blue is often considered a calming or healing colour with the reds and oranges and yellows signifying energy or anger and in this case may be considered a reference to the unstable political, economic and social era in which he lived particularly when taken in consideration with the darker shadows and areas of the painting – the area in the top left I find significant as it reminds me of oil with the different colours intermixed and seems to be encroaching or even retreating from the curved crest of the blue with its brighter shapes pushing upwards and outwards.

Interestingly research teaches me that Kandinsky viewed music as a transcendent form of art and he was aware of the the fact that people could imagine images when listening to music and therefore he tried to produce images relating to sound and emotions in his spiritually works – he wanted to appeal or allude to the senses in a unified way.  I did not realise that there could be a connection between my studies on this part of the course and this print that arrived with my magazine on the very day I was working with music and creating new ‘performances’.

I note the use of jagged edges that contrast with curved softer lines which may possible allude to musical scores – there was no major composer of the period living in Russia at the time as many had sought refuge in neutral countries such as Switzerland before the War or emigrated to the USA but there can be no doubt that music had the aforesaid influence.

If I go back to my questions I must ask myself – what does the work say or what is the maker trying to say? Kandinsky did not believe or accept the official Communist party theories on art but he did later take part in art education and museum reform from 1918 until 1921 and was also involved in cultural politics – of note is the fact that his teaching concentrated on colour and form so my feeling is that the piece is trying to tell the spectator of the political and social upheaval that is occurring in the year before the Russian Revolution of 1918.

The colours used are the primary colours with the 3 secondary colours of green, purple and orange but also browns and greys which can be mixed from the primary colours – the colours are used both analogous and complementary  and there appears to be no rhythm or repetitive pattern in the way they are used so the feeling is one of chaos and disturbance.  I note the over-riding use of blue although I also note the paler background of white with paler hints of the various colours – could this be a reference to a time of day or even summer light as opposed to the long dark days of winter? if I consider the answer in terms of a spiritual nature I question whether these lighter colours allude to emotions and a need for more peaceful times in an era of violence and revolution which is clearly signified by the blackened dark areas signifying the dark inner emotions and the red of the anger or revolution. The colours are on the whole bright and vivid as if the voices of the people want to be heard but some are dull and in shadow – does this signify the two different sides of the political debate or society divided by revolution.


Wassily Kandinsky. Moscow Red Square. 1916. Oil on canvas. 51.5 x 49.5 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery

I note the shapes and these are reminiscent of a work done just a year earlier of Moscow Red Square and so I question whether Blue Crest is also concerning Kandinsky’s favourite city.  Information on this earlier piece states that sunset was a favourite time of day and he likened sunset to the last chord of a symphony.  Both works of art include the use of futuristic shapes to give the impression of the city although in the later piece the image is becoming more abstract – there are still indications of the monuments of Moscow and the industrialised parts of the city but it is less direct.

I feel I must finally add the one online source I have discovered relating directly to an analysis of Blue Crest unfortunately my computer security software has not declared it safe to use and so my observations have had to be based purely on what I can see and what I can safely research on the artist and his other works.

The free gift in this month’s magazine had been one that has created an unexpected blog with an even more unexpected reaction which I quickly realised I must make a note of an reflect upon (finally getting into this learning log lark!) and also an interesting evening spent researching and writing this blog with questions asked and lessons learnt.


The Art Story Foundation. 2017.  Wassily Kandinsky Biography [online].  [Date Accessed:  25 February 2017].  Available from: 2008-2017.  Wassily Kandinsky [online]. [Date Accessed:  25 February 2017].  Available from:





This entry was posted in Notes, Research & Reflection and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s