Wassily Kandinsky : Untitled, no. 629

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum

Overview

Untitled, no. 629
1936, oil on canvas, 51 3/8 in. x 32 1/16 in. (130.5 cm. x 81.4 cm.)
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, USA
Gift from the estate of Mrs. Aldus Chapin Higgins 1970.123
© 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris, France

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze Wassily Kandinsky’s Untitled, no. 629 using the elements of art;
  • Describe how the principles of design contribute to the expressive qualities of their own works of art and interpret reality and fantasy in the painting;
  • Discuss the artistic value of the work of art;
  • Draw and paint a series of artworks that express a personal statement;
  • Mix paints to show color relationships;
  • Demonstrate skill in applying watercolor in a non-objective artwork.

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Vocabulary, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • 9×12 white paper
  • 10×13 watercolor paper
  • 12×18 assorted paper for mounting
  • shading pencils
  • watercolor brushes
  • watercolors
  • water containers
  • Sharpies: black
  • color wheels
  • glue
  • paper towels and sponges
  • newspaper

 

Setup Directions
  • Cover work surfaces with newspaper.
  • Set out 9×12 white paper and shading pencils.
  • Have ready 10×13 watercolor paper, Sharpies, color wheels, water containers, watercolors, and brushes.
  • Have ready 12×18 assorted paper and glue for mounting.
  • Have ready paper towels and damp sponges for wiping up spills and drying brushes.
Variations
  • Do this project as a collage or a multimedia project.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Color artwork using markers or colored pencils instead of watercolors.
  • To extend project for older students: Work in 2 stages, letting the paint dry between stages. Add details with a drier brush in the second stage.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

How is the painting Untitled, no. 629 abstract?
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Style - Abstract

Kandinsky was the first important artist to paint abstract pictures, or pictures with shapes and colors but no story. He loved to paint pictures with floating objects, calling them his kite pictures. In Untitled, no. 629, shapes with many colors float freely over a yellow background. Originally he was most interested in the expressionist qualities of colors, but after 10 years of teaching and painting in Munich, Germany, he moved to Paris and emphasized form over color. Abstract shapes appear flat, like flags or kites floating above a vague background. Some shapes suggest splashes, blobs, or balls. However, like the cloudy shapes in the background, they are not intended to be symbolic of real world objects.

How is this painting expressive?
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Style - Expressionism/Artistic Value

Kandinsky painted in the Expressionist style. His artwork expressed his inner feelings rather than the reality of the external world. He felt that colors express feelings, such as joy or anger. In Untitled, no. 629, the yellowish background holds the brightly colored shapes. He often painted to music, using color and line to express how the music made him feel. Music was important to the birth of abstract art, since music itself is abstract. It represents inner feelings rather than the external world.

Kandinsky was born and educated in Russia, where he became a successful lawyer and law professor. He moved to Munich at the age of 30 to paint. There he created the first non-objective paintings in the history of art. Abstract painting was not recognized when Kandinsky first started painting in the style. Impressionism and Cubism were the popular styles at the time. His art was controversial, and he often felt isolated and rejected. But he wrote and taught about his new ideas, and gradually they became the dominant style. He was a central figure in the transition from representational to abstract art. He described his abstract art as “a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character and non-material nature.” Kandinsky was the first important artist to paint abstract pictures with shapes and colors but no story. He wanted viewers to provide their own stories for his pictures. At the time, people said it was not art. Kandinsky already had a reputation as an artist when he painted these abstract paintings, so they were considered to have artistic value.

What kind of music matches this painting?
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Style - Visual Music

Kandinsky learned to play the piano and cello. He was fascinated by music’s emotional power, and he thought of his paintings as visual music, with colors being like sounds. He said, “Color 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.” He considered yellow a bright, clear sound and black a sharp, quick one. Bright colors together create loud sounds, while white or light colors are soft. Repeated shapes, lines and colors are like repeated notes and instruments. Kandinsky felt that music appeals directly to the artist’s “internal element”. He said of Wagner’s Lohengrin, “The violins, the deep tones of the basses, and especially the wind instruments embodied for me all the power. I saw all my colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.” Kandinsky avoided giving his paintings titles. Instead, he gave most of his paintings such names as Untitled or Composition. This helps the viewer focus on the colors, shapes, and composition rather than on an object or story.

What mood is created by the colors in this picture?
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Color - Mood/Tertiary/Intensity/Contrasting/Flat

The bright colors create a happy mood. The pale yellow background adds a playful feeling to the picture and contrasts with the brighter kite shapes in the foreground. It looks like a sunny day. The floating shapes seem to be having fun, twisting, moving, and bouncing around. Colors are used to express the artist’s reaction to objects or events, not to something real.

Colors are mixed to create tertiary colors. Red-orange in the little flag with eyes, and yellow orange in the big eye flag. Blue-green in the square, yellow-green in the rectangular eye man, blue violet in the big eye flag, and red-violet in the tail.

Colors appear more intense when placed next to their complements: Red next to green, yellow next to blue.

Most of the flags are filled with bright, contrasting colors. Black and yellow contrast with the bright red, blue, and green colors. The triangle flags and checkerboard squares are filled with analogous pinks and purple colors.

Most shapes are filled with flat colors that have no shading. Shading in the background and the pink splash give form to the space.

How do repeated shapes show movement?
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Design - Repetition/Movement

The repetition of kite shapes carry our eyes around the picture, creating a feeling of movement. Repeated colors and black outlines connect the shapes. The round eye shapes are repeated and echoed in the balls that float in the negative space.

Curving lines in the kites and circles give a feeling of circular movement. Straight and curving lines on the edges of the shapes are at different angles. The largest kite shape crosses the black line at a diagonal, giving a feeling of movement. The upward turn of the black line and its attachment to the M shape move our eye back to the other shapes. The in and out of overlapping shapes adds to the subtle feeling of movement.

What lines give the feeling of action in this painting?
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Line - Curving/Angular/Convex

The lines curve mostly in a clockwise direction around the center of the picture. The narrow black line appears to hold or drag the shapes with it in a curving motion.

Angular shapes at the end of kites or in the designs contrast with the many curving shapes and lines. The angular M near the bottom points our eye back to the kite shapes. The angular kite and ribbon ends point arrow-like to other shapes.

Convex lines on the outside of the flags make them appear to billow in the wind.

What shapes did Kandinksy use in this composition?
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Shape/Form - Curvilinear/Rectilinear

Curvilinear shapes in the flags, dots and crescents seem to move and vibrate on the surface. Kandinsky felt that shapes contain energy. Repeated circles float in and out of other shapes. Kandinsky loved circles and triangles. He described circles as “modest forms that assert themselves”; “precise, but inexhaustibly variable”; “simultaneously stable and unstable”; and “simultaneously loud and soft.”

Rectilinear shapes, which have straight or angular lines, form oddly shaped triangles and trapezoids that look like kites and hats. The rectilinear shape filled with wedges echoes other rectilinear shapes filled with squares, triangles, and blocks of color.

Which object is farthest away?
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Space - Overlap/Recede

Kandinsky detached his shapes and colors from their background, avoiding traditional perspective. Although this abstract composition has no vanishing point, some overlapping shapes create an illusion of depth. The large shape that overlaps the black line appears closer because it is brighter and has more detail. Where shapes overlap the line, the line still appears through them. Where shapes overlap other shapes, the overlapped shape is cut off. Overlapping shapes add to the feeling of movement.

The shapes at the end of the long black line appear farthest away because they are not as bright, have less detail, and because they are smaller than other shapes. However, the shapes that are overlapped appear farthest away. The thick black line gets thinner at the bottom, so it appears to recede in space.

Where are we, the viewers?
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Space - Viewpoint

We are on a level with the kites. The large kite with big eyes is at our eye level. It appears to be closest to us. Shapes at the top and bottom of the picture appear farther from us because they are smaller and less detailed.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts

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Project Directions

Watercolor Fantasy

Directions

Warm up and Brainstorm

  • Talk about abstract art. How do artists use the elements of art—line, color, shape, and texture—to express their feelings? How does the viewer relate to those feelings? Which element is easiest to work with?
  • Talk about the psychological effects of color. Look at the Color Theory guide in the Appendix to see ways in which color affects us. How do colors affect your mood?
  • Talk about how artists plan a composition. How do artists balance their compositions to create unity and harmony? How does standing back help in evaluating balance? How is balance different from symmetry?
  • Talk about how sometimes artists experience a creative block, which makes it difficult to create art. Brainstorm ways to overcome creative blocks such as:

    1. Writing down main ideas
    2. Experiment with ideas in a sketchbook
    3. Step away from the project and come back to it later
    4. Ask others for suggestions or talk to others about ideas
    5. Push boundaries, be open to a fresh perspective, or try something unexpected or new

    What other methods might you use? Ask students to share other approaches that they have used in the past to overcome creative blocks.

  • Discuss how people develop ideas about, and understandings of, society, cultures, and history through their interactions and analysis of art. How does art provide a glimpse into the way people live, and their traditions and habits, in addition to what they think and value?
  • Discuss how people currently and throughout history use art and art making in their personal lives, and collectively in their community or society, to experience and make sense of their lives. Have students add to the chart made in Lesson 1, either individually or collectively, to build on the visual documentation of places and times in which people gather to make and experience art or design in the community.

Project Directions

  1. Draw doodle. With eyes open, on 10×13 water color paper using sharpie, draw doodle with curving and angular lines, forming large and small shapes. Connect shapes to form balanced composition.
  2. Thicken black lines. Select one or two main lines as focus of drawing. Go over main lines to thicken them or fill in small areas.
  3. Plan and mix colors. Use color wheel to plan color choices to express mood. What color relationships such as complementary, cool, or analogous colors, will create this mood? Think about which colors recede and which project. Mix secondary and tertiary colors in lid of water color box, starting with lightest color. Dip brush into secondary color and mix into first color.
  4. Paint two or three shapes using flat wash. Paint shapes using colors that show mood and express personal statement. Flat washes should be all one color, with no brush strokes showing. Leave area or two unpainted to create negative space.
  5. Paint another shape using variegated wash. Create variegated wash by blending together two or more colors on wet paper. Use brush dipped in clean water and wet area to be painted. Prepare two primary colors that will blend to make secondary colors. Paint half of shape with one primary color and other half with other color. Tilt paper so colors blend together to create secondary color.
  6. Paint graphic brush strokes. Load dry brush with water color and paint dots or patterns or lines to create movement or rhythm. Repeat one color using hatching or cross-hatching lines, to create illusion of form.
  7. Paint using puddling technique. Paint flat wash on shape, then puddle by bleeding the other colors onto it. Load wet brush with water color, then, squeeze drop of color onto flat-washed shape to create stained effect where colors mix. Stand back and evaluate artwork for balance and unity. Adjust colors as necessary.
  8. Paint background. Paint background using analogous or contrasting colors. Add several drops of water to paint lid then keep adding paint until its light in color. Be sure to mix enough for entire background. Dip brush into clean water and dampen background before adding color.
  9. Mount composition. Mount on 12×18 paper in color that complements art work and adds to mood.
Tips
  • Listen to music while painting.
  • Use damp sponge to clean watercolor lid to make room for new color mixing.
  • Practice watercolor techniques on a piece of practice paper if time allows.
Variations
  • Do this project as a collage or a multimedia project.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Color artwork using markers or colored pencils instead of watercolors.
  • To extend project for older students: Work in 2 stages, letting the paint dry between stages. Add details with a drier brush in the second stage.

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Student Gallery

Reflections

  • Analyze and describe how elements of art and principles of design contribute to the expressive qualities of your own artwork.
  • Find examples of multiple watercolor techniques, such as variegated wash, flat wash, puddling, and graphic brushstrokes.
  • Rework a part of your own painting after comparing with other students’ work, assessing your own work, or getting feedback from others. Identify what was reworked and explain how those changes improved the piece.
  • Look for examples that use color and shape to express a personal statement.
  • Identify compositions that are balanced and unified.

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