My wife and I are getting exposed to some
weird modern art through our five-year-old daughter’s interests. Back in Victoria, one of her first lessons at the 4Cats art studio was based on the works of Andy Warhol. I should mention that my wife is not a fan of Warhol, to put in gently, and at some point we used to have heated discussions about whether the world had collectively gone mad in regarding him as a great artist (of course, recent developments in American politics have re-defined the notion of collective delusion and put arguments about art into perspective). Then, our daughter had another series of lessons based on the art of Roy Lichtenstein and Gustav Klimt. To be fair, the curriculum at 4Cats was balanced in that it also had a session on Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt.
Another favourite artist of our daughter’s is Wassily Kandinsky. In her school back in Canada, they used to paint ‘Kandinsky’s circles’ in the art class, so she was delighted to see a reproduction of the ‘Squares with Concentric Circles’ on the wall in our rental apartment here in Milan. When we saw an advertisement that a Kandinsky’s exhibit was coming up at Museo delle Culture, she was really looking forward to it.
It is fascinating, how some information about the artists and their styles of work trickles down into a five-year-old’s mind. To go to the Kandisky’s exhibit, our daughter wanted to wear her brightest-coloured dress. Quite appropriate.
I studied art history when I was in school, but Kandinsky’s art has never been my interest. Now, because of my daughter’s fascination with his bright colours and stylized figures, I am re-acuanting myself with his work. It is also insightful to learn about the strong influence of Kandinsky’s Russian roots on his art through the prism of our own Russian heritage. Although my daughter and I look at it from two very different perspectives, both in terms of our age and our exposure to the culture, it is something that binds us. I hope that she sees it when she grows up, as I see it now.
Kandinsky’s late work is sometimes jokingly described as child-like. I remember a scene from “Double Jeopardy”, where Tommy Lee Jone’s character, Travis Lehman, asks, pointing at a Kandinsky’s painting: “Those are nice pictures there. Did your kids do them?” When I look at my daughter’s drawings inspired by it, I can see why this is a cliche. The apparent similarity is a perfect illustration of the process of deliberate simplification that great artists like Kandinsky or Picasso go through. They converged on “child-like’ expressions not because they lack technical prowess, but because they eliminated all unnecessary elements in their art. In the case of a child, the process is very different, even if the results appears similar. She lacks the ability to include everything that she would like in her drawings and therefore settles only on the essentials. In other words, a five-year-old is limited by her technique, while the masters have come full circle to transcend the technique.