Wassily (aka Vasily) Kandinsky (1866-1944) is said to be “the founder of abstract painting.” He was a Russian-born mystic and a creative artist.
He also exhibited throughout his life the behavioral traits of Type #5 in the nine-pointed Enneagram personality typology. The Enneagram itself has mystical origins having been brought to the West by the Armenian Greek mystic George Gurdjieff (1872-1949) after he learned it from a secret Sufi “wisdom school” in Afghanistan.
Comparing descriptions of Kandinsky’s evolution as an artist with the traits of the Enneagram #5, we can see the relevance and value of the Enneagram as a tool for self-understanding and Self-realization. First, we will familiarize ourselves with the basic traits of the #5 type which has been labeled the “observer.”
The Enneagram Type #5 “desires anonymity and to view life from the sidelines … life is fascinating to watch from a safe hidden place, but is much too terrifying to take part in. The observer, storing up knowledge of life by viewing it from the sidelines, steps into life when he experiences his essence [True self]. Then and only then can he truly have full knowledge of life.”
The more detail we have on the behavior of the #5 the better we are able to see how Kandinsky exemplified this type as his life unfolded and his artistic expression evolved.
For a Type #5 “anonymity and security are important in order that he can safely watch the world from the peephole of his hiding place. Not only is he avid for the means to maintain his corner, he also is greedy for knowledge of what is going on in life, so that he can feel alive.”
And finally, Type #5 observers “detach from charged emotions [emotional reactions] and retire into privacy to find out what they feel [how to respond to life]. Drained by public encounters [P-B behaviors] with people, they crave isolation [for meditation] to recharge themselves. Often positioned as thinkers and strategists, Fives like protected work environments with no interruptions. They prefer limited contact and agendas announced in advance. At its best, the stance of detachment produces clear-minded analysis. As a psychological strategy, detachment restricts emotional contact.”
The Enneagram, like all typologies, is used and interpreted in different ways by different practitioners. In the West, because we have become more reliant on the intellect and less on intuition, we do not often see typologies as having a relationship with Self-transformation. Practitioner and theorist Helen Palmer sees the Enneagram as a mystical system that also uses psychological type. “By linking the preoccupations of type with specific aspects of higher consciousness, the Enneagram joins the power of a Western psychological model with the agendas of sacred tradition.”
Now that we have set the context, we will see how Kandinsky’s identity and his life’s experience were shaped by being an Enneagram Type #5. Take a look at Kandinsky’s paintings to see how his Self-transformation is expressed as he moves from representational images depicting the world of form to expressing his Essence in the “chorus” of bold colors of his abstract expressionist vision.
Having that profound connection to Reality that mystic’s do, Kandinsky could “hear” colors, see colors in sounds and could experience the sounds of words beyond their literal meaning. It is typical of the Type #5 to synthesize sensory input in their intuitive quest to reconstruct the shattered world of P-B, to restore it to the “Oneness” of P-A. This is, in fact, the unspoken longing for all of humanity. Not having the narrative of Simple Reality to support and direct our deepest yearnings, we stand before the canvas of our life, not knowing where to begin our first stroke or what color to use.
Type #5 mystics are usually successful after finding the courage to just “do it” as they begin to etch, splash, brush, and scrape the lines, colors, textures and forms in daring diagonals and arabesques. They tend to trust the process and their own connection to the Implicate Order and eventually pass through the valley of the shadow of death into the dawn of the awakened Self. Such was the life’s journey of Wassily Kandinsky.
The Active Strategist
Type #5: “The observer, storing up knowledge of life by viewing it from the sidelines, steps into life when he experiences his essence [True self].”
The Phalanx exhibition of 1903 was the first time Kandinsky entered the public arena as an artist. “Phalanx also gave him his first opportunity to act as leader of a group of kindred spirits.”
“He was never solely a painter, but a theoretician, intermediary and organizer at the same time.”
Type #5: “At its best, the stance of detachment produces clear-minded analysis. Often positioned as thinkers and strategists.”
Kandinsky was willing to participate actively in the small community of artists who banded together with a common vision for the future of art. They would strategize and decide on what tactics to use in overcoming the beliefs, attitudes and values of the old “story” and the entrenched establishment of academics and critics who opposed change in how art was defined.
The Struggle with His False Self
Type #5: “Observers detach from charged emotions [false self emotional reactions] and retire into privacy to find out what they feel [how to consciously respond to life]. Drained by public encounters [P-B behaviors] with people, they crave isolation [for meditation] to recharge themselves.”
If we are content to be contained in P-B dependent upon our survival strategy we can usually survive living our life of “quiet desperation.” Kandinsky’s “still small voice” would not permit that and he was stressed in his early life because he could not bring his inner vision and artistic expression into alignment. “Behind him (1908) lay a period of artistic difficulties, personal problems, and even bouts of depression. [His] search for a new pictorial means was proving painful and laborious. All these factors exacerbated his turbulent mental state, and during his last trip to Paris he almost had a nervous breakdown.” There were times after being active in the avant-garde when he needed to retreat and lick his wounds.
Type #5: “Desires anonymity and to view life from the sidelines. For him life is fascinating to watch from a safe hidden place, but is much too terrifying to take part in.”
“I hate it when people see what I’m really feeling. Sometimes I’d like to be utterly alone in the world, estranged from the whole world, perhaps enemies with it. Out of society with me! Absolute solitude! No one understands me. I feel, think, dream, always want to be different from the others.”
Struggling to choose response over reaction, Kandinsky seeks to open the channels to the Implicate Order, enter the present moment and find the clarity which will allow him to express his unique gift. “I myself was not yet sufficiently mature to experience purely abstract form without bridging the gap by means of objects. If I had possessed this ability, I would already have created absolute pictures [abstract expressionism] at that time.”
The Evolution of His Vision
In 1909 the mystic in Kandinsky began to appear in his paintings. “Kandinsky began to produce pictures in which, for the first time, motifs and objects appear mysterious and cryptic.” At the same time the disintegration of form (illusion of P-B) begins to take place.
A major influence on Kandinsky’s gradually emerging identity was Paul Cezanne who also used colors boldly without the need to depict form realistically. “Colour is the place where our mind and the universe meet.” The affinity that all of us have with kindred spirits with whom we can identify and from whom we can find support is critically important. In mythology these people are called “helpers.” Early on Kandinsky began to realize that depicting objects in his painting felt unfulfilling. “His encounter with Monet’s Haystacks in an exhibition in Russia [provided] confirmation that the object represented a disturbing element in his pictures.”
“A work of art, he believed, should no longer depend upon an external model such as nature. Instead, the decisive factor in the genesis of a picture should be the inner voice of the artist.” In the context of Simple Reality we learn the importance of not finding our identity in the illusory world of form especially the body, mind and emotions. Something similar happened to Kandinsky when he came to realize that painting objects disturbed him. As he evolved from representational painting to what he called “absolute painting” it was as if his false self began to dissolve along with the recognizable objects in his paintings. “Thus objects began to dissolve more and more in my pictures. This can be seen in nearly all the pictures of 1910.”
The Spiritual Awakening
With Kandinsky the relationships among beauty, artistic expression and the larger arena of spiritual awakening was holistic. “According to Kandinsky, the ‘inner sound’ of a work of art must produce a corresponding resonance in the soul of the viewer. ‘In general, colour is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings. The artist is the hand that purposefully sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key.’”
As an awakening mystic Kandinsky begins to intuit the illusory nature of the material world and the folly of relying on the intellect to reveal Reality. As P-B began to fade, as it inevitably does for those experiencing the process of awakening, Kandinsky became one of those indomitable seekers “who examine matter over and over again and finally cast doubt upon matter itself, which yesterday was the basis of everything, and upon which the whole universe was supported.” He worried about the unsustainable behavior that derives from P-B. “In Kandinsky’s eyes, humankind is overly dominated by materialistic thinking, and our feelings are under threat of growing coarse. ‘Our souls, when one succeeds in touching them, give out a hollow ring.’”
In his poetry Kandinsky addressed what he saw as the delusional behavior of those around him. He realized that this was caused in part by over-reliance on the intellect and trusting the senses to reveal the nature of reality (P-B) which he knew was an illusion. “Kandinsky’s poems reveal the emptiness of appearances and of reason.”
Artistic expression usually involves a higher than normal level of awareness because of the more profound connection it has to the Implicate Order during the creative process. Kandinsky saw this even in ancient and primitive art. “Just like us, those pure artists wanted to capture in their works the inner essence of things, which of itself brought about a rejection of the external, the accidental.”
In a final shift from the objective to the subjective, Kandinsky comes to rely wholly on his “internal necessity” (intuition). “Kandinsky viewed the power of the ‘spiritual,’ inner voice, as the ultimate authority.” And finally, he is able to make the distinction between emotion and feeling thereby attaining the authentic power that is the doorway beyond suffering and illusion. “The spirit that will lead us into the realms of tomorrow can only be recognized through feeling.”
Creating in the Present Moment
Type #5: “At its best, the stance of detachment produces clear-minded analysis.”
Artists, because they often are working with a vivid “presence” as they focus on their creative process, show the rest of us how beauty can lead to truth. “In such a situation where man’s gaze turns inwards upon himself, literature, music and art ‘are the first and most sensitive realms where this spiritual change becomes noticeable in real form.’” His friend Louis Moilliet sensed Kandinsky’s ability to live in the Now. “He definitely is somebody, and he has an exceptionally beautiful and clear head.”
Had Kandinsky lived in the context of Simple Reality his goal would not have been to express life as a Five but to use his awareness of those traits to deepen his Self-awareness. That awareness would have enabled him to attain his highest artistic expression. Having the highest possible aspiration, reaching for the stars, will result in reaching our natural state of being.
Kandinsky clearly had extraordinary gifts, but more importantly he had the courage to choose again and again to live in the present moment—not an easy choice for a Five. Always remaining true to his inner vision, he let himself be guided by his intuition and was wise enough to reject the common pursuits of materiality, pleasure and power. And yet the Five’s trait of being the observer, insisting on a simple lifestyle, and retreating for periodic isolation and meditation did support Kandinsky’s self-transformation. For Vasily Kandinsky a #5 was a good type to be.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.