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Beyond Belief
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God in the Abstract: Form and shape as a sensual portal into spiritual and psychological systems.
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Church Façade 5, 1914. Charcoal on paper glued onto chipboard. 28 1/4 in. x 19 1/8 in. Collection SFMOMA. © 2013 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA. Mondrian tried to preserve many of the drawings he brought with him to New York, and he glued many of them onto homosote (chipboard) panels which caused them to discolor.
Church of Abstraction
The Bible’s second commandment prohibits the creation of “graven images” or producing the likeness of any human form for the purpose of worshipping it. This rule is responsible for the lack of figurative art in traditional Judaism and is one of the sources for a similar approach in Islam.

Piet Mondrian, and his colleagues associated with the Dutch De Stijl (The Style), similarly avoided the figurative in their art, seeking instead to convey theories of universal harmony and balance through abstraction.

According to Mondrian, abstraction is:

“For our senses these are two different things—the spiritual and the material. To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual.”

“Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.”

“New art cannot be manifested as (naturalistic) concrete representations, which always directs attention more or less to particular form even when universal vision is present—or in any case conceals the universal within itself.”

Colorful Expressions
In the early years of the twentieth century, the German group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) believed color to be a powerful artistic tool. As cofounder Vasily Kandinsky said, “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

Click below to reveal Kandinsky’s interpretation of the primary colors.
Blue

Blue

“Blue is the typical heavenly colour. The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest. When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human. When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its appeal to men grows weaker and more distant.”
Yellow

Yellow

“Yellow is the typically earthly colour. It can never have profound meaning. An intermixture of blue makes it a sickly color. It may be paralleled in human nature, with madness, not with melancholy or hypochondriacal mania, but rather with violent raving lunacy.”
Red

Red

“The unbounded warmth of red has not the irresponsible appeal of yellow, but rings inwardly with a determined and powerful intensity. It glows in itself, maturely, and does not distribute its vigor aimlessly.”
Vasily Kandinsky
Vasily Kandinsky
Wiederklänge (Echoes), 1928. Watercolor and ink on paper. 19 1/4 in. x 9 7/8 in. Collection SFMOMA, fractional gift of Jan and Mitsuko Shrem, Clos Pegase Winery Collection. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Ben Blackwell.
Paul Klee
Paul Klee
Ein Genius serviert ein kleines Frühstück (A Spirit Serves a Little Breakfast) or Engel bringt das Gewünschte (Angel Brings What Is Desired), 1920. Lithograph with watercolor. 7 13/16 in. x 5 3/4 in. Extended loan and promised gift of the Djerassi Art Trust to SFMOMA. Photo: Don Ross.
Heavenly Gifts
Paul Klee’s intimately scaled works, especially his more than fifty depictions of angels, have often been described as “childlike,” evoking wonder, playfulness, and imagination. Angel Brings What Is Desired creates room for interpretation about what kind of angel this is, and what it might bring.

In different spiritual traditions, angels have brought:

When the Hebrew patriarch Jacob wrestled with an unnamed angel in Genesis, Jacob emerged bruised but victorious. He also emerged from this battle with a new name, Israel, which means “he who wrestles.” As his mysterious opponent explained: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

The angel Gabriel, who in Jewish tradition speaks to the prophet Daniel and in Christian tradition announces the coming of Jesus to the Virgin Mary, is known in Islamic tradition for bringing the gift of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe that Gabriel descended to earth to begin revealing the holy Islamic scriptures on the night of Laylat al-Qadr (“The Night of Destiny”), which occurs near the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The angel Raphael, which in Hebrew means “he who heals,” is considered among Catholics to be the patron saint of medical workers, matchmakers, and travelers. In the Christian Book of Tobit, Raphael heals Tobit of his blindness with the gallbladder of a fish.

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, reported being visited by the angel Moroni, who guided him to a location near his home in New York where two golden plates were buried. These plates held the Book of Mormon which Smith translated, after which he returned the plates to the angel.