Kandinsky and Autism

I’m reading The Bauhaus Group, by Nicholas Weber. I just finished the section about Paul Klee and started the one about Wassily Kandinsky.  Klee and Kandinsky were friends and were professors at the Bauhaus at the same time.

Kandinsky’s urge to express his feelings

Several of the passages about Kandinsky, at the start of the section struck a chord with me.  First of all, Kandinsky “crav(ed) to express his feelings through art…” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210). He turned from replicating nature in his art, to abstraction. “Abstraction ‘put an end to the useless torment of the useless tasks that I had then, desire their unattainability, inwardly set myself. It cancelled out this torment and thus my joy in nature and art rose to unclouded heights… To my enjoyment is added a profound sense of gratitude.’” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210)

Kandinsky’s sensorium

Kandinsky also commented about how sensations struck him. “My soul was kept in a state of constant vibration by other purely human disturbances, to the extent that I never had an hour’s peace.”  (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210).  Again, Kandinsky comments, “Everything ‘dead’ trembled. Everything showed me its face, its innermost being, its secret soul, inclined more often to silence than to speech – not only the stars, moon, woods, flowers of which the poets sing, but even a cigar butt lying in the ashtray…” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210).


This might remind some of you of the manifestations which could occur in autism, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. That Kandinsky had this kind of sensory relationship with the world might not be coincidental. It so happens that Kandinsky was a synesthete. Synesthesia is a phenomenon whereby a stimulus to one sense triggers sensations in other modes of perception. For instance, the color red might trigger the synesthete to hear a middle ‘C’ frequency, or a taste might trigger tactile sensations (as in the book The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic).

Simon Baron-Cohen, autism researcher, noted that synesthesia is more prevalent in the autistic population than in non-autistic individuals. He concludes, “The significant increase in synaesthesia prevalence in autism suggests that the two conditions may share some common underlying mechanisms. Future research is needed to develop more feasible validation methods of synaesthesia in autism.”  (Baron-Cohen et al.: Is synaesthesia more common in autism? Molecular Autism 2013 4:40.)  This is not to say that autism is prevalent in synesthetes. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been studied.  It should be heartening to know however, that hypersensitivity can be directed in such a way that offers solace to the individual and pleasure to others.

It is humanity’s fortune that Kandinsky was able to channel what must have been an overwhelming sensitivity into his artwork. We are all the richer for it.

Today’s study

I can’t go a day without a watercolor study. Below is an attempt at wet-on-wet variegated wash. Eventually, I’ll figure out which colors work together and which don’t.

Wet-on-wet technique blue orange yellow

Wet-on-Wet- Blue
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

9 thoughts on “Kandinsky and Autism

  1. I am a synesthete, along with both of my siblings, and I have no doubt that it has some contributory relationship with my son’s Autism. He does not show any signs of synesthesia, however at almost 50 I am still recognizing synesthetic experiences that I never paid attention to before because I did not know they weren’t normal (e.g., flashes of color and shapes with sounds and sensations). He may very well have it too, and we just have to wait until he is more mature to see if he can recognize what I am talking about.

    Great post, thank you!


    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Thank you for your comment. I often think how great it would be to be a synesthete. If you haven’t read it yet, you might enjoy the book, ‘The Man Who Tasted Shapes’ by Richard Cytowic. It is kind of a history of the study of synesthesia. Great read. I will enjoy following your blog and learning more about autism from a Mom’s perspective. Thanks again.


  2. ““Abstraction ‘put an end to the useless torment of the useless tasks that I had then…” Exactly. It’s very liberating. Sumi-e can be that way, too.

    You might like “pouring paint.” If anything will provide you with the soft edges you want, it’s that. Paper makes a world of difference, too. Rice paper is superb for producing a soft edge, if you care to learn the methods involved in working with it.

    I see an eye in your painting…or maybe a VW bug…or a hill silhouetted against the sunset, a peacock feather, a lady’s scarf… . It’s great.


    • Thank you. I appreciate your comment. Pouring paint seems like something interesting to try. The closest I’ve come to that is spattering paint. I imagine that I’d have to get a proper dilution for watercolors before pouring. I’ve been doing the inverse of this when I pour the latex resist onto the paper and paint around it. I will try your suggestion about rice paper. Thank you so much for your suggestions! Also, thank you for your kind words about my painting.


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