Vasily Kandinsky's seminal treatise, Über das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art), sparked widespread interest in abstraction in the years leading up to World War I. The book, which he claimed had been gestating for nearly a decade, elucidated his artistic theories and his valuing of expression and spirituality over naturalistic representation. It also introduced his new pictorial categories derived from the field of music—impressions, improvisations, and compositions—which further de-emphasized the importance of recognizable subject matter. On the cover and in ten woodcuts, Kandinsky illustrated his ideas by reducing complex scenes of spiritual battle and redemption to simplified designs of lines and shapes. For Kandinsky, abstraction was a weapon for transforming what he perceived to be a corrupt, materialist society.
Despite Munich publisher Reinhard Piper's fears, Über das Geistige in der Kunst sold well, and it went through three editions between December 1911 and the end of 1912. An English translation appeared in 1914, but the outbreak of World War I thwarted a fourth revised German edition and planned translations into Russian, French, and Dutch.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.