Before, during and after World War I, artists sought to create paradigms that would move European culture in a new direction, a tabula rasa for the arts. The German Bauhaus, the Dadaists at the Cafe Voltaire in Zurich and the post impressionists performed a fresh aesthetic that would integrate art, architecture, music, philosophy and spiritual psychology. The Avant garde, infused with musical and intellectual dissonance clashed with nationalistic myths perpetuated by nascent fascist regimes. Wassily Kandinsky sought to express the soul of art, each piece becoming the sum of its prior parts. Having studied music and the law as a young man growing up in an affluent Russian family, he found new life in art and resonance with Madam Blavatsky and the Theosophists as he describes in his book The Art of Spiritual Harmony. While he remains a noted theorist among symbolist artists, his insistence on remaining true to the expression of the most vital inner compulsion of his soul and in translating music visually is most apparent in the development and increasing abstraction of his work.
European art in the late 19th and early 20th Century expressed the transformation of naturalism as it was expressed in the Art Nouveau period into more symbolic and abstract styles of the Modern Art movement.
The dissonance of the modern era is lyrically expressed in the explosion of sub-conscious imagery in the turn of the 20th Century. Electrified music has done the same for the 21st. Kandinsky sought to project the impulse of his soul, much like James Turrell projects his inner light onto the public canvas. Will we recognize the essence of our humanity in their expression?
If the emotional power of the artist can overwhelm the “how?” and can give free scope to his finer feelings, then art is on the crest of the road by which she will not fail later on to find the “what” she has lost, the “what” which will show the way to the spiritual food of the newly awakened spiritual life. This “what?” will no longer be the material, objective “what” of the former period, but the internal truth of art, the soul without which the body (i.e. the “how”) can never be healthy, whether in an individual or in a whole people.