This article investigates the significance of Goethean natural science for the development of abstract modes of painting that would emerge with Wassily Kandinsky in the early twentieth century. While early abstractionists like Kandinsky unveiled their artworks with publications providing intellectual justification for an objectless art, a theoretical framework for a mode of viewing necessary for engaging with abstract art was already in existence, having been conceived by Goethe in his 1792 essay "Versuch als Vermittler von Objekt und Subjekt." Close reading of this text reveals a primary model for a cognitive viewing subject who draws on sensory experience and cognitive faculties to assume a critically significant degree of subjectivity in aesthetic encounters. To demonstrate how the mode of viewing theorized by Goethe might operate in praxis, this article analyzes an exemplary moment of spectatorship credited for bringing about abstract art: Kandinsky's storied first encounter with Claude Monet's Haystacks.


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pp. 203-228
Launched on MUSE
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