Writing in 1934, 20 years after the demise of the Blue Rider Group, the critic Sheldon Cheney articulated the aesthetic of abstract painting around which the group had coalesced. Cheney described the artists in this circle as striving toward "absolute abstraction",... [more]
Writing in 1934, 20 years after the demise of the Blue Rider Group, the critic Sheldon Cheney articulated the aesthetic of abstract painting around which the group had coalesced. Cheney described the artists in this circle as striving toward "absolute abstraction", which they considered "a sort of mystic revelation of harmonious cosmic order". The core of ideas for this mystical approach to art came from Wassily Kandinsky, who also provided the name for the group from the enigmatic title of one of his paintings. In 1911, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, and August Macke established Der Blaue Reiter as an Expressionist entity separate from the less intuitive movement of German Expressionism.
While the members of the group did not share a style, they shared the belief that color and form could communicate the soul of the artist to the viewer. In his book "Concerning the Spiritual in Art", Kandinsky asserted that art contains a power of inner harmony that speaks to viewers intuitively. Shapes, colors, lines, and patterns all have psychological effects, and artists can compose these elements as a composer might use tone and melody. Kandinsky insisted that "color is a means to exert a direct influence on the soul...Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with many strings".
Kandinsky and Klee particularly felt the connection between painting and music -- both sought a visual art that could communicate emotion as clearly as music. Searching outside of the rational post-Renaissance ideas of Western art, they and other Blaue Reiter artists found inspiration in German and Russian folk art, ancient art, the arts of Africa and Oceania, as well as art produced by children and the mentally ill. The artwork of these cultures and groups provided examples of expressive power not found in salon or mainstream art.
As a group, the Blaue Reiter artists leaned toward an abstraction that reduced objects to their elemental substructures rather than distorting them; they were sympathetic to their audience's desire for a pure, eternal aesthetic experience. These aesthetic goals would lead Kandinsky toward pure abstraction in his painting and toward an early Performance art that sought to integrate several artistic disciplines. Macke concerned himself with Seurat-like landscapes populated by the men and women of his era, simplistically rendered: a woman window-shopping or colorful figures strolling through a park. Franz Marc wrote that pure art is a metaphorical act of creation entirely "of and for itself". Kandinsky and Marc shared the Romantic ideal that art is closely related to religion. The group disbanded at the outbreak of World War I, in which August Macke and Franz Marc were killed.