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What did Kandinsky believe circles represented?

Wassily Kandinsky was an influential Russian painter and art theorist who is considered one of the pioneers of abstract art. Kandinsky wrote extensively about the associations and meanings he saw in different colors and shapes. According to Kandinsky, the circle held deep symbolic meaning.

Kandinsky’s Color Theory

Kandinsky had a complex theory relating colors and shapes to emotions, moods, and music. He believed circles, like other shapes, elicited emotional and spiritual responses based on their color.

In his 1910 text Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky provided a detailed list of color associations. He linked yellow to disturbances, orange to pride and confidence, red to vigor, purple to sadness, blue to spirituality, and more. Kandinsky saw circles and other shapes as visual tools to evoke certain feelings or ideas.

Meaning of Circles

Kandinsky associated the following meanings with circles in abstract art:

  • Wholeness
  • Infinity
  • Unity
  • Perfection
  • The cosmos
  • The spiritual realm

He believed circles symbolized concepts that were timeless, boundless, and profound. Kandinsky viewed circles as representations of the universe’s grand order and hidden harmony. The simplicity and continuity of the shape embodied cosmic totality and equilibrium for him.

Represents the Spiritual Realm

Most significantly, Kandinsky felt circles evoked the spiritual dimension. In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he described the circle as “the most modest form, but asserts itself unconditionally.” For Kandinsky, the circle was the most subtle yet powerful shape for conveying the presence of the spiritual in art.

In his abstract compositions, Kandinsky used circles to suggest spiritual ideas or transcendental realms beyond ordinary perception. Floating circles represented glimpses of cosmic unity and sacred interior worlds.

Kandinsky’s Thoughts on Circle Colors

Kandinsky associated different colors of circles with varying mystical or emotional resonances:

  • Yellow circles – disturbing or agitating effect
  • Orange circles – confident, extroverted energy
  • Red circles – physical vigor and exertion
  • Violet circles – tragic or mournful feeling
  • Blue circles – calm, divine, and dreaming associations
  • Green circles – tranquility and hope

He cautioned that shape and color combinations impacted each other. A yellow circle next to black might seem warm and radiant, whereas beside blue it could be perceived as discordant.

Famous Circle Paintings by Kandinsky

Kandinsky explored the symbolism of circles in many famous paintings:

  • The Yellow Sound (1909) – Features a central, overlapping yellow circle representing a cosmic sound’s diffusion.
  • Composition IV (1911) – Circles in different colors and sizes feature prominently, evoking spiritual vibration.
  • Circles in a Circle (1923) – Nested blue, yellow, and red circles create a sense of radiating, harmony, and universality.

Quotations About Kandinsky’s Use of Circles

Here are some quotes from Kandinsky illuminating his feelings about the meaning of circles:

“The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium.”

“The circle … I use in order to bring the isolated phenomena into general vibration.”

“Circles … touch the strings of our innermost vibrations, so that a circle has become an intimate thing for the modern soul.”

These quotes emphasize Kandinsky’s belief that circles produce sympathetic vibrations across physical and spiritual planes. The visual harmony and equilibrium of circles affected inner emotions.


For Kandinsky, circles were more than merely pleasing shapes – they held profound symbolic significance. His writing and paintings explored the ability of circles to evoke complex emotions, ideas, and spiritual truths. Kandinsky saw circles as representations of wholeness, infinity, unity, perfection, and the sacred realm. The deceptively simple form resonated on mystical levels for this pioneer of abstract art.

Through his color theory and famous paintings, Kandinsky contemplated how color influenced circles’ emotional and spiritual effects. His innovative compositions demonstrated the potential of abstract circles to express transcendent realities, cosmic harmonies, and universal order. Kandinsky’s work inspired many subsequent artists to explore mysticism, emotion, and music through abstract shapes and colors.

In summary, Kandinsky believed circles represented fundamental aspects of existence, particularly the presence of the divine or spiritual in the universe and the human mind. His writing and artwork using circles profoundly influenced modern attitudes toward abstraction in art.