Color, long denigrated by philosophers and painters as inferior to form, was “emancipated” by a number of modernist artists, perhaps most notably Wassily Kandinsky and his collaborators in Der Blaue Reiter. Not only was it elevated above form, but it was also freed from the imperative to imitate the perceived colors of the real world and its identification with mere surface appearance. Among Kandinsky’s greatest enthusiasts was Walter Benjamin, whose fragmentary writings on color celebrated its spiritual powers and resistance to the conceptual abstractions of language. Although he ultimately abandoned his quest for a new theory of color that would somehow serve the more radical emancipation of humankind he sought, Benjamin never lost his fascination for the experience of color he attributed to children, an experience that prefigured the utopian redemption of the senses he hoped might one day be realized.
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Martin Jay; Chromophilia: Der Blaue Reiter, Walter Benjamin, and the Emancipation of Color. positions 1 February 2018; 26 (1): 13–33. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-4263092
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