Note to reader:


I am a part-time HGSE master¹s student in the AIE program. I am interested in pursuing doctoral research into the ethical/moral development of the high creative achiever. I have developed a research model to study my proposed new category of study: the highly creative moral exemplar. Below is an abbreviated version of a paper written to propose this new category of extraordinary achievement in the intersection of ethics and creativity in the individual artist.


Thank you for your interest in this work and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.


Robin Masi

Ed.M. candidate, HGSE




Robin Masi, Ed.M. Candidate, HGSE, AIE program

Abbreviated Paper on Kandinsky


It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose. He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a handŠThe artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one that often proves a cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling, and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to arise, that he is free in art but not in life.

                                                                                    Wassily Kandinsky, 1911


Artist as Saint: Wassily Kandinsky as Highly Creative Moral Exemplar

Can a portrait be drawn of an individual who exhibits exceptional creative abilities as well as the desire and ability to do good through the creative work? Can the ³good work² of a highly creative artist who provides a morally altering experience for the viewer be equated and/or intersected with the moral exemplar who creates a morally altering experience for the follower? If good work encompasses work that is excellent, ethical, and feels good to the individual performing the work (Gardner, et al, 2001), can the aesthetic work of an artist whose intent and result is to provide a transcendental and/or morally changing experience for the viewer be equated with the service the moral exemplar provides for those in need? How can we determine if the creative individual and the aesthetic output are exemplary in a moral sense? The goal of this inquiry is to propose a new category for further research: the highly creative moral exemplar. 

Exploring these questions brings us into the areas of ethics, creativity, the arts, psychology, and religion. Issues to explore include religious background, commitment, and influences; ethics of truth, justice, love, and compassion; the definition of a saint or virtuous individual; the treatment of special relations; artistic intentionality and achievement; individualism vs. communitarianism; psychological aspects of creativity; and the domain reaction to the creative and moral message. There are many key areas of intersection among each paradigm that could involve a lifetime of study. However, the point of this research is to conduct an analysis of the context and writings of past high creative achievers with a strong religious/spiritual perspective using the moral exemplar framework to determine if a model can be formed. The subject for this initial area of inquiry is visual artist and philosopher of art, Wassily Kandinsky; the founder of abstract painting and the spiritual in art movement. In addition to systematically elevating painting beyond the realistic, he left an extensive body of writing that defines his reflections, philosophy, and insights for other artists to emulate. His seminal work, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, still in print and widely acclaimed, explores the need for art to depart from the objective world and to discover a new subject matter based only on the artist¹s inner need.


Current Research: Ethical and Moral Development

During the last fifty years there has been a great deal of important work done in the area of ethical and moral development. Piaget, Kohlberg, Keegan, and Gardner are past and current HGSE professors who have made important contributions to this field. This research would work within the framework of the stages of moral development and Good Work model and use the population of high creative achievers for exploration. Ronald Thiemann of the Harvard Divinity School has developed characteristics of the public intellectual/connected critic and HDS professor Donald Swearer¹s framework of the moral exemplar would also be utilized in this research.


The Highly Creative Moral Exemplar

If the moral exemplar is defined as one who embodies moral principles such as love, compassion and justice in his or her example, actions, and teachings what of the artist who creates works that also embodies these principles? Although the particular ethics driving the work varies, I would like to suggest that the creation of such a work of art is an exemplary action. For example, in the work of Judith Baca, muralist in L.A.,Baca not only creates mile-long murals that address gang violence but gathers rival gangs together to create the work in community and have a dialogue about the issues at hand. Baca is working out of a strong justice ethic. Although not regularly dealing within a justice framework in his work, Picasso¹s Guernica is one of the most widely acclaimed works addressing war and violence, core topics of justice issues in the twentieth century. Works of exemplary art that operate out of the virtue ethic of love would be the universally transcendent works of Beethoven, Brahms, and Michelangelo¹s Sistine Chapel and Pieta.


If the exemplary artwork is created over time through a groundbreaking body of work, and the work has the desired affect on the viewer, this is similar to the collective moral action/work of the moral exemplar. Furthermore, if the artist develops a philosophy for other artists to emulate, the scope is broadened providing a universal means for other artists to emulate on a global scale. This threefold phenomenon of creating the groundbreaking creative work, developing the exemplary philosophy, and having the desired effect on the viewer all occurs in the life and work of Wassily Kandinsky, the proposed highly creative moral exemplar and one equated here with such moral exemplars as Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thich Nhat Hahn. A discussion of Kandinsky¹s context and writings will be followed by an exploration of how his creative and moral exemplary characteristics merge in his life and work.


Other Proposed Twentieth Century Highly Creative Moral Exemplars in the Visual Arts  for Further Inquiry




Other arts areas:

Music: John Lennon, Bono



If we use the metaphor of a triangle to merge our two paradigms we would have the model of the artist whose goal is to perform good work through a creative means. There are many artists who would be working hard in the lower segments of the triangle: for example, those who work on collaborative community projects with teens and those who have created a few moving works during their lifetime. Moving upward to the middle of the triangle are the more widely acclaimed artists who have founded organizations, created works and also written down their thoughts in articles or books. Toward the top of the triangle are those artists whose universally transcendent creative work not only breaks paradigms, but who found art movements, and form communities, while maintaining a strong hold to their moral and spiritual core. These artists are not motivated by profit, critical acclaim or art world exposure. They do not keep their gifts to themselves and their canvases but leave extensive inspirational and directive writings to inspire other artists to tap their inner soul in order to spread good creative work throughout the world. Their message is universal, accessible, and they amass a strong following over the decades that continue to build. These artists are few in number due to their groundbreaking creative achievements, and fewer still, due to their strong moral core and commitment. It is difficult enough to reach the peak of either triangle: the moral exemplar or the high creative achiever. However, there are a few individuals in history who have achieved strong positions at the apex of each: Wassily Kandinsky stands firmly at the top of both.


And so the arts are encroaching one upon the other, and from a proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly monumental. Every man who steeps himself in the spiritual possibilities of his art is a valuable helper in the building of this spiritual pyramid which will some day reach to heaven.

Wassily Kandinsky, 1911



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