Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art

Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator:  Mary GrandPre 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Random House, 2014   ISBN: 978-0307978486

Vasya Kandinsky, like so many other little well-to-do boys in Russia, spent his days studying math, science, and history. He practiced the piano, and “sat stiff and straight” during meals. Vasya lived a perfectly “polite” life, until one day when his aunt gave him his first set of paints. Vasya’s aunt showed him how to mix the colors on the paint box’s pallet and then Vasya began to explore the world of colors for himself. As he mixed colors he heard sounds. To him “The swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a magical symphony.”

Not surprisingly, the grownups could not hear a thing and they thought that Vasya was being “silly” and “foolish,” but Vasya did not care. He “painted the sound of the colors,” and to him his painting made absolute sense. However, no one else understood his abstract art. His painting did not look like anything that they could recognize, so they decided that Vasya needed to attend an art class so that he could paint pictures of flowers and houses. Just like everyone else.

Vasya went on to study the law and he lived the life that people expected him to have. He did not paint any more. This did not mean that he stopped hearing colors. He did hear them, and one day, when he went to the opera, he also heard the music as colors. To him the music was dancing in swirls, lines, arches and points in vermilion, aqua, saffron and other colors.

From that day on, Vasya couldn’t quite manage being proper and normal. He gave up his job as a lawyer and moved to Germany to study art. At last he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. The problem was that Vasya still painted pictures that people did not understand. He created abstract art, which was new and unfamiliar.

This wonderful picture book celebrates creative people who experience the world in different ways, and who create art that reflects those experiences. On the pages we meet Vasya Kindinsky, the first painter to really explore creating abstract art. We see how his art was rejected by the establishment of the time, and how Vasya kept on painting in spite of this. The fact that he could hear colors and see music as colors was miraculous.