Paul Klee and Flatland


It’s been a long time since I read Flatland by Edward Abbott. Abbott, Headmaster of City of London School, wrote this work of fiction in 1884. Abbott described a world that only existed in two dimensions. Strict class divisions and hierarchy were in force in Flatland. For instance, the female form was the line segment, whereas males were the polygons; polygons with more sides were considered closer to the perfect form: the circle. The laws of Flatland required females to make sounds as they walked, so they did not pierce the males as they moved. In two dimensions, a line seen on end, is a point, a sharp point it seems. Some have interpreted Flatland as a social commentary about the Victorian Era, but it is better known today as a work of science fiction; some call it a mathematical fiction. Without delving into the plot, the inhabitants of the two-dimensional world cannot imagine a third dimension, just as it is impossible for us to imagine a world of four dimensions.

Similarities between Flatland and Klee’s world?

Abbott’s treatment of geometrical shapes imbued them with personality. I have the impression that Klee treated his pictorial elements similarly. The example from yesterday’s post bears repeating: the very first sentence of his Pedagogical Sketchbook, refers to a reclining “S”-shaped line as “[a]n active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal. A walk for a walk’s sake. The mobility agent is a point, shifting its position forward.” (Klee, P. Pedagogical Sketchbook, New York: Frederick A. Praeger 1953 pg. 18).

Klee animates his lines, referring to freely-moving active lines, active lines restricted by fixed points, passive lines that activate planes, and medial lines.

[Note: Coming from a science background, my conception of a ‘medial’ line is “close to the midline”. This is how one orients oneself to anatomic structures. However, thanks to Robert Kudielka I now know that Klee referred to ‘medial’ as a grammatical tense between active and passive. “[Klee] oriented himself in the grammar of ancient Greek, with which he was familiar through his classical education. There is a middle voice between the active and passive in ancient Greek, which is used for all those actions that are neither actively directed nor passively endured, such as ‘appearing’, ‘speaking’, ‘dancing’. Drawing as the movement of a point ‘that sets itself in motion’ can be seen as such a middle voice.” (Kudielka, R.  Paul Klee: The Nature of Creativity, Works 1914 – 1940. London: Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2002 pg. 54).]

Klee seems to create a narrative with each journey of his points, some becoming lines with different properties, some become planes. I must learn a lot more before I can fully appreciate the interactions among the elements of Klee’s work.

I end this section with Klee’s description of a triangle: “The triangle came into being when a point entered into a relation of tension with a line and, following the command of its Eros, discharged this tension. The tension between point and line is characteristic of the triangle.” (Klee, P. translation of Jürg Spiller (ed.)The Thinking Eye, 1961 pg. 113)

I doubt that this concept ever crossed Edward Abbott’s Victorian mind.

Today’s experiment

Drawing and painting with my left hand. 

I am trying to improve my brain. I heard somewhere that attempting to perform a task with one’s non-dominant hand can help exercise ‘the little gray cells’, as Hercule Poirot would say.  I would try shaving with my left hand, but I’m a bleeder… (<– joke).

I held an apple in my right hand as I drew it with my left hand. That wasn’t so bad, I’ve often practiced drawing and writing with my left hand. The bad part was painting. I had no control whatsoever. It took all I could to to stay within the lines. As far as nuanced shading, forget it. It was a very uncomfortable feeling, to say the least.

Watercolor Sketch - Left-handed Drawing of Right Hand Holding an Apple

Left-handed Drawing of Right Hand Holding an Apple
5″x7″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


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