I am at an impasse today.This happens a lot when I attempt to make progress in what I am learning. It is very frustrating. I am trying to understand the notebooks of Paul Klee. At least I am not alone finding Klee’s Notebooks (actually, volume 2, The Nature of Nature) understandable, yet difficult to implement. Bridget Rigby, Artist and co-curator of the show “Paul Klee: The Nature of Creation”, had this to say in an introductory essay in the exhibition’s catalog: (Kudielka, R. Paul Klee: The Nature of Creation. London: Haywood Gallery 2002)

“As anybody who has ever looked into these books [Klee’s Notebooks] will understand I could not find any systematic coherence in either of them.”

However she was able to notice and benefit from the points that recurred throughout these volumes.

Artistry of the Mentally Ill

How did Klee arrive at his approach? One of the books he read was Artistry of the Mentally Ill by Hans Prinzhorn, who was a medical doctor in addition to being an art historian.  “Writing in his diary in 1912, Klee focuses his attention on the work of children and ‘the mentally diseased’ as inspiration for sweeping reformation in an art world that had, in his eyes, degenerated into ‘the very incarnation of exhaustion.’” (On Outsider Art and the Margins of the Mainstream by By Marcus Davies)

Klee’s teaching

What actually is his approach to art? I have yet to read the entirety of his work, but I am hoping that I can understand Paul Klee’s approach to ‘making visible’, before I go to the booby hatch myself, or just give up.

Here is what I understand Klee’s teachings so far:

  1. the idea of taking a point for a walk;
  2. visual rhythms can be accomplished with fast oscillations and slow wavy ones;
  3. closed loops represent planar or curved surfaces;
  4. structure of a drawing is like temporal art (music) where rhythm and timing are accomplished by controlling the observers’ gazes;
  5. the task of an artist is to ‘make visible’, not to reproduce the visible.

Musical analogy:

How does a composer compose? Surely, to begin a musical composition, one must have a tune in one’s head. And a beat. One can hum a note… It is not the same thing as say, taking one’s vocal chords out for a walk, is it? Perhaps a tune can enter one’s brain through the ambient sounds of birds, rustling of trees or even street traffic. Rhythm can be obtained by time keepers in one’s own body: the heart, the lungs. The next level of organization includes the overall form. For example, the normal four-movement form of the symphony became (Jackson 1999, 26; Stein 1979, 106):

  1. an opening sonata or allegro
  2. a slow movement, such as adagio
  3. a minuet or scherzo with trio
  4. an allegro, rondo, or sonata

Is Klee’s statement about visual art (Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible) transferrable to the musical arts? Let’s try it out: Music does not reproduce the audible but rather it makes audible?

This might be true, especially if the composer is not using ambient sounds.

I conclude that the visual artist and the musical composer bring something unseen or unheard from inside their heads, into the world where their works can be sensed by others.

I’m still left with the question: how do they do it?

Perhaps they slog along with daily experiments.

Today’s experiment:

Rhythm in two colors.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Expressionist Rhythm and Dot

Rhythm in Two Colors with Red Dot
9″x14″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

This is a literal example of Klee’s three stages of the river. My composition goes from a quiet pool at the upper left, through a course of rapids to the final resting place. The overlapping yellow could be seen as a measure of contrasting energy: calm at both ends and excited in the middle.

Perhaps this is a good example of a very, very simple structure.

It didn’t turn out as I envisioned it, however.

9 thoughts on “Impasse

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