What’s the Point?

Good question… My interest in studying artists like Paul Klee and Hans Hofmann is to gain a better understanding of how these artists translated their visions into visual language.

One of my favorite quotes from Klee is, “An artist does not reproduce the visible, but rather, makes visible.” One of the most vexing things about learning from Klee’s teaching is that there are steps missing. For instance, he describes the creation of a line as the process of ‘taking a point for a walk.’ However, there is no mention of what motivates the artist to move the pencil point in any particular direction. I imagine that his teachings would be much more effective if he could be available for questions.

Hofmann had another approach to art. He seemed to be fascinated by the mechanisms of perception. I mentioned the other day that he faulted the Impressionists for merely re-creating the color patterns from the scene they were painting, as if the two-dimensional canvas were only reproducing the pattern falling on the retinae of the observers’ eyes. He concluded that seeing in three dimensions involved more than just the sense of sight, but all the other physical senses and the “inner vision” of the artist. He defined ‘inner vision’ as consisting of the artist’s experience, emotional state and empathy.

Different pictorial elements


As I mentioned above, for Klee, everything started with a point. He wrote that latent energy exists in a point. Klee had a term for these energy-laden points: irritated points. However he cared for his points, and frequently took them for walks, that is, he drew lines. He noted tension between points can also yield lines. This is what Klee had to say about pictorial elements:

“I begin where all pictorial form begins: with the point that sets itself in motion. The point (as agent) – moves off and the line comes into being – the first dimension. If the line shifts to form a plane, we obtain a two-dimensional element. In the movement from planes to spaces,the clash of planes give rise to a body (three-dimensional).” (Paul Klee Notebooks, edited by Jürg Spiller. Volume I: The Thinking Eye, translated from the German by Ralph Manheim. Overlook Press 1972 pg.24)


Hofmann did not consider lines and points as important visual elements; his primary pictorial element was the plane. Hofmann writes, “A work based on only a line concept is scarcely more than an illustration; it fails to achieve pictorial structure. … A line concept cannot control pictorial space absolutely. A line may flow freely in and out of space, but cannot independently create the phenomenon of ‘push and pull’ necessary to plastic creation. … Planes are the pillars of the space of my own creation.” (Seitz, W.C. Hans Hofmann: With Selected Writings by the Artist Museum of Modern Art  Reprint Edition, Arno Press 1972 (pg. 24))

Are Klee’s works merely ‘illustrations’, without ‘pictorial structure’? That sounds a bit harsh. I suspect they are much more than that, having been built from elements more granular than the plane. Perhaps many of Klee’s works do not fit the description of being  as ‘plastic’ – or malleable as Hofmann’s. I would disagree that Klee’s work is lacking structure.


The question becomes can an observer reverse engineer Hofmann’s paintings to get an inkling of his ‘inner vision’? Can an museum goer look at Klee’s drawings and watercolors and get a sense of the motivation behind what guided his hand to walk his line in a certain way, or what colors to use?

This is the important factor for me. I hope that I can combine the best parts of the philosophies of Klee and Hofmann to be able to make my own inner vision, visible.

Today’s experiment:

Since yesterday’s attempt to portray the shallow depth of a whale shark beneath the surface of the ocean ended up as a floating pickle, I thought I’d try again.

In my first experiment I first laid down a flat wash of phthalo blue. I blotted up an oval shape. My friend Liz reminded me that shape is only seen when illuminated by light.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Whale Shark #2

After the blotting, I laid down a second color, Ultramarine Pink (Daler Rowney). I was going to do some more work on it, but decided to leave it alone.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Whale Shark #2 Final

Whale Shark, Second Attempt
4″x6″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I am not sure if this is too subtle.

My second experiment is less subtle, but used the same principle as above: Wash, blot, color blotted shape.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Whale Shark #3 Final

Whale Shark #3
4″x6″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

The central red shape does seem to pop out from the blue surround. This is not entirely what I wanted.

Sweet potato anyone?

7 thoughts on “What’s the Point?

  1. I love the ultramarine pink whale shark Jack 🙂 It is so beautiful and delicate. For some reason your first whale shark steps forward out of its background for me more than your sweet potato which doesn’t pop out of its surround at all. Oh dear. Perhaps all theories of perception break down when perceived? Maybe even ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ colours are subjective? Are we wired for this? Does this drift us back to your brother (and my son) and the question of what shapes and colours might stand out for them? Liz

    • Yes, the first whale shark turned out to be a floating pickle. That’s what I get for writing my blog before I paint!

      I also think that sensory issues are prevalent in people like your son and my brother. Not only visual, but auditory and tactile hypersensitivity have been documented.

      I’m glad that these sketches brought out those thoughts.

      All the best, Liz.


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