Last week in our beginners' guide to Bauhaus, Paul Klee’s teaching notes from the Pedagogical Sketchbook looked like maths class. This week, as our blogs editor sits down for another lesson with curator Matthew Gale, it seems it’s biology…

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  • Page 26 of Paul Klee's 1953 Pedgogical Sketchbook
    Page 26 of Paul Klee's 1953 Pedgogical Sketchbook
  • Page 26 of Paul Klee’s 1953 Pedgogical Sketchbook
    Page 26 of Paul Klee’s Pedgogical Sketchbook 1953
  • Page 28 of Paul Klee’s 1953 Pedgogical Sketchbook
    Page 28 of Paul Klee’s Pedgogical Sketchbook 1953
  • Page 33 of Paul Klee's 1953 Pedgogical Sketchbook
    Page 33 of Paul Klee's 1953 Pedgogical Sketchbook

So, the riddle of the day, Matthew: when is an arm art (page 26)?

Ah well, this is an analogy for the relationships of your elements to one another, pushing and pulling against each other, like muscles, tendons and bones. So, Klee is saying that orange and blue, say, might both have more impact if they’re next to one another than they would have alone.

Ah, so he advises that artists look to nature for guidance?

Yes, absolutely – Klee is thinking about how nature can underpin our own way of creating things. In a lecture he gave in 1924, Klee talked about the tree as a symbol, and how nobody expects the canopy of the tree and the roots of the tree to look identical, but we can all understand that there’s a relationship between them. And he uses that as an image for abstract art – that what lies behind the work is related but different to the work itself.

But Klee also points out: ‘The artist is human, himself nature’. So presumably we’re not just observing the order of things, we also are the order of things. That’s a worrying thought.

Well, yes. He’d say that everything is connected with a sort of Zen-like oneness. And underlying all of this is Goethe, who was a key figure in Weimar and was very influential to Klee and Kandinsky in his interest in the relationship between art and science.

Right. It’s very interesting, but it does become quite abstract, doesn’t it? I think as an art student I’d be wondering when the practical advice comes in

Well, on page 33 (above), we do move onto discussing the relationship between the maker and the audience.

Ah, excellent. Tell me more

He’s addressing how a viewer looks at a painting. He says: ‘The eye travels along the path cut out for it in the work’ – which you might say is a bit like how you lay out a garden. You are predetermining that people will encounter it in a certain way. I mean, that’s how we think about exhibitions, too. We’re going to surprise people by tucking a work around the corner, or we’re going to draw people in by having it ahead of you. Klee is imagining that relationship in the single work itself, and how an accumulation of forms, say, or a reduction of detail, will lay out these paths. Does that make sense?

Yes… He’s going back to his line on a walk, in a way?

Yes, I think so. Really in this chapter he’s saying you use the example of nature to understand how to use line and colour for this end – of taking your audience on this walk. Of course, the artist never really has a sense of the degree of success that those things he or she puts in will actually be drawn out.

Do you think Paul Klee was ok with that?

Well, at every stage he allowed for instinct, he’s saying you have the potential to influence your audience. He’s not simply saying ‘if you follow these golden rules you will have a successful painting.’

Hmm, that would be a lot easier.

What we’ve learnt so far

Lesson one: Learn the rules! Understanding the nature of mark-making is the key to creating a good composition

Lesson two: Break the rules. Understanding the potential structure of form allows you to disrupt it

Rule three: Look to nature. The relationships in nature can help us understand both the way our elements work in art, and our place as an artist

Next week… Why all is not what it seems