Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook

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Paul Klee, a Swiss German artist perhaps most widely recognized as a painter, was an artist in many media and also an educator who taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 until 1931.

His Pedagogical Sketchbook, written in 1924, was compiled from his lecture notes and published as a student manual for the Bauhaus. In it, he develops various principles of visual dynamics and composition in a simple and methodical fashion, building like a Euclidean proof into a compelling fusion of mystical artistic vision and scientific physical treatise.

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I have included below a section of the introduction by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, who translated the Pedagogical Sketchbook into English. I think that some of her insight into the Bauhaus philosophy of teaching is illuminating both for its own sake and for understanding better the intent behind Klee’s Sketchbook:

“Academic art had been based since the Renaissance on the Aristotelian principle of deduction, meaning that all representation was deduced from the broad general principles of absolute beauty and conventional color canons. Paul Klee replaced deduction by induction.

Through observation of the smallest manifestation of form and interrelationship, he could conclude about the magnitude of natural order. Energy and substance, that which moves and that which is moved, were of equal importance as symbols of creation. He loved the natural event; therefore he knew its meaning in the universal scheme. And with the instinct of the true lover he had to comprehend what he loved. The phenomenon perceived and analyzed, was investigated until its significance was beyond doubt.

It is in Paul Klee that science and art fuse. Exactitude winged by intuition was the goal he held out for his students. Paul Klee the painter could not help becoming a teacher in the original meaning of the term. The word ‘to teach’ derives from the Gothic ‘taiku-sign’ (our word token). It is the mission of the teacher to observe what goes unnoticed by the multitude. He is an interpreter of signs.

When Walter Gropius developed the curriculum of his German Bauhaus, he gave back to the word teacher its basic significance. Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, Moholy-Nagy, Schlemmer, Albers, who taught there, were interpreters of the visual as tokens of a fundamental optical and structural order that had been obscured by centuries of literary allegorism.

In this community of guides Paul Klee chose for himself the task of pointing out new ways of studying the signs of nature. ‘By contemplating the optical-physical appearance, the ego arrives at intuitive conclusions about the inner substance.’ The art student was to be more than a refined camera, trained to record the surface of the object. He must realize that he is ‘child of this earth; yet also child of the Universe; issue of a star among stars’…

A mind so in flux, so sensitive to intuitive insights, could never write an academic textbook. All he could retain on paper were indications, hints, allusions, like the delicate color dots and line plays on his pictures. The PEDAGOGICAL SKETCHBOOK is the abstract of Paul Klee’s inductive vision…

The sum total is what Paul Klee calls ‘Resonanzverhältnis,’ meaning a reverberation of the finite in the infinite, of outer perception and inner vista. The experience of this dual reality of the SEEN and the FELT essence of nature, impels the student toward ‘a free creation of abstracted forms which supersede didactic principles with a new naturalness, the naturalness of the work. He produces or participates in the production of works which are indications of the work of God.'”

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According to Carola Giedion-Welcker’s biography of Klee, as a teacher at the Bauhaus, he came to contemplate his studio practice more deeply: “When I came to be teacher,” he wrote, “I had to account explicitly for what I had been used to doing unconsciously” (158).

I think this is the most important take-away from the Pedagogical Sketchbook. As a teacher, Klee became more conscious of how and why he was working in a particular way, and through educating others, he came to know himself and his own practice better.

It also helped that he took lots and lots of notes.



About utagtateaching

This blog is dedicated to providing resources to the Graduate Teaching Assistants in the UTA MFA program pertaining to teaching strategies, methods, and materials. We aim to start a public discussion that serves to enhance the classroom experience for both teacher and student.

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