Self Portrait by Paul Klee, 1911 (Source Image)
I'm preparing to teach a second session of my class Experimenting with Watercolor and Pastel and my study of Paul Klee (1879-1940) this summer has been surprisingly instructive. Unlike many of my peers, I was not smitten with Klee in my younger life. My husband, however, treasured his poster of Sinbad the Sailor by Klee. Mary-Louise just happened to have a charming out-of-print book with lovely reproductions of Klee's work throughout his life. My friend, Meg, an art librarian and expert, is a big fan of Klee. She made a special trip to see the major exhibit of his work in Cleveland back in the 90s. Meg supplied me with the catalog of that exhibit and two more books filled with Klee imagery (I am working on a project, which I will write about later). A new book came into the University of Kentucky Little Fine Arts Library, and Meg brought it to me to investigate. Paul Klee: Life and Work by Boris Friedewald reads like 1001 Arabian Nights (which Klee is actually influenced by). It was hard to stop reading and go to sleep. From the beginning Klee is a determined person. As a teenager, he paints the bricks outside his house with colorful and varied images. When Klee goes off to the Academy in Munich, his father takes out a second mortgage to pay for the schooling. This would put a lot of pressure on someone like myself to succeed and get on with my studies, but Klee is not particularly taken with his instructors and heeds his own direction. He considers himself a "self-apprentice."
In 1906, after a long engagement, Klee marries Lily Stumpf, a noted Munich pianist. The next year, their only child, Felix is born. This is where it gets interesting for me. Klee becomes a Stay-at-Home Dad and tends to the rearing of Felix and all the cooking (this, in the first decade of the twentieth century!) while Lily teaches piano students for ten hours a day. Klee does not stop his artistic education, he continues it through the daily activities of parenting and domesticity. Klee would take Felix on walks through the city in search of motifs; and the views outside his windows were a rich influence. This "hermitage" allows Klee to establish his own path, and yet, living in Munich, he has access to the work of all the great artists of the time (and this was a revolutionary time in art). For example, as Klee struggles with color, he finds the work of Robert Delaunay provides a way to step into color in his art. All through his life, Klee finds inspiration in other artists' work, while keeping true to his own vision.
From his self-apprenticeship through his hermitage, Klee develops to such a degree that he is invited to be a Bauhaus Master. The Bauhaus was pioneered by Walter Gropius and there was much discussion on the approach that the institution should take. Gropius wanted to link artistic pursuit with the artisinal more so than the academic. Klee had long wanted to teach and now had his opportunity to develop his own ideas of pedagogy.
It is this confidence in his own vision and that draws me to Klee. He held fast to his ideas in obscurity and in fame and even in infamy. After he had achieved much acclaim internationally, he was faced with a society under the influence of the National Socialists. His work was considered degenerate. Still, Klee stood firmly, speaking his truth and continuing to create work following his vision. In fact, in his last, very stressful years, Klee was more prolific than ever.
This is just a pinky-nail sketch of Klee, but he gives me a great illustration for expressing my goals in teaching students at the Lexington Art Academy. To me, it is a given that my students will bring decades of seeing the world with them to class. They know what they want to see, what their preferences are. It is good to think for one's self! My goal is to help students train their eyes and their hands to create what they want to create. Klee was able to do this in his tiny Munich apartment and we can, too.
A new session of Experimenting with Watercolor and Pastel will start on Thursday, September 1, 2011, 7-9 pm at the Lexington Art Academy (despite what the website might currently list for the dates). I hope you can join us. We will work together on training our eyes and hands!