WHO IS THE AUTHOR?
Paul Klee was a Swiss artist born in 1879. He was a painter, draftsman, designer, and educator. He experimented with all kinds of media, tools, and techniques, following his own muse and adapting trends to his needs. Mr. Klee taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1931. He published his ideas on color theory in Writings on Form and Design Theory, a very expensive book, which is why reviewed this one.
Pedagogical Sketchbook is a short volume of 64 pages. The books opens with a six-page introduction by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy who also provided the translation. The main portion of the book consists of 4 sections: 1. Line and Structure, followed by, 2. Dimensions, 3. Earth, Water and Air, and finally 4. Symbols of Form in Motion. The book ends with a concluding note by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. The book was designed by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s husband Laszlo and edited by Walter Gropius.
WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT?
The book is based on Mr. Klee’s visual form lecture notes. It was originally published in 1925 as a student manual. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s notes at the beginning of the book do much to flesh out Mr. Klee’s text. I argue she often reveals too much. I recommend reading the book out of order, leaving her notes until after you have gone through the text at least once. The biggest revelation I found in Pedagogical Sketchbook is the glimpse it provides into the poetic foundations of modernism. The following are additional observations, your results may vary:
Line and Structure
“An active line on a walk, moving freely, without a goal.” This section sets the foundation of form making as point, line and plane, a conceit that was fundamental to the Bauhaus. From the moving point, Mr. Klee describes three classifications of lines, active, medial, and passive, which he uses to frame various line movements and transitions. He also develops rules for underlying structures which you can imagine being extrapolated into his paintings and even further into the modern design grid. The section ends with an extended analogy comparing the relationships in human anatomy to the elements of form. “The artist is human, himself nature”
Dimensions and Balance
Mr. Klee adds the notion of depth and perspective to the “line on a walk” in this section. Dimension is an “optical illusion” added to a page or canvas. Balance is also introduced with a tightrope walker and a pole. These lessons are never only about form. How do you relate to nature, what can you see from here? He is as interested in the form of emotions as he is in the form of objects; he sees the tools to accomplish either are the same.
Earth, Water, and Air
This section is the shortest and perhaps the most abstract. As the form possibilities for the line grow more complex so do the existential questions. He uses earth, water, and fire as actors in his metaphor about gravity and constraints. Water and air present opportunities for freer movement, to escape “the earth center where all materially-bound existence is anchored.” The way forward is to challenge conventions. New relationships of form and spirituality commingle.
Symbols of Form in Motion
The last section leaves a bit of the mysticism behind for a reasonably approachable treatise on color. Just kidding, we are still on a wild ride, but the line is back, only now it’s more than a line, it’s an arrow. A black arrow that exists in contrast to “the given white, much-to-much-seen and tiresome white.”
The black gives way to other colors, which in turn give way to infinite movement. Infinite movement, the goal Mr. Klee had for his line all along.
IT IS AN OLD BOOK WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Maybe you shouldn’t read it. If it’s your thing the book can be great fun, but I’m of two minds in regards to this book. One side is convinced insightful, refreshing and fun and the other being it is too odd to be accessible for some of today’s readers. That may have been exactly Mr. Klees intention, that each reader takes away what they will. The book’s usefulness is dependent on your personal experience and familiarity with Mr. Klee and the pedagogical philosophy of the Bauhaus. It is a bit eccentric, a bit esoteric. It provides insight and a foundation for understanding for all modern design, but without context or support (as part of a class for example) the book is inaccessible. It is a work that benefits from discussion and sharing. Read it and discuss it with friends.
The book ends with following quote, taken out of context, but still relating the tone and mood of the book:
“…the question is no longer: to move there but to be everywhere and consequently also There!”
Paul Klee was a famous artist. Pedagogical Sketchbook book contains notes from his lectures from his teaching at the Bauhaus. If you don’t like a little mysticism in your art and design this is not a book for you. In all senses of the word the book is challenging.
QUOTATIONS TO SHARE WITH FRIENDS
“The eye follows the paths cut out for it in the work”
“The father of the arrow is the thought: How do I expand my reach? Over this river? This lake? That mountain? The contrast between man’s ideological capacity to move at random through material and metaphysical spaces and his physical limitations is the origin of all human tragedy.””Half winged-half in prison, this is
“Half winged-half in prison, this is man!”