Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch, 1925 (Pedagogical Sketchbook, 1944)
Über die moderne Kunst, 1945 (On Modern Art, 1948)
Das bildnerische Denken, 1956 (The Thinking Eye, 1961)
Im Zwischenreich, 1957 (The Inward Vision, 1958)
Tägebucher von Paul Klee, 1898-1918, 1957 (The Diaries of Paul Klee 1898-1918, 1964)
Unendliche Naturgeschichte, 1970 (The Nature of Nature, 1973)
Beiträge zur bildnerischen Formlehre, 1979
Briefe an die Familie, 1979 (2 volumes; memoir)
Some Poems, 1962
Primarily a graphic artist and painter known for his abstract, whimsical work, Paul Klee (klay) was a major figure in the Dada, Surrealist, nonobjectivist, and abstract expressionist movements and therefore of prime importance in twentieth century art and aesthetic philosophy. Klee also wrote poetry, essays on modern art, and opera and theater reviews. His published diaries and lectures are significant manifestos of the theories of an unconventional and influential thinker.
Klee was the son of two musicians, Hans and Ida Marie (née Frick) Klee. Klee showed signs of artistic genius and an active imagination at an early age. At the age of four he claims to have run to his mother for protection, crying that the devils he was drawing had come to life. At the restaurant of his Uncle Ernst, whom in his diary he calls “the fattest man in Switzerland,” Klee saw human grotesques in the designs on the marble tabletops and was able to “capture them with a pencil.” At the age of seven he began violin lessons, and as a young man he served as a substitute violinist in the Bern Symphony Orchestra. Later Klee chose art over music as a career, but music continued to be an important part of his life and traces of its influence have been observed in his artwork and his theories.
As a student Klee resisted conventional ideas and disliked most of his studies, but he did enjoy Greek and drawing, and he wrote poetry and short stories. When he graduated from secondary school in 1898, he chose to study art in Munich. There he soon became disgruntled with the strict and conventional methods of his teacher, Franz von Stuck. In 1899 Klee met the pianist Lily Stumpf, and they married in 1906. For a time Lily Stumpf supported Klee and their son, Felix, by teaching music lessons.
For several months in 1901 and 1902 Klee lived in Italy, where he was greatly impressed as well as intimidated by the painters of the Renaissance. About this time he began to question the possibilities for artists of his age, and he turned increasingly to caricature. Back in Switzerland, Klee read and studied diligently and independently for the next four years, making occasional trips to Germany and France. After meeting Wassily Kandinsky (kan-DIHN-skee) and other members of the Blue Rider group, Klee joined the group and showed his work as part of their second exhibition. He translated an essay by the painter Robert Delauney for the avant-garde magazine Der Sturm. Klee’s early works exhibit his interest in line and form, for they are graphic and often in black and white. A 1914 trip to Tunisia turned him into an ardent colorist: “Color and I are one. I am a painter.”
Even after he began to be known as a painter, Klee continued to write. His first major original work, Schöpferische Konfession (creative credo; reprinted as part of The Thinking Eye), appeared in 1918. In this manifesto Klee maintains that “art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible,” and he emphasizes the essentially abstract nature of graphic representation.
In 1921 Klee was invited to join the faculty of the German school of design known as the Bauhaus in Weimar, and he later moved to Dessau with the school. Klee had been considering teaching for some time and proved to have a talent for pedagogy. Several of his lectures and notebooks were subsequently collated and published, most notably Pedagogical Sketchbook, On Modern Art, and The Nature of Nature. As of 1932 the Bauhaus and its members had difficulties with the National Socialists; eventually the school was closed down, and Klee was removed from the Düsseldorf Academy for being a “degenerate artist.” Four years later Klee and other artists used the name “Degenerate Art” as the title of their exhibition in Munich.
Klee was strongly influenced by constructivism, an artistic movement similar to cubism yet embracing painting and sculpture equally and emphasizing nonobjective works composed of precise geometric forms. In all his writings Klee stresses the importance of balancing contrasting elements of line, color, and tone. In The Thinking Eye he insists, “A concept is not thinkable without its opposite.” The chief aim of the artist is to bring into harmony the architectonic and the poetic. Another recurrent theme in Klee’s theoretical treatises is the emphasis upon the dynamic, life-giving element of the creative process and on the process itself rather than on an objective product. On Modern Art offers the now-famous analogy of the relationship of the artist and his work to that of the root and crown of a tree, a symbiotic relationship in which the artist is a mere “channel” transmitting the “sap” of creative inspiration. Each part of the tree, or artistic process, root as well as crown, artist as well as product, serves to make up the whole of the creative experience.
The clean, simple lines and the whimsical, childlike, often humorous elements of Klee’s drawings and paintings do not clearly reflect the sophisticated and complex theoretical basis for the work of this major twentieth century artist and philosopher. Paul Klee is generally considered to be one of the greatest artists and aesthetic philosophers of the twentieth century. His influence was felt by such major artists as Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Walter Gropius, and Pablo Picasso, and his ideas and work have stimulated considerable scholarship.