The Diaries of Paul Klee Critical Context - Essay

Paul Klee

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Modern artists have been much given to verbal statements of their artistic convictions, reflecting a culture that has no widespread consensus regarding art and its evolution. Many of these statements take the form of manifestos, setting out a polemical position. Of all modern artists, Paul Klee produced the largest body of published statements about art and about his own art.

His diaries are the record of his apprenticeship as an artist and as a thinker. His art reached a full maturity before he turned to public statements about art; once he reached the point of being willing to make such public statements, he abandoned the diary format.

His later notebooks consist of a few brief essays carefully written for publication, the texts of a few public lectures, and several thousand pages of notes for his lectures during his teaching career. The first published selection of these appeared in 1956 as Das bildnerische Denken: Schriften zur Form-und Gestal-tungslehre (Paul Klee: The Thinking Eye, 1961). All of his essays mentioned above are in this volume, which is the one indispensable aid to understanding Klee’s thought and art. The diaries are a vestibule to this commodious edifice, necessary to the understanding of the course of Klee’s development but incomplete in themselves.

The essays appear first, under the general title “Towards a Theory of Form Production”; both critically and philosophically, they are of the first importance. Highly compressed, deeply meditated statements, they are accessible to those who are willing to give them close attention. The remainder of the volume comprises lecture notes, which are more detailed and often highly technical since they were intended for art students and not the general public.