Ways to Study Nature

Paul Klee, 1923

For the artist, dialogue with nature remains a conditio sine qua non. The artist is a man, himself nature and a part of nature in natural space.

But the ways that this man pursues both in his production and in the related study of nature may vary, both in number and in kind, according to his view of his own position in this natural space.

The ways often seem very new, though fundamentally they may not be new at all. Only their combination is new, or else they are really new in comparison with the number and character of yesterday’s ways. But to be new as against yesterday is still revolutionary, even if it does not shake the immense old world. There is no need to disparage the joy of novelty; though a clear view of history should save us from desperately searching for novelty at the cost of naturalness.

Yesterday’s artistic creed and the related study of nature consisted, it seems safe to say, in a painfully precise investigation of appearance. I and you, the artist and his object, sought to establish optical-physical relations across the invisible barrier between the T and the ‘you’. In this way excellent pictures were obtained of the object’s surface filtered by the air; the art of optical sight was developed, while the art of contemplating unoptical impressions and representations and of making them visible was neglected.

Yet the investigation of appearance should not be underestimated; it ought merely to be amplified. Today this way does not meet our entire need any more than it did the day before yesterday. The artist of today is more than an improved camera; he is more complex, richer, and wider. He is a creature on the earth and a creature within the whole, that is to say, a creature on a star among stars.

Accordingly, a sense of totality has gradually entered into the artist’s conception of the natural object, whether this object be plant, animal, or man, whether it be situated in the space of the house, the landscape, or the world, and the first consequence is that a more spatial conception of the object as such is born.

The object grows beyond its appearance through our knowledge of its inner being, through the knowledge that the thing is more than its outward aspect suggests. Man dissects the thing and visualizes its inside with the help of plane sections; the character of the object is built up according to the number and kind of sections that are needed. This is visible penetration, to some extent that of a simple knife, to some extent helped by finer instruments which make the material structure or material function clear to us.

The sum of such experience enables the T to draw inferences about the inner object from the optical exterior, and, what is more, intuitive inferences. The optic-physical phenomenon produces feelings which can transform outward impression into functional penetration more or less elaborately, according to their direction. Anatomy becomes physiology.

But there are other ways of looking into the object which go still farther, which lead to a humanization of the object and create, between the ‘I’ and the object, a resonance surpassing all optical foundations. There is the non-optical way of intimate physical contact, earthbound, that reaches the eye of the artist from below, and there is the non-optical contact through the cosmic bond that descends from above. It must be emphasized that intensive study leads to experiences which concentrate and simplify the processes of which we have been speaking. For the sake of clarification I might add that the lower way leads through the realm of the static and produces static forms, while the upper way leads through the realm of the dynamic. Along the lower way, gravitating towards the centre of the earth, lie the problems of static equilibrium that may be characterized by the words: ‘To stand despite all possibility of falling’. We are led to the upper ways by yearning to free ourselves from earthly bonds; by swimming and flying, we free-ourselves from
constraint in pure mobility.

All ways meet in the eye and there, turned into form, lead to a synthesis of outward sight and inward vision. It is here that constructions are formed which, although deviating totally from the optical image of an object yet, from an overall point of view, do not contradict it.

Through the experience that he has gained in the different ways and translated into work, the student demonstrates the progress of his dialogue with the natural object. His growth in the vision and contemplation of nature enables him to rise towards a meta-physical view of the world and to form free abstract structures which surpass schematic intention and achieve a new naturalness, the naturalness of the work. Then he creates a work, or participates in the creation of works, that are the image of God’s work.

First published in ‘Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923'

More about
Paul Klee, The ArtistsPortrait of Paul Klee

Paul Klee

"A long struggle lies in store for me in this field of color"

1879 – 1940

By continuing to browse Obelisk you agree to our Cookie Policy