»For the artist communication with nature remains the most essential condition. The artist is human; himself nature; part of nature within natural space.«


This statement, written in 1923 by Paul Klee, was the Leitmotif of a creative life that derived almost equal inspiration from painting and from music. Man painted and danced long before he learned to write and construct. The senses of form and tone are his primordial heritage. Paul Klee fused both of these creative impulses into a new entity.


His forms are derived from nature, inspired by observation of shape and cyclic change but their appearance only matters in so far as it symbolizes an inner actuality that receives meaning from its relationship to the cosmos. There is a common agreement among men on the place and function of external features: eye, leg, roof, sail, star. In Paul Klee's pictures they are used as beacons, pointing away from the surface into a spiritual reality. Just as a magician performs the miraculous with objects of utter familiarity, such as cards, handkerchiefs, coins, rabbits, so Paul Klee uses the familiar object in unfamiliar relationships to materialize the unknown.


The Symbolic Expressionists and the Cubists during the first decade of the Twentieth Century had already questioned the validity of Academic Naturalism. Their painting had looked below the surface with the analytical eye of psychology and x-ray. But the multi-layered figures of Kirchner and Kokoschka or the simultaneous views of Braque and Picasso, were analytical-statements, resting statically on the canvas.

If ever an artist understood the visual aspirations of his epoch it was Paul Klee; and the civilized world came to recognize his contemporaneousness even before his death in 1940. Exhibitions and publications have constantly increased in number; and it might be assumed that, together with Cézanne and Picasso, he will be the most reproduced and annotated painter of this century. But it is known to few that Paul Klee was more than a painter. His »communication with nature« produced much more than the transfiguration of the perceived form. It produced a philosophy that rested on empathy with the created world, accepting everything that is with equal love and humility.


As a very young man he had spoken of his art as »andacht zum kleinen« (devotion to small things). In the Microcosm of his own visual world he worshipped the Macrocosm of the universe. This was his revolution. Academic art had been based since the Renaissance on the Aristotelian principle of deduction, meaning that all representation was deduced from the broad general principles of absolute beauty and conventional color canons.


Paul Klee replaced deduction by induction. Through observation of the smallest manifestation of form and interrelationship, he could conclude about the magnitude of natural order. Energy and substance, that which moves and that which is moved, were of equal importance as symbols of creation. He loved the natural event; therefore he knew its meaning in the universal scheme. And with the instinct of the true lover he had to comprehend what he loved. The phenomenon perceived and analyzed, was investigated until its significance was beyond doubt.


It is in Paul Klee that science and art fuse. Exactitude winged by intuition was the goal he held out for his students. Paul Klee the painter could not help becoming a teacher in the original meaning of the term. The word »to teach« derives from the Gothic "taiku-sign" (our word token). It is the mission of the teacher to observe what goes unnoticed by the multitude. He is an interpreter of signs.


When Walter Gropius developed the curriculum of his German Bauhaus, he gave back to the word teacher its basic significance. Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, Moholy-Nagy, Schlemmer, Albers, who taught there, were interpreters of the visual as tokens of a fundamental optical and structural order that had been obscured by centuries of literary allegorism. In this community of guides Paul Klee chose for himself the task of pointing out new ways of studying the signs of nature. 

»By contemplating the optical-physical appearance, the ego arrives at intuitive conclusions about the inner substance.« 

The art student was to be more than a refined camera, trained to record the surface of the object. He must realize that he is »child of this earth; yet also child of the Universe; issue of a star among stars.« A mind so in flux, so sensitive to intuitive insights, could never write an academic textbook. All he could retain on paper were indications, hints, allusions, like the delicate color dots and line plays on his pictures.

The PEDAGOGICAL SKETCHBOOK is the abstract of Paul Klee's inductive vision. In it the natural object is not merely rendered two-dimensionally, it becomes "räumlich," related to physical and intellectual space concepts, through four main approaches that form the four divisions of the Sketchbook:


Proportionate Line and Structure

Dimension and Balance

Gravitational Curve 

Kinetic and Chromatic Energy ​

I. 12

Circulatory System


I The heart pumps (ac­tive)

III The blood is moved (passive)

II The lungs receive blood and participate in sending it on transformed (medial)

I The heart pumps

III The blood again is moved and returns to the heart, its point of departure

An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal. A walk for a walk's sake. The mobility agent, is a point, shifting its position forward.​

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 Ihe origin of all human tragedy. It is this contrast between power and prostration that implies the duality of human existence. Half winged-half imprisoned, this is man!


Thought is the mediary between earth and world. The broader the magnitude of his reach, the more painful man's tragic limitation. To be impelled toward motion and not to be the motor! Action bear this out.  How does the arrow overcome the hindering friction? Never quite to get where motion is interminate. 

Revelation: that nothing that has a start can have infinity. Consolation: a bit farther than customary!-than possible? 


Be winged arrows, aiming at fulfillment and goal, even though you will tire without having reached the mark.

The eye travels along the paths cut out for it in the work.​


Without contradicting himself, Klee could confess to »communication with nature« as the essence of his work, but he could also say that »all true creation is a thing born out of nothing.« The seeming contrast is resolved through his unfailing originality »born out of nothing« which is the spiritual cause. The optical effect is a pictorial composition that uses the identifiable natural shape as mediary. In THE ROOM AND ITS INHABITANTS from 1921, floor boards, window frame and door, are recognizable, together with the faces of woman and child. But they are mere points of reference in a world of lines, arrows, reflections, fade outs that reveal intuitively the mysterious man-shelter relationship that has determined the course of civilization.

Klee's figures and forms are not only transparent, as if seen through a fluoroscope; they exist in a magnetic field of cross currents: lines, forms, splotches, arrows, color waves. As if it were a symphonic composition, the main motif moves from variation to variation in its relationship to other objects on the canvas. A bird in THE TWITTERING MACHINE, for instance, is different from all other birds through its relationship to transmission belt, crank shaft, and musical notations, floating in the air.



The first part of the Sketchbook (Sections 1.1-1.13) introduces the transformation of the static dot into linear dynamics. The line, being successive dot progression, walks, circumscribes, creates passive-blank and active-filled planes. Line rhythm is measured like a musical score or an arithmetical problem. Gradually, line emerges as the measure of all structural proportion, from Euclid's Golden Section (1.7) to the energetic power lines of ligaments and tendons, of water currents and plant fibers. Each of the four divisions of the Sketchbook has one key-sentence, strewn almost casually-without the pompousness of a theorem among specific observations. This one sentence in each chapter points the path from the particular to the universal. The first part on »Proportionate Line and Structure« is condensed into one laconic statement: "purely repetitive and therefore structural" (1.6), explaining in five words the nature of vertical structure as the repetitive accumulation of like units.



The second part of the Sketchbook (11.14-11.25) deals with "Dimension and Balance." Here the object, rendered by line, is related to the subjective power of the human eye. Man uses his ability to move freely in space to create for himself optical adventures. What are railroad ties? Functional cross-beams, occurring at regular intervals. Yes, but they are also subdivisions of infinite spacer capable of bisecting the third dimension at a hundred different angles (11.15). Man, precariously balanced on two unstable legs, uses optical illusion as a safety device. Horizon as concrete fact, and horizon as an imaginary safety belt that has to be believed in, are exemplified on the graceful example of the tightrope walker and his bamboo pole (11.21). The purely material balance of the scale finds its counter-part in the purely psychological balance of light and dark, weightless and heavy colors (11.24). The key word to this section reads: "non-symmetrical balance" (11.23). It asserts that "the bilateral conformity of two parts" which is the old definition of symmetry, has been superseded by "the equalization of unequal but equivalent parts. Dimension is in itself nothing but an arbitrary expansion of form into height, width, depth and time. It is the balancing and proportioning power of eye and brain that regulate this expansion of the object toward equilibrium and harmony.



The third aspect of the study of nature in the Sketchbook (111.26-111.32) deals with the tension existing between man's ability to project himself and the object into space, and the limitations imposed upon this urge by the gravitational pull. The linear extension of the first section of the book, and the balance of dimensional form in the second section, is here followed up with the projection of motion above and below the horizon of the human eye. The plump line (111.26) is man's umbilical cord to the center of the earth. It symbolizes the tragic termination of his will to fly, but it also symbolizes firmness and rhythm and the assuring direction toward rest. The falling stone, the ascending flier, the shooting star on the firmament (111.30-32) are natural dynamics whose course is decided by the gravitational curve. "But," Klee concludes,, "there are regions with different laws and new symbols, signifying freer movement and more dynamical position.'] With this mere hint (111.26) at the existence of purely spiritual dynamism, that supersedes the phenomenal world and its earthbound fate, Klee defines his Naturalism as a symbolism of great depth. The core of this third section, which is a transition from observation to intuition, is defined in the axiom that is perhaps Klee's deepest wisdom:




The concluding chapter (1111.33.43) allows the student a glimpse at the forces that create optical sensation, forces that are either kinetic-mobile, or chromatic-caloric. Plato spoke of EIDOS as the inner essence of an object as distinguished from the apparent outer form; and Aristotle uses the term ENTELECHY when he defines the form-giving cause that manifests an idea in a material configuration. True to his inductive creed, Paul Klee demonstrates inner essence and form-giving cause on the most insignificant objects, the spinning top, for instance (1111.33) that defies gravity by the centrifugal energy of its gyrations, or the feathered arrow (1111.37) whose path is hampered by gravitational friction.


»To be impelled toward motion, and not to be the motor!« 


Thought and intention that send the arrow on its way are identified with the supra-mechanical force of the EIDOS. With the ease of the perfect dancer who has sublimated his intense effort into seeming play, Paul Klee presents his new naturalism through an interchange of natural phenomenon and pure idea. The proportionate relationship of point and rudder to shaft in the actual arrow (1111.38) is calculated on a strictly mechanical basis. But the same exactitude is applied in calculating the orbit of the symbolic arrow, overcoming the friction of human fear by aiming »a bit farther than customary-farther than possible!« The final decision rests with man's willingness to produce energy.


»The stronger the pull of the ascension rudder, the higher the rise; the stronger the pull of the drop rudder, the steeper the fall.«


Energy, the Sketchbook concludes, is without termination only in the chromatic and thermo-dynamic field. Motion that may be called infinite in the sense of unending self-transformation, exists only in the activation of color, moving between the fervid contrasts of utter black and utter white (1111.40) with the thermo-dynamic implications of intense heat and extreme cold. ​



The last six diagrams complete the cycle that had started on page one when the dot was stirred from its static existence into line progression. On its way through the Sketchbook it has been transformed by the counter forces of earth and world, of mechanical law and imaginative vision, and it has found equilibrium in a centrality that no longer points away but rests within a unified diversity (1111.43). The sum total is what Paul Klee calls »Resonanzverhältnis«, meaning a reverberation of the finite in the infinite, of outer perception and inner vista.

This new translation was prepared by the late SIBYL MOHOLY-NAGY, who followed Klee's text with the utmost fidelity.​





The experience of this dual reality of the SEEN and the FELT essence of nature, impels the student toward »a free creation of abstracted forms which supersede didactic principles with a new naturalness, the naturalness of the work. He produces or participates in the production of works which are indications of the work of God.«

bauhaus book 02 paul klee pedagogical sketchbook 1925



bauhaus bookshelf