The exhibition at Tate Modern and accompanying catalogue proved to be wonderful reminders, at the start of the new year, that it’s crucial to get away from the computer, away from the current work-in-progress, to stand back and reflect. As I’ve said before, I always find it interesting to reflect on writing by observing a practitioner in another art form.
The Klee exhibition’s arrangement in chronological order allows you to follow his creative curiosity – his production and his reflection on it. Sixteen rooms represent different phases. The works invite concentration and attention to detail as you follow the precision of Klee’s draughtsmanship and, increasingly, his developing sense of colour in subtle and delicious combinations. Then there are his experiments with technique that allow him to bring both his drawing and play with colour into new relationships.
All of this was stimulating and refreshing but the exhibition sineage and the catalogue also provided insight into how Klee worked. This body of ever-changing work was the result of Klee’s ability to negotiate the order and the chaos – both necessary to the creative process.
When I worked in the visual arts, often interviewing artists in their studio, I was struck by how many of the most successful creatives had orderly studios; they knew where everything was. This flies in the face of common assumptions that the obsessively ordered are too buttoned-up to be seriously creative. But, as Matthew Gale points out in his catalogue essay, ‘Carefully Ordered Confusion,’ for Klee his “reliance on systems allowed for improvisation.”
In what he called his Oeuvre Catalogue, Klee recorded completed works in chronological order. However, he apparently only listed the works that he believed said something about his growing knowledge of process and his development as an artist. This record allowed him to reflect back on his developing process, and to make rigorous selections for exhibitions. And, presumably, knowing he could track back he felt free to experiment and work with his intuition. This quote from one of the exhibition panels:
He also worked on several pieces at once. In order to do so, he had the studio set up in such a way that he could move between works, following the creative energy, not quite sure where any of these pieces would lead. Another quote from the exhibiton:
As he set off, Columbus-like, to follow a line, explore colour relationships, he might have started with an observation in nature but, as he said, the artist is not some kind of super camera: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”
This echoes with the work of a poet, or any imaginative writer, exploring a given image - what are its larger dimensions? What is standing behind/beneath that image, that thing in the world that has caught the attention?
A first move might be a description but then comes that leap into the dark, the exploration of what lies beyond the surface image. Klee’s quote put me in mind of my favourite quote from poet Mark Doty on his writing process, which ends with these words:"The world does not need another description from me."
Getting back to Klee’s cataloguing - I'm thinking it could be useful to catalogue poems as I write them – which worked? Which do I go back to revise? Which do I finally give up on and why? If nothing else having this ledger will remind of the drafts I've yet to go back to! And it could work well for 2014 as I've taken up the 52 challenge.
Yes, definitely feel better for that trip to Tate Modern.