Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Paul Klee

Swiss-German Painter of Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism

"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."

"A line is a dot that went for a walk."

"A single day is enough to make us a little larger or, another time, a little smaller."

"One eye sees, the other feels."

"Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see."

"After all, it's rather difficult to achieve the exact minimum, and it involves risks."

"It is the artistic mission to penetrate as far as may be toward that secret ground where primal law feeds growth."

"Color has got me. I no longer need to chase after it. It has got me for ever. I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour."

"Beauty is as relative as light and dark. Thus, there exists no beautiful woman, none at all, because you are never certain that a still far more beautiful woman will not appear and completely shame the supposed beauty of the first."

"Democracy with its semi-civilization sincerely cherishes junk. The artist's power should be spiritual. But the power of the majority is material. When these worlds meet occasionally, it is pure coincidence."

"Genius sits in a glass house -- but in an unbreakable one --conceiving ideas. After giving birth, it falls into madness. Stretches out its hand through the window toward the first person happening by. The demon's claw rips, the iron fist grips. Before, you were a model, mocks the ironic voice between serrated teeth, for me, you are raw material to work on. I throw you against the glass wall, so that you remain stuck there, projected and stuck. (Then come the lovers of art and contemplate the bleeding work from outside. Then come the photographers. New art, it says in the newspaper the following day. The learned journals give it a name that ends in ism.)"

"Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age."

"He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise."

"Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will."

"Nature is garrulous to the point of confusion, let the artist be truly taciturn."

"One does not lash that lies at a distance. The foibles that we ridicule must at least be a little bit our own. Only then will the work be a part of our own flesh. The garden must be weeded."

"In the final analysis, a drawing simply is no longer a drawing, no matter how self-sufficient its execution may be. It is a symbol, and the more profoundly the imaginary lines of projection meet higher dimensions, the better."

"Some will not recognize the truthfulness of my mirror. Let them remember that I am not here to reflect the surface... but must penetrate inside. My mirror probes down to the heart. I write words on the forehead and around the corners of the mouth. My human faces are truer than the real ones."

"The more horrifying this world becomes, the more art becomes abstract."

"To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers."

"The worst state of affairs is when science begins to concern itself with art."

"When looking at any significant work of art, remember that a more significant one probably has had to be sacrificed."

"The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen."

"Becoming is superior to being."

"The creation lives as genesis beneath the visible surface of the work. All intelligent people see this after the fact, but only the creative see it before the fact – in the future."

"A certain fire pretends to be alive; it awakens. Working its way along the hand as a conductor, it reaches the support and engulfs it; then a leaping spark closes the circle it was to trace, coming back to the eye and beyond."

"Satire must not be a kind of superfluous ill will, but ill will from a higher point of view. Ridiculous man, divine God. Or else, hatred against the bogged-down vileness of average man as against the possible heights that humanity might attain."

"The creation of a work of art must of necessity, as a result of entering into the specific dimensions of pictorial art, be accompanied by distortion of the natural form. For, therein is nature reborn. "

"Sometimes I dream of a work of really great breadth, ranging through the whole region of object, meaning, and style. This, I fear, will remain a dream, but it is a good thing to bear the possibility occasionally in mind."

"The way to form transcends its own destination, goes beyond the end of the way itself."

"Each energy calls for its complementary energy to achieve self-contained stability based on the play of energies. "

"Frightened, I jump up from the bank, the struggle begins anew. Bitterness has returned. I am not Pan in the reed, I am merely a human being and want to climb a few steps, but really climb them."

"Genius is the error in the system. "

"To achieve vital harmony in a picture it must be constructed out of parts in themselves incomplete, brought into harmony only at the last stroke. "

"Like people, a picture has a skeleton, muscles and skin. "

"Be winged arrows aiming at fulfillment and goal."

"What my art probably lacks is a kind of passionate humanity... There is no sensuous relationship, not even the noblest, between myself and the many."

"Everything vanishes round me and good works rise from me of their own accord. "

"In earlier days, even as a child, the beauty of landscapes was quite clear to me. A background for the soul's moods. Now dangerous moments occur when Nature tries to devour me; at such times I am annihilated, but at peace. This would be fine for old people but I... I am my life's debtor, for I have given promises."

"Light and the rational forms are locked in combat; light sets them into motion, bends what is straight, makes parallels oval, inscribes circles in the intervals, makes the intervals active. "

"I want to be as though new-born, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing... Then I want to do something modest; to work out by myself a tiny, formal motive, one that my pencil will be able to hold without technique."

"I paint in order not to cry."

"It is precisely the way which is productive - this is the essential thing; becoming is more important than being."

"In earlier times artists liked to show what was actually visible... nowadays we are concerned with reality, rather than the merely visible. "

"Spatial art does not begin with a poetic mood or idea, but with construction of one or more figures, with the harmonizing of several colors and tones, or with the devaluation of spatial relationships and so on. "

"My hand is entirely the implement of a distant sphere. It is not my head that functions but something else, something higher, something somewhere remote. I must have great friends there, dark as well as bright... They are all very kind to me. "

"The beholder's eye, which moves like an animal grazing, follows paths prepared for it in the picture."

"By using patches of color and tone it is possible to capture every natural impression in the simplest way, freshly and immediately. "

"Reduction! One wants to say more than nature and one makes the impossible mistake of wanting to say it with more means than she, instead of fewer."

"But by way of consolation: it is valueless to paint premature things, what counts is to be a personality, or at least to become one. The domination of life is one of the basic conditions of productive expression. For me this is surely the case; when I am depressed I am unable even to think about it – and this holds true for painting, sculpture, tragedy, or music. But I believe that pictures alone will abundantly fill out this one life."