3,900 Pages of Paul Klee’s Personal Notebooks Are Now Online, Highlighting His Bauhaus Teachings (1921-1931)

Paul Klee led an artistic life that spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, but he kept his aesthetic sensibility tuned to the future. Because of that, much of the Swiss-German Bauhaus-associated painter’s work, which at its most distinctive defines its own category of abstraction, still exudes a vitality today.

And he left behind not just those 9,000 pieces of art (not counting the hand puppets he made for his son), but plenty of writings as well, the best known of which came out in English as Paul Klee Notebooks, two volumes (The Thinking Eye and The Nature of Nature) collecting the artist’s essays on modern art and the lectures he gave at the Bauhaus schools in the 1920s.

Klee Notebooks 2

“These works are considered so important for understanding modern art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo’s A Treatise on Painting had for Renaissance,” says Monoskop. Their description also quotes critic Herbert Read, who described the books as  “the most complete presentation of the principles of design ever made by a modern artist – it constitutes the Principia Aesthetica of a new era of art, in which Klee occupies a position comparable to Newton’s in the realm of physics.”

Klee Notebooks 3

More recently, the Zentrum Paul Klee made available online almost all 3,900 pages of Klee’s personal notebooks, which he used as the source for his Bauhaus teaching between 1921 and 1931. If you can’t read German, his extensively detailed textual theorizing on the mechanics of art (especially the use of color, with which he struggled before returning from a 1914 trip to Tunisia declaring, “Color and I are one. I am a painter”) may not immediately resonate with you. But his copious illustrations of all these observations and principles, in their vividness, clarity, and reflection of a truly active mind, can still captivate anybody  — just as his paintings do.

Klee Notebooks 4

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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

via Monoskop

Related Content:

The Homemade Hand Puppets of Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Rarest Sounds Across All Human Languages: Learn What They Are, and How to Say Them

When first we start learning a new foreign language, any number of its elements rise up to frustrate us, even to dissuade us from going any further: the mountain of vocabulary to be acquired, the grammar in which to orient ourselves, the details of pronunciation to get our mouths around. In these and all other respects, some languages seem easy, some hard, and others seemingly impossible — those last outer reaches being a specialty of Youtuber Joshua Rudder, creator of the channel NativLang. In the video above, he not only presents us with a few of the rarest sounds — or phonemes, to use the linguistic term — in any language, he also shows us how to make them ourselves.

Several African languages use the phoneme gb, as seen twice in the name of the Ivorian dance Gbégbé. “You might be tempted to go all French on it,” Rudder says, but in fact, you should “bring your tongue up to the soft palate” to make the g sound, and at the same time “close and release your lips” to add the b sound.

Evidently, Rudder pulls it off: “Haven’t heard a foreigner say the gb sound right!” says a presumably African commenter below. From there, the phonemic world tour continues to the bilabial trilled africate and pharyngeals used by the Pirahã people of the Amazon and the whistles used on one particular Canary Island — something like the whistled language of Oaxaca, Mexico previously featured here on Open Culture.

Rudder also includes Oaxaca in his survey, but he finds an entirely different set of rare sounds used in a river town whose residents speak the Mazatec language. “For every one normal vowel you give ’em,” he explains, “they have three for you”: one “modal” variety, one “breathy,” and one “creaky.” He ends the video where he began, in Africa, albeit in a different region of Africa, where he finds some of the rarest phonemes, albeit ones we also might have expected: bilabial clicks, whose speakers “close their tongue against the back of their mouth and also close both lips, but don’t purse them.” Then, “using the tongue, they suck a pocket of air into that enclosed area. Finally, they let go of the lips and out pops a” — well, better to hear Rudder pronounce it. If you can do the same, consider yourself one step closer to readiness for a Khoekhoe immersion course.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Brief History of Japanese Art: From Prehistoric Pottery to Yayoi Kusama in Half an Hour

The earliest known works of Japanese art date from the Jōmon period, which lasted from 10,500 to 300 BC. In fact, the period’s very name comes from the patterns its potters created by pressing twisted cords into clay, resulting in a predecessor of the “wave patterns” that have been much used since. In the Heian period, which began in 794, a new aristocratic class arose, and with it a new form of art: Yamato-e, an elegant painting style dedicated to the depiction of Japanese landscapes, poetry, history, and mythology, usually on folding screens or scrolls (the best known of which illustrates The Tale of Genji, known as the first novel ever written).

This is the beginning of the story of Japanese art as told in the half-hour-long Behind the Masterpiece video above. It continues in 1185 with the Kamakura period, whose brewing sociopolitical turmoil intensified in the subsequent Nanbokucho period, which began in 1333. As life in Japan became more chaotic, Buddhism gained popularity, and along with that Indian religion spread a shift in preferences toward more vital, realistic art, including celebrations of rigorous samurai virtues and depictions of Buddhas. In this time arose the form of sumi-e, literally “ink picture,” whose tranquil monochromatic minimalism stands in the minds of many still today for Japanese art itself.

Japan’s long history of fractiousness came to an end in 1568, when the feudal lord Oda Nobunaga made decisive moves that would result in the unification of the country. This began the Azuchi-Momoyama period, named for the castles occupied by Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The castle walls were lavishly decorated with large-scale paintings that would define the Kanō school. Traditional Japan itself came to an end in the long, and military-governed Edo period, which lasted from 1615 to 1868. The stability and prosperity of that era gave rise to the best-known of all classical Japanese art forms: kabuki theatre, haiku poetry, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

With their large market of merchant-class buyers, ukiyo-e artists had to be prolific. Many of their works survive still today, the most recognizable being those of masters like Utamaro, Hokusai, and Hiroshige. Here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured Hokusai’s series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji as well as its famous installment The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. As Japan opened up to the west from the middle of the nineteenth century, the various styles of ukiyo-e became prime ingredients of the Japonisme trend, which extended the influence of Japanese art to the work of major Western artists like Degas, Manet, Monet, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 opened the long-isolated Japan to world trade, re-established imperial rule, and also, for historical purposes, marked the country’s entry into modernity. This inspired an explosion of new artistic techniques and movements including Yōga, whose participants rendered Japanese subject matter with European techniques and materials. Born early in the Shōwa era but still active in her nineties, Yayoi Kusama now stands (and in Paris, at enormous scale in statue form) as the most prominent Japanese artist in the world. The rich psychedelia of her work belongs obviously to no single culture or tradition — but then again, could an artist of any other country have come up with it?

Related content:

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How to Paint Like Yayoi Kusama, the Avant-Garde Japanese Artist

The Entire History of Japan in 9 Quirky Minutes

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Newly-Discovered Fresco in Pompeii Reveals a Precursor to Pizza

Archaeologists digging in Pompeii have unearthed a fresco containing what may be a “distant ancestor” of the modern pizza. The fresco features a platter with wine, fruit, and a piece of flat focaccia. According to Pompeii archaeologists, the focaccia doesn’t have tomatoes and mozzarella on top. Rather, it seemingly sports “pomegranate,” spices, perhaps a type of pesto, and “possibly condiments”–which is just a short hop, skip and a jump away to pizza.

Found in the atrium of a house connected to a bakery, the finely-detailed fresco grew out of a Greek tradition (called xenia) where gifts of hospitality, including food, are offered to visitors. Naturally, the fresco was entombed (and preserved) for centuries by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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1,500 Paintings & Drawings by Vincent van Gogh Have Been Digitized & Put Online

Every artist explores dimensions of space and place, orienting themselves and their works in the world, and orienting their audiences. Then there are artists like Vincent van Gogh, who make space and place a primary subject. In his early paintings of peasant homes and fields, his figures’ muscular shoulders and hands interact with sturdy walls and gnarled trees. Later country scenes—whether curling and delicate, like Wheatfield with a Reaper, or heavy and ominous, like Wheatfield with Crows (both below)—give us the sense of the landscape as a single living entity, pulsating, writhing, blazing in brilliant yellows, reds, greens, and blues.

Van Gogh painted interior scenes, such as his famous The Bedroom, at the top (the first of three versions), with an eye toward using color as the means of making space purposeful: “It’s just simply my bedroom,” he wrote to Paul Gauguin of the 1888 painting, “only here color is to do everything… to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.”

So taken was the painter with the concept of using color to induce “rest or sleep” in his viewers’ imaginations that when water damage threatened the “stability” of the first painting, Chicago’s Art Institute notes, “he became determined to preserve the composition by painting a second version while at an asylum in Saint-Rémy in 1889,” then demonstrated the deep emotional resonance this scene had for him by painting a third, smaller version for his mother and sister.

The opportunity to see all of Van Gogh’s bedroom paintings in one place may have passed us by for now—an exhibit in Chicago brought them together in 2016. But we can see the original bedroom at the yellow house in Arles in a virtual space, along with 1,500 more Van Gogh paintings and drawings, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam’s site. The digitized collection showcases a vast amount of Van Gogh’s work—including not only landscapes, but also his many portraits, self-portraits, drawings, city scenes, and still-lifes.

One way to approach these works is through the unifying themes above: how does van Gogh use color to communicate space and place, and to what effect? Even in portraits and still-lifes, his figures compete with the ground. The scored and scalloped paintings of walls, floors, and wallpaper force our attention past the staring eyes of the painter or the finely-rendered fruits and shoes, and into the depths and textures of shadow and light. We begin to see people and objects as inseparable from their surroundings.

“Painting is a faith,” Van Gogh once wrote, and it is as if his paintings ask us to contemplate the spiritual unity of all things; the same animating flame brings every object in his blazing worlds to life. The Van Gogh Museum houses the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world. On their website you can read essays about his life and work, plan a visit, or shop at the online store. But most importantly, you can experience the stunning breadth of his art through your screen—no replacement for the physical spaces of galleries, but a worthy means nonetheless of communing with Van Gogh’s vision.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2018.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Wes Anderson Uses Miniatures to Create His Aesthetic: A Primer from His Model Maker & Prop Painter

If you haven’t yet seen Wes Anderson’s new movie Asteroid City, I recommend doing so not just in the theater, but in a seat as close to the screen as you can handle. You’ll feel more enveloped by the desert landscapes (the Spanish desert, standing in for Arizona), but you’ll also be better placed to appreciate the detail of all the miniatures that fill it. Over his past two and a half decades of feature films, Anderson’s signature aesthetic has become ever more Andersonian. This has many aspects, one of them being an intensive use of models: real, physical models, as opposed to digital visuals created entirely by computer. In the new Vox video above, model maker and prop painter Simon Weisse, veteran also of Isle of Dogs and The French Dispatch, explains the how and the why behind it

Asteroid City opens with a train crossing a vast, parched expanse, passing alongside (or through) the occasional rock formation. Any viewer would assume the train is a miniature, though not every viewer would immediately think — as revealed in this video’s behind-the-scenes shots — that the same is true of the rocks.

In both cases, the “miniatures” are only so miniature: the relatively large scale offers a canvas for an abundance of painted detail, which as Weisse explains goes a long way to making them believable onscreen. And even if they don’t quite look “real,” per se, they conjure up a reality of their own, an increasingly central task of Anderson’s cinematic project, in a way that pure CGI — which once seemed to have displaced the art of miniatures entirely — so often fails to do.

The video quotes Anderson as saying that audiences pick up on artificiality in all its forms, whether digital or physical; the filmmaker must commit to his own artificiality, accepting its shortcomings and exploiting its strengths. “The particular brand of artificiality that I like to use is an old-fashioned one,” he adds (but needs not, given his undisputed reputation as the auteur of the retro). Christopher Nolan, a director of the same generation who has an entirely different sensibility from Anderson, also goes in for large, detailed miniatures: mostly buildings that blow up, it seems, but his choices still show an understanding of the kind of physicality that even the most advanced digital effects have never replicated. If he’s seen the alien spaceship that descends on Asteroid City (the mention of which no longer seems to count as a spoiler), he must have felt at least a touch of envy.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Hasn’t the Pantheon’s Dome Collapsed?: How the Romans Engineered the Dome to Last 19 Centuries and Counting

In Rome, one doesn’t have to look terribly hard to find ancient buildings. But even in the Eternal City, not all ancient buildings have come down to us in equally good shape, and practically none of them have held up as well as the Pantheon. Once a Roman temple and now a Catholic church (as well as a formidable tourist attraction), it gives its visitors the clearest and most direct sense possible of the majesty of antiquity. But how has it managed to remain intact for nineteen centuries and counting when so much else in ancient Rome’s built environment has been lost? Ancient-history Youtuber Garrett Ryan explains that in the video above.

“Any answer has to begin with concrete,” Ryan says, the Roman variety of which “cured incredibly hard, even underwater. Sea water, in fact, made it stronger.” Its strength “enabled the creation of vaults and domes that revolutionized architecture,” not least the still-sublime dome of the Pantheon itself.

Another important factor is the Roman bricks, “more like thick tiles than modern rectangular bricks,” used to construct the arches in its walls. These “helped to direct the gargantuan weight of the rotunda toward the masonry ‘piers’ between the recesses. And since the arches, made almost entirely of brick, set much more quickly than the concrete fill in which they were embedded, they stiffened the structure as it rose.”

This hasn’t kept the Pantheon’s floor from sinking, cracks from opening in its walls, but such comparatively minor defects could hardly distract from the spectacle of the dome (a feat not equaled until Filippo Brunelleschi came along about 1300 years later). “The architect of the Pantheon managed horizontal thrust — that is, prevented the dome from spreading or pushing out the building beneath it – by making the wall of the rotunda extremely thick and embedding the lower third of the dome in their mass.” Even the oculus at the very top strengthens it, “both by obviating the need for a structurally dangerous crown and through its masonry rim, which functioned like the keystone of an arch.” We may no longer pay tribute to the gods or emperors to whom it was first dedicated, but as an object of architectural worship, the Pantheon will surely outlast many generations to come.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Stand-Up Comedy Routine Discovered in a Medieval Manuscript: Monty Python Before Monty Python (1480)

A funny thing happened on the way to the 15th century…

Dr. James Wade, a specialist in early English literature at the University of Cambridge, was doing research at the National Library of Scotland when he noticed something extraordinary about the first of the nine miscellaneous booklets comprising the Heege Manuscript.

Most surviving medieval manuscripts are the stuff of high art. The first part of the Heege Manuscript is funny.

The usual tales of romance and heroism, allusions to ancient Rome, lofty poetry and dramatic interludes… even the dashing adventures of Robin Hood are conspicuously absent.

Instead it’s awash with the staples of contemporary stand up comedy – topical observations, humorous oversharing, roasting eminent public figures, razzing the audience, flattering the audience by busting on the denizens of nearby communities, shaggy dog tales, absurdities and non-sequiturs.

Repeated references to passing the cup conjure an open mic type scenario.

The manuscript was created by cleric Richard Heege and entered into the collection of his employers, the wealthy Sherbrooke family.

Other scholars have concentrated on the manuscript’s physical construction, mostly refraining from comment on the nature of its contents.

Dr. Wade suspects that the first booklet is the result of Heege having paid close attention to an anonymous traveling minstrel’s performance, perhaps going so far as to consult the performer’s own notes.

Heege quipped that he was the author owing to the fact that he “was at that feast and did not have a drink” – meaning he was the only one sober enough to retain the minstrel’s jokes and inventive plotlines.

Dr. Wade describes how the comic portion of the Heege Manuscript is broken down into three parts, the first of which is sure to gratify fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

…it’s a narrative account of a bunch of peasants who try to hunt a hare, and it all ends disastrously, where they beat each other up and the wives have to come with wheelbarrows and hold them home. 

That hare turns out to be one fierce bad rabbit, so much so that the tale’s proletarian hero, the prosaically named Jack Wade, worries she could rip out his throat.

Dr. Wade learned that Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, was aware of The Hunting of the Hare, viewing it as a sturdy spoof of high minded romance, “studiously filled with grotesque, absurd, and extravagant characters.”

The killer bunny yarn is followed by a mock sermon  – If thou have a great black bowl in thy hand and it be full of good ale and thou leave anything therein, thou puttest thy soul into greater pain –  and a nonsense poem about a feast where everyone gets hammered and chaos ensues.

Crowd-pleasing material in 1480.

With a few 21st-century tweaks, an enterprising young comedian might wring laughs from it yet.

(Paging Tyler Gunther, of Greedy Peasant fame…)

As to the true author of these routines, Dr. Wade speculates that he may have been a “professional traveling minstrel or a local amateur performer.” Possibly even both:

A ‘professional’ minstrel might have a day job and go gigging at night, and so be, in a sense, semi-professional, just as a ‘travelling’ minstrel may well be also ‘local’, working a beat of nearby villages and generally known in the area. On balance, the texts in this booklet suggest a minstrel of this variety: someone whose material includes several local place-names, but also whose material is made to travel, with the lack of determinacy designed to comically engage audiences regardless of specific locale.

Learn more about the Heege Manuscript in  Dr. Wade’s article, Entertainments from a Medieval Minstrel’s Repertoire Book in The Review of English Studies.

Leaf through a digital facsimile of the Heege Manuscript here.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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