Published November 11, 2020
In a famous 1924 lecture on the creative process subsequently published as an essay called "On Modern Art," Swiss-born German artist Paul Klee elaborated on the role of the artist's subconscious in the artwork. Klee made his audience picture the artist as a tree. Stimuli, experiences, and influences from the world were at this tree's roots, the artist’s subconscious, the origin of the creative process.
"The artist has studied this world of variety and has, we may suppose, unobtrusively found his way in it. His sense of direction has brought order into the passing stream of image and experience. This sense of direction in nature and life, this branching and spreading array, I shall compare with the root of the tree.
From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Thus he stands as the trunk of the tree. Battered and stirred by the strength of the flow, he guides the vision on into his work. As, in full view of the world, the crown of the tree unfolds and spreads in time and space, so with his work."
In saying this, Paul Klee, was making a case for the wonderful weirdness of Modern Art, its departure from faithfulness to nature. The artist’s subsconscious, that sum total of the world's effects, has more to offer than a mirror reflection or a copy.
"Nobody would affirm that the tree grows its crown in the image of its root. Between above and below can be no mirrored reflection. It is obvious that different functions expanding in different elements must produce divergences.”
In the work of Klee, this was obvious. Even as early as 1900, his art was already radically breaking away from the thinking of European academies still largely influenced by traditions that dictate faithfulness to the real world.