Standing before a picture by Paul Klee, I am kindled with a great sense of adventure. I have been alone in this room, worrying a blind circle of light around my cluttered desk. I go to the window before retiring, but a wedge of lamp light cuts off all contact with the world outside. I move to shut if off. Click.
Amazing. The room is dark, but I can see now. The artificial barrier of my accustomed sphere of books, papers, numbers and doubts has dissolved before the advance of a distinct assemblage of rustling shapes, smells, colors . . . a vast living being of which I am a part, performing what function I know not. Except that, listening now, I myself am expanding through an almost effortless assignment of will: to see. Exploring would be the better word. For the world at large is no other "where" than I am. . . . But I had gotten the habit of closing the doors of perception.
It is the character of certain moments to invite us to follow the immense promise of our five senses into Imagination's wide kingdom. To walk the wet streets in a quiet our is but one move in the marvelous action of discovery, one simple step involving us with nature's vast choreography. A shifting of rain in the branches overhead; a chorus of lights as they break out in new patterns across the shiny leaves; the sound of a train moving through the world somewhere. What intricacy of detail! What breadth of structure! What resonances for an encounter yet to be played out as the plot of life thickens!
For the creative mind this is only a beginning. Night into day.m Leaves scrape off their smells in a coy mingling with the invisible wind. A skitter of paw prints lays a swathe of tiny cuts in the soft earth as some listener in the dark whirrs to the thrill of its nocturnal instinct. And that other animal, the earth, barely reclines at all. She is listening to the warm pulse of her long love with the sky, her continuity. She feels assured.
It is this "making scene" -- I don't know any other way to say it -- that is a source of wonder and deep comfort to me now. I am thinking of the man, Paul Klee, who approached artistic maturity about the time of the first World War. I am thinking of the century, born in the high enthusiasm of such diversity of expression, now troubled to such a degree that its going out could take with it the very future of this planet. I am thinking of a work of art, any work of art , which is nothing if not an affirmation of life.
Klee's art was not simply a display exotic forms fished from depths of the unknown. Rather, I think of his entire career in terms of a carefully cultivated appreciation and anticipationm of the creative life -- thism life. Just as children learn by mimicking the actions of mother and father, so the artist penetrates, as far as he is able, the secrets of the Creator by doing, by making. It is true that science has brought forth her overwhelming yield of facts by cutting into living tissue with instruments of the hand. But, ultimately, the keys to the mystery are hidden away in the mind. It is ourselves we need to open.
1915. The heart that beat for this world seems mortally wounded in me. As if only memories still tied me to "these" things. . . . One deserts the realm of the here and now to transfer one's activity into a realm of the yonder where total affirmation is possible.
Abstraction. What a cold connotation that word has acquired through the ages! Especially, I have to say, in the world of modern art.And yet what a lively and sensible (if slightly quixotic), presence Klee's is among us still. As he wrote, before it was engraved as his epitaph: I CANNOT BE GRASPED IN THE HERE AND NOW FOR I LIVE JUST AS WELL WITH THE DEAD AS WITH THE UNBORN SOMEWHAT CLOSER TO THE HEART OF CREATION THAN USUAL BUT FAR FROM CLOSE ENOUGH
Sometimes when I am face to face with one of the fantastic machines or creatures from the world of Paul Klee or Franz Kafka or Kenneth Patchen I am struck with the sense that a part of me lives where they are. I don't blame them for their curiousness or obscurity or for the strange, unpronounceable distance across which they seem to address me. Because here, when the policies of expedience are casting gentleness, freedom, and givingm out of greater and greater portions of our lives, those things are called upon to work out at least a fragment of honest creation. Here it is possible to ask "why?" and still get an answer. You might get many answers. You might, in turn, have to answer a few questions yourself.