“Around the fish (1926)” and “Tiznit (1953)” could not be more distinct from each other. Each work of art epitomizes what its creation is about. One painting is geometric, another is haphazard; one is rhythmic, while the other seems to be free from such coordination.
However, these diverge differences do not mask the similarities between the two pieces; their meanings are debatable and ambiguous to some extent. Both artists also pride themselves in the poeticism of their work.
The fundamental differences between the artistic works of both artists stems from the influences in their lives. Paul Klee produced ‘Around the Fish’ during the constructivist era. Since he lived in Germany, he was heavily influenced by perspectives of the Bauhaus (Fransciscono 255).
This was an era where geometry, systemization and measurement were given the greatest precedence (Lanchner 26). It is no wonder that there are three cylindrical shapes that surround the fish.
Furthermore, a crescent is placed alongside a circle. Even the very arrangement of the particles in the painting is cubical in nature. He uses lines directly and indirectly in the painting through the arrows and inside the cylinders too.
The painting appears to be derived from motifs that have been placed on a plane. In fact Franciscono (247) explains that order, balance and regular progressions were some of the things that Paul Klee championed during this era. Since he was a lecturer at German University, he taught his students to start small and then combine these pieces to create a holistic picture.
Conversely, Cy Twombly was classified as an abstract expressionist, although his work does not fall into any particular movement. While Klee may have captured the prevailing sentiments of his time. His work is not as ordered as Klee’s; instead, it can be considered as some from of graffiti.
At the time when Twombly had created the piece, mass culture has taken over various art forms. It was almost as if he would have no relevance in commercialization. While Twombly’s work is devoid of basic graphics, pictures or other bold images, Klee’s work was rich with images.
It is quite difficult to place Twombly in any general movement because his work is indulgent and sensual at the same time. Therefore, while both artists are unique in their own right, Twombly’s originality is louder than Klee’s. He stood autonomously in different artistic eras (Sylvester 5).
Perhaps another factor that brings these two pieces of art together is their childish-like elements. Once again, Twombly’s painting has more of these elements than Klee’s. Paul Klee affirmed that his art is really “childhood captured at will” (Lanchner 26).
The work is authentic and designed to capture the wild imagination of those youthful days. However, Klee adds the words “at will” in order to show that his impulsiveness, while useful, is quite controlled.
When one looks at ‘Around the fish’, one sees a plate of fish surrounded by some unfamiliar and familiar objects. This may be a simple analogy of a dinner table in which one places a dish and then the surrounding silverware revolves around it. A child would not be bothered about any deeper meanings.
In fact, Klee discourages audiences from trying to figure out the holistic meaning of ‘Around the fish’. He urges individuals to look at the individualistic patterns in the piece as they have more meaning. Klee wants his admirers to adopt the mind of a child, who does not concern himself or herself with hidden meanings.
On the other hand, childishness has been one of the major descriptions used to talk about Twombly’s work, and this is quite clear in ‘Tiznit (1953)”. His use of crayon marks and rough lines appear to be more of scribbles than conventional art.
One critic compares his artistic process as child’s play rather than a game. A game has many rules and it tends to confine an individual to a particular mould. If one ignores the rules, then one is automatically removed from the game. Conversely child play has no rules; the sole aim of playing is to enjoy freedom. As one looks at the lines and markings in ‘Tiznit’ one realizes that this artist conforms to no guidelines.
Sylvester (21) explains that initially, Twombly was inspired by artists such as Klee to incorporate gravity in his works. However, he decided to abandon this direction because he wanted no restrictions. The painting appears to be a fantasy or game to the artist. To some extent, it appears messy as some pain drapes off the canvas.
Nonetheless, this is a welcome mess and pleasant disorder. It is almost like a piece of cloth that a boy threw away into the corner of the room. In such a situation, the cloth does not cease to have value merely because it has been thrown away; it merely reflects the indifference or laziness of the boy.
Likewise, Twombly’s painting appears to be scrapped or thrown. The artist has refused to finish his piece of work because that is his nature; he wants to indulge in fantasy.
The meanings to be extracted from both artistic works are also quite divergent. In ‘Around the Fish’ the artist clearly thought about the motifs before placing them on the canvas. However, one should not be satisfied by the images as artistic pieces alone.. They had certain cultural or political meanings as well. In the same year that he made the painting, Klee had visited Italy.
He saw a lot of medieval art in these travels, and probably drew inspiration from some of them. Of particular relevance is the Byzantine as well as the mosaic found in St. Apollinare Nuovo; it was an illustration of the last supper with Jesus at the centre.
When one critically analyses ‘Around the fish’, one can find some similarities with these Italian pieces. The fish is at the centre of the piece and may therefore represent Jesus who was surrounded by his disciples. However, the dish contains two fish, so one cannot be sure that Klee really wanted to portray Jesus in his paintings.
Alternatively, one may think of this work of art in another way. Klee loved to focus on nature during his teachings in Germany. Franciscono (259) explains that Klee sought to reconcile nature with art. He often talked about the geometry inherent in natural objects. Furthermore, he usually collected items such as shells and plants.
Therefore, one may think of the fish as a literal representation of the animal. Then one may think of the surrounding as the sea or its natural setting. However, Klee joins the flowers to the fish with an arrow. This may signify fate or the inevitability of certain actions. One can never really be certain (Grohmann 180).
On the other hand, Twombly ‘s meanings cannot be found literally in his piece. These meanings must be deduced from what he did prior to completion of the test. One may assert that ‘Tiznit 1953’ is obsessive and impulsive. Therefore, on can deduce that these are the messages he is trying to send across to his audience.
The painting does not impose its meaning and is thus less aggressive than Klee’s ‘Around the Fish’ (Sylvester 39). A critic once explained that when Twombly starts to work on his piece, he is like ancient Chinese artists who never had room to correct their mistakes owing to the delicate fabrics they used. Consequently, most of them could only paint once and put up with the consequences.
In Twombly’s case, he is not obligated to create mistake-free work. He deliberately chooses not to correct his work once he puts that paint or crayon to paper. This is the reason why it is impossible to imitate Twombly. He does not desire to pass any hidden messages to his audience, and this explains why he uses an off-handed approach.
Klee often thought about his methods but Twombly stayed unattached to his work. Several art observers may come up with the same deduction about the significance of ‘Around the fish’, but it is likely that ‘Tiznit’ would elicit extremely divergent reactions.
Both artists used different processes to create their final pieces. Klee often stressed that it is the process leading to the art that counts rather than the actual piece. As such, he always sought to distant himself from the meaning of his work.
Paul Klee firmly believed in the importance of remaining vague during artistic creation (Franciscono 256). Nonetheless, Klee has imposed upon himself certain restrictions. He was economical with his forms and sought to stay away from excessiveness.
Even mathematical processes were used in his work. However, this piece reveals that geometry was a means to an end; it did not establish order; it was a mechanism for getting there. There was still a high level of ambiguity in his work.
This is the reason why one can find so many interpretations from ‘Around the fish’. The uncertainty he gave to this piece contributes to its authenticity. While Twombly never said this verbally, his painting says it for him. His work has eliminated the connection between the eye and the hand.
All he wants one to encounter is the feeling of creating. The greatest emphasis should not be on the trace but the activity of tracing. One may equate this to the same thing that takes places when children play. They rarely think about who will win; all the want it to do is spend time with each other (Sylvester 37).
The two artists also differ with regard to the use of color. Paul Klee had travelled to Tunisia in 1914. At that time, he realized that a painter must always utilize the beauty of color because each one is unique. Tunisia was laden with wonderfully colored mosaics that caused Klee to incorporate them into his work. These influences come out exceptionally well in ‘Around the fish’.
The artist meant to create a sort of rhythmic unity in his work. His patterns and symbols would not have come out so clearly if the artist had not utilized colors in the manner that he did. Klee always prefers to use pale or darker backgrounds in order to focus all the attention on the motifs. However, color works best when used on a divergent material.
The piece is a collage, and this utilized time and space as explained very clearly by Lachner (27). One may claim that Surealism grew right around the time when Klee made his piece. He captured this essence of color through collaging. To Klee, color provides a context to the rest of his work and this enforces his abstract motifs, which are always his centre of focus in his pieces.
Conversely, Twombly used color in a totally different light. He appears to use it sparingly as if he is trying to flatter with the pieces. Additionally, he seems to enjoy the surprise that color creates when crayons meet paper (Sylvester 33). Klee puts a lot of thought into combining the right colors.
However, Twombly does not appear to be bothered by this concern, he is not apprehensive about ruining his canvas because he has no goals to begin with. In ‘Tiznit (1953)’ he preferred to use a white canvas.
Nonetheless, he appears to embrace the qualities of these seemingly plain color, every canvas has its own characteristics and patterns; therefore; when one accepts these differences and uses them in order to send his message, then one might create very intriguing work.
The most fundamental difference between these two pieces is that there appears to be an objective system of knowledge or rationalization in Klee’s work, but this is absent in Twombly’s painting. Additionally, Klee’s piece is highly structured and full of self-imposed restrictions.
The opposite is true for Twombly; he appears to be interested in freedom rather than adhering to any sort of standard. Tiznit appears to be unfinished and disordered while ‘Around the fish’ is ordered or even geometric. Consequently, Twombly’s painting gives an illusion of fantasy and indulgence while Klee’s piece gives an illusion of cultural and symbolism
Franciscono, Marcel. Paul Klee: His Work and Thought, Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1991. Print.
Grohmann, William. Paul Klee. NY: Harry Abrams Inc, 1977. Print.
Lanchner, Carolyn. Paul Klee, NY: MoMA, 1987. Print.
Sylvester, Julie, Schama Simon & Barthes Ronald. Cy Twombly: Fifty years of works on paper. London: Distributed Art Publishers, 1980. Print.