Journal article Open Access
Hans Hofmann and Paul Klee - An Artistic Affinity
Paul Klee and Hans Hofmann were two artists with similar backgrounds-and, not coincidentally-who had the same approach to making art.
Hofmann and Klee both knew Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, and were in Munich and Paris at the same time. Although they did not believe that art could be taught, they delivered lectures on pictorial configuration. Both resisted explaining and theorizing art and instead focused on compositional methods. To them, the act of generating form was more interesting than the result thereof; the interplay and tension between opposites instigated this vital process. However, Hofmann applied his Push-and-Pull theory directly to the process of composing upon the picture plane, whereas Klee extended his dualistic concept of pictorial composition to more universal themes like human existence. But in their quest for the means to enliven compositional elements, both artists turned to Henri Bergson’s vitalism and Nietzsche’s dualistic constructs.
Neither artist taught a specific style. Rather, they imparted an approach to composition or, in other words, an artistic demeanor that had open-ended results. Thus, by the late 1930’s both artists were important role models to the younger generation of American artists in New York. The young Americans learned about Hofmann’s ideas from the many lectures he held in his art school, which was a locus for their activity. Alternately, Klee’s works were available to them for study in a myriad of exhibitions at New York galleries and at the Museum of Modern Art. Hofmann’s lectures and Klee’s work taught them how to synthesize cubist and surrealist tendencies in a personal pictorial language that was not derivative of any one style. By combining conscious and unconscious working methods, the new generation of American artists was thus able to adapt their forbearers’ dynamic modes of process and composition.