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October 20, 2017

3,900 Pages of Paul Klee’s Personal Notebooks Are Now Online, Presenting 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.

“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.”

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.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages

Quick, what do you know about Leonardo da Vinci? He painted the Mona Lisa! He wrote his notes backwards! He designed supercool bridges and flying machines! He was a genius about, um… a lot of other… things… and, um, stuff…

Okay, I’m sure you know a bit more than that, but unless you’re a Renaissance scholar, you’re certain to find yourself amazed and surprised at how much you didn’t know about the quintessential Renaissance man when you encounter a compilation of his notebooks—Codex Arundel—which has been digitized by the British Library and made available to the public.

The notebook, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, represents “the living record of a universal mind.” And yet, though a “technophile” himself, “when it came to publication, Leonardo was a luddite…. He made no effort to get his notes published.”

For hundreds of years, the huge, secretive collection of manuscripts remained mostly unseen by all but the most rarified of collectors. After Leonardo’s death in France, writes the British Library, his student Francesco Melzi “brought many of his manuscripts and drawings back to Italy. Melzi’s heirs, who had no idea of the importance of the manuscripts, gradually disposed of them.” Nonetheless, over 5,000 pages of notes “still exist in Leonardo’s ‘mirror writing’, from right to left.” In the notebooks, da Vinci drew “visions of the aeroplane, the helicopter, the parachute, the submarine and the car. It was more than 300 years before many of his ideas were improved upon.”

The digitized notebooks debuted in 2007 as a joint project of the British Library and Microsoft called “Turning the Pages 2.0,” an interactive feature that allows viewers to “turn” the pages of the notebooks with animations. Onscreen glosses explain the content of the cryptic notes surrounding the many technical drawings, diagrams, and schematics (see a selection of the notebooks in this animated format here). For an overwhelming amount of Leonardo, you can look through 570 digitized pages of Codex Arundel here. For a slightly more digestible, and readable, amount of Leonardo, see the British Library’s brief series on his life and work, including explanations of his diving apparatus, parachute, and glider.

And for much more on the man—including evidence of his sartorial “preference for pink tights” and his shopping lists—see Jonathan Jones’ Guardian piece, which links to other notebook collections and resources. The artist and self-taught polymath made an impressive effort to keep his ideas from prying eyes. Now, thanks to digitized collections like those at the British Library, “anyone can study the mind of Leonardo.”

The Sketchbook Project Presents Online 17,000 Sketchbooks, Created by Artists from 135 Countries

If you love something give it away.

If it doesn’t come back to you, it was never really yours…

Or, it’s a labor of love you created under the auspices of the Brooklyn Art Library, with the full knowledge that giving it away is a cost of participation.

Every year, thousands of artists, from the experienced to the fledgling, pay a nominal fee to fill a 5×7 sketchbook with a custom barcode. Upon completion, the books are to be mailed back to the one room Art Library, to become part of the permanent collection, currently over 34,000 volumes strong (17,000 of which appear online). Visitors receive free library cards that allow them to view as many volumes as they like in-house, three at a time.

Artists willing to cough up a slightly more substantial fee can have their book digitized for online viewing at The Sketchbook Project.

In their virgin state, the sketchbooks are uniform. From there, anything goes, provided they retain their original height and width, and swell to no more than an inch thick. (Messy, gooey books might face rejection, in part because they threaten to contaminate the herd.)

Dip in at random and you will find an astonishing array of finished work: messy, meticulous, intimate, inscrutable, self-mocking, sincere, abstract, narrative, carefully plotted, utterly improvisational, accomplished, amateur – rendered in a wide variety of media, including ball point pen and collage.

My favorite way to browse the collection, whether in person or online, is by selecting a theme, just as the artists do when signing up for the annual project. 2016’s themes include “sandwich,” “great hopes and massive failures,” and “Ahhh! Monster!”

(“I’ll choose my own theme” is a perennial menu offering.)

The theme that guided the artists whose work is published herein is “Things Found on Restaurant Napkins.” Would you have guessed?

You can also search on specific words or mediums, artists’ names, and geographic locations. To date, The Sketchbook Project has received sketchbooks by creative people from 135+ countries.

Those ready to take the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project plunge can enlist here. Don’t fret about your qualifications—co-founders Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker have made things democratic, which is to say uncurated, by design.

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