Symbols reassure the mind that we do not depend exclusively on mundane experience

Der Niesen, Paul Klee
Symbols reassure the mind that we do not depend exclusively on mundane experience.
Paul Klee, Creative Credo 1920

This watercolour was painted by Paul Klee 1915. It was painted to honour the death of his friend and fellow painter, August Macke. It is an image of a mountain in the Bernese Oberland. The mountain has been transformed from its earthly manifestation into a magic mountain. The heavens above the mountain are filled with celestial forms, the sun and the moon, a six-pointed star and a cluster of asterisks. 

Just a year before Klee painted this picture he had travelled to Tunis with Macke. At the end of this journey world war one was declared. Macke was sent to the front and was killed almost immediately. He was in his late twenties and left behind a young wife and child. 

His paintings had been influenced by the French artist Delauny whose work was labelled Orphic Cubism. The paintings were about the radiant flowing power of pure colour. I remember seeing them for the first time in the sitting room of Peter Roth, a Christian community priest living in Botton Village. I had come to see him because I was broken hearted by my barren university education. I found myself thinking If you have these paintings on your wall you must be a good man. 

Both Macke and Klee belonged to a group called The Blue Rider. Just the image of the blue rider conjures up images of courage and belief in the future. Although Macke was not entirely comfortable with the theories and ideas around the Blue Rider he was nevertheless deeply appreciated by his fellow artists. When he died Franz Marc said of him that with the loss of his harmony German art had become a shade paler. 

In this painting the blue mountain rises above the forefront of the image which is made up of coloured rectangles and dots as well as the organic form of a tree. The mountain has been simplified into a singing blue triangle which rises above the clashing chaos of the world situation. This radiant symbol asserts that poetic values can overcome the trauma of that terrible war beyond the Alps. Later Klee was to write: “Symbols reassure the mind that we do not depend exclusively on mundane experience.”

For Kandinsky and Marc who found the name for their new group, blue was the colour of gratitude to the past, the awareness of the spirit and the longing for a new adventure. For this reason, I felt it fitting to write about and show this image as we journey through the month of December to the birth of the light in The Holy Nights. 

This year we have not always been able to meet face to face in order to take part in the religious life. The services have had to be celebrated in the church with only the priest and the servers. Meanwhile at home many have taken part in the celebration inwardly. I have heard people describe this as a profound experience. This too has been an assertion of the power of poetic values. As Kandinsky described, the singing blue is the colour of the spirit and reminds us of our gratitude towards that which went before, expressing as well , not pessimism, but the longing for a new adventure; an adventure born out of the resilience to meet our challenges with the question, “What is life asking of me?”
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