The Swiss-German Project

The Swiss-German Contribution to Modern Art and Design

A Series of Educational Lectures and Training Sessions
By Mariano Akerman

GESTALT. "Essence or shape of an entity's complete form."

• Regarding a spot on the glass of the window, you may not see the forest.

• There are those who look at the tree but forget forest. And there are those who consider the forest but at the expense of denying that it's a cluster of different, individual trees.

• Full perception concerns both the telescope and the microscope.

• Reality is complex and not unquestionable.

"He who confronts the paradoxical exposes himself to reality." —Friedrich Dürrenmatt

• Is it possible to perceive both tree and forest at the same time?

• "There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception." —Aldous Huxley

Everything is dual;
everything has poles;
everything has its pair of opposites;
like and unlike are the same;
opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree;
extremes meet;
all truths are but half-truths;
all paradoxes may be reconciled. —Kybalion

The Gestalt theory understands the brain as holistic, with self-organizing tendencies. From here emerges the Gestalt dictum holding that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."
The central idea of holism is that any evolved whole is greater than the sum of his parts, and that no single thing can be fully understood in isolation from its extended context. Though this is obviously true, it may not to get us beyond banal observation. Moreover, holism may also be described as a soapy term which evades real complexity, conflict and change. Various phenomena such as instability and flow need to be explained through models based on fluidity.

Important aspects that may be included along the program:
1. The Whole and the Parts; Individual and Society; Tradition and Innovation
2. Representation and Inventiveness: Mimesis and "Something Else"
3. Aesthetical Categories: The Real, the Sublime and the Grotesque
4. Reason and Caprice: Order versus Chaos? ... Design vs. Arbitrariness?
5. Impulse and Precision
6. Intention and Expression: Repression vs. Sublimation?
7. Illusion, Disenchantment and Provocation
8. Education
9. Uniformity and Diversity
10. Pretension and Freedom
11. Memory and Oblivion
12. Conformism and Commitment

Time per lecture. Between 60 and 90 minutes

Technical needs
1. A dark auditorium or classroom
2. A computerized system allowing the projection of a PowerPoint Presentation
3. A projection-screen or a wall allowing the projection
4. A microphone


First painting. Paul Klee, Insula dulcamara, 1938. Oil on newsprint, mounted on burlap, 88 x 176 cm. Kunstmuseum, Bern. Insula dulcamara is the largest of Klee’s finished paintings. Its original title was "Insel der Kalypso" (Isle of Calypso). Delicate colours, reminiscent of blooming plants, contrast with hard black lines; open, dynamic shapes with closed, static ones. As a base, Klee used printed newspaper mounted on burlap; he painted it with oil paints and coloured paste.
The symbols are taken from an elementary vocabulary of forms and can be read in different ways. A line running from left to right in the top half of the picture is reminiscent of a serpent, the shape to its right looks like a piece of Arabic calligraphy. In the middle, a sallow face may be seen, and to this Klee was to return to in the 1940 Tod und Feuer (Death and fire).
The initial title of the painting refers to an image from Greek mythology – Odysseus’s sojourn on the isle of the nymph Calypso. While working on it, Klee broadened the subject to make a more open statement. The title Insula dulcamara awakens exotic associations, but at the same time it points out the opposites of sweet (Lat.: dulcis) and bitter (Lat.: amarus). He possibly refers to medicinal plants: Solanum dulcamara is the Latin name for the highly poisonous solanaceous herb, known as "bittersweet," and which was then used for healing due to its anti-inflammatory and metabolism-boosting properties. It is used to treat rheumatism, and helped ease Klee’s scleroderma. The scarlet fruits and small brown leaves dispersed about the painting may be references to ripe Solanum dulcamara. Yet, and because of its double-edged title, Klee's picture relates to ambiguity. Susanna Partsch notes that Klee's "bittersweet island" suggests a conflict. See Susanna Partsch and Wikipaintings
Made by a Swiss-born painter and graphic artist whose personal, often gently humorous works are replete with allusions to dreams, music, and poetry, the art of Paul Klee (1879-1940) is difficult to classify. Primitive art, surrealism, cubism, and children's art all seem blended into his small-scale, delicate paintings, watercolors, and drawings. Klee grew up in a musical family and was himself a violinist. After much hesitation he chose to study art, not music, and he attended the Munich Academy in 1900. He often incorporated letters and numerals into his paintings. Part of Klee's complex language of symbols and signs, these are drawn from the unconscious and used to obtain a poetic amalgam of abstraction and reality. Klee wrote that "art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible," and he pursued this goal in a wide range of media using an amazingly inventive battery of techniques. Line and color prevail in Klee's works, but he also produced series of works that explore mosaic-like effects.
After World War I, Klee taught at the BAUHAUS school, where his friend Kandinsky was also a faculty member. In "Pedagogical Sketchbook" (1925), one of his several important essays on art theory, Klee tried to define and analyze the primary visual elements and the ways in which they could be applied. In 1931 he began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy, but he was dismissed by the Nazis, who termed his work "degenerate." In 1933, Klee went to Switzerland. There he came down with the crippling collagen disease scleroderma, which forced him to develop a simpler style and eventually killed him. The late works, characterized by heavy black lines, are often reflections on death and war, but his last painting, Still Life (1940), is a serene summation of his life's concerns as a creator.

Paradox. A seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.
A paradox is an invitation to creatively depart from common preconceptions of what is true, reasonable or possible. At first glance, a paradox appears bizarre or absurd because "either-or" polarized thinking can not resolve its illogical or self-contradictory nature. Thus, paradoxing involves playing with opposites to deal with "either-or" as "both-and". Paradoxing can be distinguished into three aspects: Identify the Opposite, Juxtapose the Opposites, and Synthesize the Opposites.
IDENTIFY THE OPPOSITE: What is the reverse belief, quality, value, idea, object, practice, function, situation or experience?
Clarify the context (e.g. if you could wave your magic wand, what would you want? what has bothered you recently? why is this a problem? what have you already thought of or tried? etc)
Imagine how it can be turned into its opposite(s) (e.g. head in the opposite direction from the normal; exaggerate some dimension or attribute; distort the normal pattern or sequence of relationships)
Assume that the opposite point of view is worth looking at — what is customarily done or believed is not necessarily the right thing, the best thing, or even a good thing in every circumstances
Resist the temptation to drop an idea that seems initially absurd — thinking thoughts that are absurd at first glance is an essential part of paradoxing
JUXTAPOSE THE OPPOSITES: Resolve the dilemma: How can I have my cake and eat it too?
Visualize the opposites together in your mind, holding them there together AT THE SAME TIME
Consider their relationships, similarities, pros and cons, and interplay (e.g. how do each may need the other, how each may have its place, how one may turn into the other, etc)
Explore how the opposites can work together in a complementary, mutually reinforcing way
Adopt a new meaning/perspective, or create something novel and useful, which entails the SIMULTANEOUS presence of opposites in juxtaposition (e.g. a "both-and" understanding, a household hammer with a head for hammering nails and a claw for pulling them out)
SYNTHESIZE THE OPPOSITES: How can opposites be combined in such a way that one can't tell which is which?
Visualize how to fuse, combine, mingle, integrate, or synthesize the opposites to produce a third possibility — something or idea above and beyond the opposites (e.g. prescription glasses that are both glasses and sunglasses)
Adapted from Derm Barret, The Paradox Process, New York: AMACOM, 1997 (Paradoxing: Playing with Opposites).

Links | Enlaces
Einfühlung | Empathy | Empatía
Swiss and German Creators