Paul Klee and Ten Americans

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Each sign is to be understood in a certain context. In “Dialogue, Dialogic, Dialogism| Intertextuality, intermediality| Remix: A Student’s Guide,” Prof. Irvine introduces Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of “utterance.” “Our utterances” are not themselves “connected discourses,” but they also suggest “our relation as a speaker to a necessary other” (Irvine 1). This interpretation puts utterance and the subjects who produce those signs into a context. “An expression, utterance, or any form of discourse is therefore always already embedded in a history of expression by others in chains or networks of ongoing cultural and political moments” (Irvine 1). Bakhtin’s theory not only works for utterances, but also for all forms of expressions, including artworks.

Reading the introduction of the “Ten Americans: After Paul Klee” Exhibition, it seems that the Phillips Collection did a wonderful job in contextualizing Paul Klee’s artworks. The Introduction clearly explains that “the exhibition is the first to feature Klee in dialogue” with ten other artists. A brief introduction social-historical background immediately follows:

While Klee himself never joined his peers across the Atlantic, his works traveled there in great numbers, stimulating an enthusiastic reception by a young generation of American artists who, after the horrors of World War II, were searching for an art form removed from the external world. In Klee, they found a liberating example of an artist who drew upon many ideas gaining currency in the international artistic avant-garde, including the art of indigenous cultures, the power of symbolic language, the method of working from the unconscious, and an interest in probing nature’s invisible forces. Klee’s stylistically diverse body of work resonated with American abstract artists searching for a new personal language of expression.

The introduction explains how the horror of the war urges the artist to find new forms of art to express themselves. This gives an adequate reason for why Klee’s expressionist style resonates so well with his coeval American artists.

Paul Klee Yang Moe (1938)

Kenneth Noland In the Garden (1952)

Take the two paintings for example, even though the stylistic differences between the two paintings, including the two artists’ use of lines and colors, are obvious, they share some commonalities. For example, both of them use simple lines to create abstract patterns, and both patterns in their resemblance to human figures carry their own symbolic meanings. Although Noland painted In the Garden 14 years later than Paul Klee’s Yang Moe, their expressionist style and the themes that both paintings share nevertheless allow the viewers a new perspective to access to the traumatic post-WWII age. The commonalities between the two painting demonstrate well how the Phillips Collection brings the artists into dialogues.

My questions

1.Using the above case for example, how do we understand the process of meaning-production with Pierce’s theory? In other words, how do we conceptually get the meaning of the painting, and what are the “interpretants” in this process.

2. If we don’t contextualize the two works synchronically in spatial terms, but in temporal term with Peirce and Bakhtin’s theories, what is the new relationships between the two paintings?


Irving, Martin. Dialogue, Dialogic, Dialogism| Intertextuality, intermediality| Remix: A Student’s Guide.