Connecting the Dots of the Artworld

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Bradley Walker Tomlin, “Number 12-1949” (1949)

Paul Klee’s “Kettledrummer” (1940)

At first glance, Bradley Walker Tomlin’s Number 12-1949 (1949) and Paul Klee’s Kettledrummer (1940), contain visual patterns and similarities, such as, heavy black lines and contrasting earth tones. Both are abstract in nature, have a primitive quality, both do not depict a story, thing, or sign, and both do not follow the artistic rules of “traditional” art. Tomlin shows this ‘disobedience’ by allowing paint to drip on the canvas while Klee has a childlike quality. While the visual details are important, “the utterance is filled with dialogic overtones, and they must be taken into account to fully understand the style of the utterance” (As cited in Irvine, p. 4). In other words, recognizing and discovering the discourse behind the genre and the artist can provide deeper meaning as to what each simulacrum represents.

  Similarities between paintings show a possible dialogue between artists, but for meaning to be discovered, we need to know the “historically contingent” background for each. Discovering the connection requires a combination of both visual and background information. Just as recognizing the visual influence of Japonisme can deepen the interpretation in Degas’ “The Tub” and Cassatt’s “The Bath,” the historical account of their relationship leads to deeper discovery. Kleiner (2016) writes “Cassatt’s style in this work owed much to the compositional devices of Degas and of Japanese prints, but the painting’s design has an originality and strength all its own” (p. 697). In this case, Cassatt’s work can been seen as in interface to the work of Degas, offering a new perspective by combining his work with her own. “Remix” in art is a fact, not a problem (Irvine, 2014, p. 31). Therefore, the importance of excavating the network of influence in the art world is essential to finding meaning.

Edgar Degas, The Tub, 1886.

Mary Cassatt, The Bath, ca. 1892.

In addition to who and why these artist were talking to, what historically contingent, cognitive information regarding Tomlin is needed to deepen the meaning in his work? Could Tomlin be seen as an interface to Klee’s work?

When The Armory Show in the US expanded a discourse to include Americans (Arsanon & Manefield, 2012), how did the conversation change?

Since semiosis is not a one-way interpretation, according to Crow (2010), and culture impacts the interpretations of signs, can we see patterns among the American artists work that reveal any collective interpretations? Or are the American paintings evidence of inter-individual responses to Klee’s work?

Because color can produce different interpretations and signs depending on your culture and since abstract art emphasizes color, what can we gather from Klee in comparison with the ten American artists? Furthermore, how can we use contextual knowledge of Klee’s cultural experience to discover symbolism in his context? Can this provide insight into what meaning the American artists interpreted from Klee’s art? Are there any commonalities?  What network of meaning was Tomlin a part of that allowed him to be impacted by Klee in the first place?  Knowing that Klee never traveled to the US, how does such an abstract subjective painting impact an entire community of artists?



Crow, David. Visible Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics in the Visual Arts. Lausanne; London: AVA Academia; Thames & Hudson, 2010.

Kleiner, Fred S..  Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume II. 14th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016.

H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012.

Irvine, “Student’s Guide to Mikhail Bakhtin: Dialogue, Dialogism, and Intertextuality.

Irvine, Martin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.”
In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Phillips Collection website for Paul Klee and Ten Americans, After Paul Klee