For the 4th session of Playing with Meaning we re-visited the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern, exploring the possibility of describing the works entirely in musical terms. Klee was himself a talented violinist, and his parents and wife were all musicians. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke even wrote this of him:
Even if you hadn’t told me he plays the violin, I would have guessed that on many occasions his drawings were transcriptions of music."
So the idea that music was an influence on Klee, in various ways, has historical backing. The point of the excercise was in part to explore the idea of aspect seeing - the notion that the same physical object can be seen in very different ways depending on our mental set. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously used the Duck-Rabbit picture to illustrate this (for illustrations of duck-rabbits see 9 examples of the duck-rabbit, also this article about the claim to have found the oldest pictorial illusion). Wittgenstein's discussion is in Part ll of Philosophical Investigations. The sudden awareness of the previously unseen animal in the picture is an example of what Wittgenstein calls ‘the dawning of an aspect’. The visual stimulus doesn’t change. The retinal image that we have is presumably also unchanged. Yet we suddenly see what we thought was just a duck as a rabbit. This example emphasises the degree to which seeing is linked with expectation and concepts and is far from the passive reception of incoming visual data that some early empiricists believed it to be (Hans-Johann Glock in his A Wittgenstein Dictionary p.37 calls this ‘concept-saturatedness of perception’).
Last night's exercise also was an illustration of a game in the sense of its involving the voluntary acceptance of unnecesary obstacles to achieving an end (see last week's notes about Bernard Suits' account of games), rather than of unstructured play.
The exercise worked well, and resulted in different sorts of attention - we found visual analogues for rhythm, tone, scales, accent, key, echo, modulation, musical genre, and much more in Klee's work, and generally we spent more time discussing non-representational aspects of pictures than we might otherwise have done. It was also fun.