Museum Masters: Paul Klee, or Secret Code Artwork


Paul Klee, for me, is one of those artists who just grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. His work is so striking, so original and so multifaceted that it was with great excitement that I taught my most recent Museum Masters class about him!

Known best as a surrealist/expressionist, Paul Klee (pronounced “clay”) was born in Switzerland to a wonderfully musical family. As a child, Klee struggled with which road to take: become a musician like his parents? or become an artist? Despite his talents with the violin, Klee ultimately (and to our great collective benefit) began to study to become an artist in Germany. Here are a few other fun facts about Paul Klee:

  • Klee’s beloved grandmother gave him a box of chalk when he was a child and he loved to draw with it
  • Klee attended the Munich Academy in Germany to study to be an artist, although he didn’t think he was a good enough painter at the time.
  • In the beginning, all of Klee’s works were colorless. He mostly drew pen-and-ink pieces, some using only one line!
  • After traveling to Tunisia and seeing all the amazing colors there, he immediately began to incorporate bright colors into his pieces, and never looked back!
  • Klee created more than 9,000 works of art during his lifetime
  • Klee worked with both his right and left hands, although he preferred using his left hand for drawing and his right hand for writing

Best known for his colorful abstract pieces, Klee loved to incorporate shapes and vivid hues into his pieces and thought of his own art as poetry through imagery. Here are a few of my favorites!

Castle and Sun
(this always makes me think of the Small World ride at Disneyland!)

WI (In Memoriam)

The Goldfish
(needless to say, the kids went crazy for this one…)

After looking at a wide variety of Klee’s most famous pieces, the children were tasked with creating their own work of abstract art inspired by this talented artist. The children wrote their names in large letters (the letters must reach from the top to the bottom of the paper) with one color of oil pastel. Then, they colored around each letter to create an abstract effect. The children loved the fact that, as they colored, their names all but disappeared into the artwork. They all decided that we should call these “secret code” artwork – and I wholeheartedly agree!

Here are a few of these amazing pieces:


And here are some fun things you can do at home!

  • There is a lovely children’s book inspired by Paul Klee’s artwork entitled “The Cat and the Bird” by Geraldine Elschner. It’s definitely worth checking out at your local library or bookstore!
  • Test your skills at a one-line drawing a la Paul Klee. Draw a complete picture without lifting your pen from the paper once. It’s definitely challenging – and a fun activity for kids and parents to share!
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