In the stream of Primitivism, Paul Klee was an artist who used simple approaches to convey artistic expression. He created "primitive art" that incorporated only the most basic symbolism and use of form to communicate broad, ambiguous ideas. The freedom of the artist's imagination extends here even to a world that doesn't always make sense to the painter as well as to the viewer. He is known to have "appropriated" the works of children—he actually copied kids' work to infuse a greater sense of simplistic sincerity. As the Enlightenment philosophers thought that native tribes of "savage" people possessed an inherent nobility and honesty, so artists like Klee found a greater connection to humanity through simple forms, such as this oil and watercolor painting by the artist, entitled Fish Magic.
The story goes that Klee visited the aquarium of Naples and watched the fish there in the huge tanks dart, turn, and glide gracefully by. Fascinated by these colorful animals, the artist took his brush and slowly began to make lines and shapes to a canvas with no definite idea in mind except to capture the instinctive feelings of his reaction to the sight. In Fish Magic, we are presented with a magical world of total fantasy and surrealism. Nothing looks real, no perspective gives the painting any semblance to real life, and the subjects all vary so strangely that their placement next to each other stretches our understanding of the scene beyond the limits of what reality can permit. Consequently, the subject of Fish Magic becomes a thing nonsensical or not understandable—the subject is abstract. Klee spent hours studying shells and butterfly wings and implemented these organic designs from nature in his work; but this is a scene clearly not found anywhere in nature. We can discern fish floating in an undefined, black space, and there are also flowers, potted plants, a stopwatch, and, by all appearances, even people as well, among other things. What are they all doing in this scene? What's going on? The ideals of Primitivism discredit those questions and say that those things don't matter; what matters is the natural relation of our mind's eye to the visual stimulus of the painting. As I stated that not all Expressionism denoted self-expression, a painting like Klee's can be read as a direct appeal to the viewer's responsive, vicarious expression through visual interaction with the piece. Since the subject is so incomprehensible, it is free of any constricting interpretive criteria for appreciation. This is pure imagination, and imagination does not always make sense to person imagining as much as it does not always make sense to others. Typical of the metacritical approach to art taken by the Modernists, many European artists around this time took the stance on their paintings to purposefully leave meaning out of their works as a way to construct a more genuinely expressive painting truer to the abstracts of cognitive and emotional consciousness and unconsciousness within the spectrum of the human experience.