Lesson 4: Klimt and the Computer

Lesson 1
Ritual Geometry


Lesson 2
Group Elements

Color Theory

Lesson 3
Groups and Groups Acting on Sets

Block printing

Lesson 4
Klimt and the Computer

Color and symmetry in modern art I

Lesson 5

Islamic art

Lesson 6
Penrose and Rice

Color and symmetry in modern art II

Lesson 7
Escher 1

Escher 2

Lesson 8
Hundertwasser & Griffeath

Pattern and Modern Painting

Brian P. Hoke: Cellular Automata and Art

Student's Work



Today we introduce photoshop and terrazzo, letting students try their hand at computer assisted design. Later we see how pattern is used in art via discussion of Klimt, whose art will slightly resemble the exercise students did at the computer. We will also math issues arising from media chosen, ending with a geometry Shibori problem.

  • 1. Class begins in the computer lab with a demo of a fake Klimt using photoshop and terrazzo. The result looks like what Klimt might have done if he had to execute his pieces out of torn wrapping paper and was missing his right hand. Klimt himself is not mentioned because we don't want to ruin the surprise.

  • 2. Group computer exercise.

  • 3. How can pattern be used to make an artistic statement? For the rest of the course we will be working with repeat patterns in the plane. We will define these to be patterns with infinite translational symmetry in two directions. This brings us to the topic of intention in both mathematics and art.

    "Whoever wants to know about me as a painter - the only topic of any interest - should study my pictures with care, and try to draw from them what I am and what I am trying to do."
    -- Gustav Klimt

    The Kiss,   (1907-1908)

    The Kiss

    a. Old Globetheater,   (1888), Vienna

    Old Globetheater

    Klimtwas born in 1862, and attended the School of Arts and Crafts, for artisans. This was an unusual institution, offering its students an education equal in quality to the art school nearby. Klimt initially made his living by receiving commissions for interior theater decoration. He did the decor for the New Burgtheater, resulting in this painting as further commission. Each face in this painting is a portrait of an actual prominent individual of the time, each sketched separately prior to executing this work. It is done in gouache and is about 32 by 36 inches.

    b. Schubert at the Piano,   (1899)

    Schubert at the Piano

    In addition Klimt did several equally masterful pieces, such as this portrait of Schubert at the piano, which enchanted the Viennese public. It was destroyed by fire and no color photos were ever taken. It was done in 1899 as part of a comission for a music room in a mansion. But already Klimt was developing a more removed style, as you can see by "Music". A reworked version of this piece faced Schubert from across the room.

    c. Jurisprudence,   (1907)


    This piece is part of four murals commissioned for a new university in Austria, Aula. Ordered in response to Klimt's early work, it was then rejected by university. Look carefully, can you identify the female figures in the foreground from Greek mythology? They are the furies. Where are the scales of justice? Where is the pattern and with whom is it identified? What is this piece saying about the state of justice and its relationship to the individual?

    d. Hygeia,   (1900-1907)


    Those who commissioned these paintings were quite upset by them and refused to have them displayed at Aula. They were stored at a private residence for years as Klimt tried to raise money to buy them back. Finally they were destroyed by fire. Except for this closeup of the panel "Medicine", no color photos exist.

    What is the message of these paintings? What has happened to Klimt? Klimt became obsessed with one large theme, the relationship of man to universe. Pattern was one mechanism he used to portray his ideas.

    e. Here are some portraits of women, from his early works to his late works. Sonja Knips,1898 is a typical example of one of the early ones.

    Sonja Knips

    f. You can watch his style change in Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein,   (1905)

    Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein

    g. From there it evolves further into what he is best remembered for now, as in Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, (1907).

    Here the motifs appearing in the pattern have become a personal iconography for the painter. What do you think the eye shaped motifs represent? How about the vertically split circles?

    h.The Three Ages of Woman,   (1905)

    The Three Ages of Woman

    Klimt was part of a movement called the Secessionists. These artists made a search for new relationships to old material, especially Greek myth (They worked in the same time and place as Freud.) The Secessionist motto was "To art its freedom!".

    i. Judith and Holopherne,   (1901)

    Judith and Holopherne

    Klimt's relationships with women were not smooth, and in much of his work women are typically linked with strong archetypes, often by context as in "Judith". Who remembers her story?

    Where are the infinite symmetric patterns? How are they being used by the artist? Klimt uses pattern sometimes to indicate the gods, the aspect of the painting beyond mortal individuals, as a direct link to the infinite. Note contrast between 3 dimensional human forms and 2 dimensional flat patterns. Here the pattern is used to flatten parts of the painting, again playing with space.

    j. Pallas Athena,   (1898)

    Pallas Athena

    How is the artist using allover patterns and color to make a statement? What is this artist's intent? How is pattern used to achieve it? Where is the pattern of Athena's armour echoed? What associations are therefore brought to mind?

    k. Beech Grove,   (1902)

    Beech Grove

    Klimt also painted Landscape. Some claim his work was not influenced by Monet but rather Whistler.

    l. Poppy Field,   (1907)

    Poppy Field

    These were called "mood landscapes", where you see a suggestion of meditation in a natural setting. Think about all of your color exercises. Why aren't these considered impressionism?

    m. Beethoven frieze,   (1902)

    "Enough of censorship!

    I am having recourse to self-help.

    I want to get out.

    I want to get away from all these sterile absurdities that hinder my work, and get back to a state of freedom.

    I refuse all state patronage.

    I renounce everything."

  • 4. A geometry problem.

    How does art or craft affect mathematics? We have seen how mathematics might affect art, but there is a reverse effect as well. Remember the block print exercise from class, where you made a right isoceles triangle block with asymmetric pattern. Using just this block, what kinds of symmetry groups could you produce? What is impossible? This is a mathematical question imposed by the craft process chosen. Today we will try a different process.

    Next week we will have a visit from Joan Morris, who is a world class Shibori artist. Her day job is dyer for the theater department. She will bring her collection of antique shibori pieces as well as her own work and slides. Today we will try one kind of Shibori.

    Shibori is an ancient form of tie dye done in Japan and many other places around the world. One version of it uses clamped, folded cloth. You should fold your cloth in an accordion-pleated pattern, along any angles you choose. Pick some matching wooden clamps to press from either side. Cut paper will protect the fabric from dye that is already in the wood. You can secure the clamps with either a C-clamp or string tied tightly. The part that is inside the clamp will stay white. The rest will turn the color of the dye.

    The pictures of class doing Shibori

    Everybody now gets to fold one and clamp it. Your job is to use the patterns described in the last math homework. Pick one. Try to fold the cloth so that when it is dyed that symmetry group will result. After it is folded, use the permanent marker to put both YOUR NAME and the SYMMETRY GROUP you predict right on the cloth. Give them to Dorothy.


  • 1. Arrange yourselves in groups around the computers. As the assignment progresses please take turns at the controls of the computer.

  • 2. Do NOT use the mouse and the stylus at the same time! This will confuse the computer. I would prefer you to use the stylus to get used to the tablet set-up.

  • 3. Open Photoshop. Open a new file in Photoshop. Name it after somebody in your group.

  • 4. Open the paint selector. Play around with it. What do the various scales mean?

  • 5. Select a foreground color. Select a brush type. Draw something.

  • 6. Select a different foreground color. Select the paint can. Pour in a background.

  • 7. Go to FILTERS at the top, open XAOS TOOLS then TERRAZO. Play around with different regions and symmetries.

  • 8. Tile your file with one of them.

  • 9. Pick a highly contrasting foreground color. Draw a semi-recognizable image of a human with clothes on over your pattern.

  • 10. Use the lasso to isolate some part of the clothing of the image. Turn on Terrazzo.

  • 11. Make a new but related tiling for the lassoed area. Tile it.

  • 12. Save your image on the desktop and mail it to yourself if you are on blitz as an enclosure if you really want it. The desktop will be cleaned off later. Keep the file open.

  • 13. Circulate around the room and see what the other groups did!

    To the instructor: It is worth noting that hardly anybody did this assignment as written. They mostly just got aquainted with the machines and found out what they could do.

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© Copyright 1996, Pippa Drew and Dorothy Wallace, Dartmouth College