Creativity Through Scleroderma

Georgina Foster is an Art Historian and has written this piece especially for World Scleroderma Day to celebrate the great artist Paul Klee, who she admires very much and who also had scleroderma.

by Georgina Foster

Artists to me, have always been the mystics that open a door to bring the divine to Earth. Down the ages artists, musicians and writers have opened doors for us to walk through. 

Perhaps there is no one who embodied what it is to be a mystic through the arts more clearly than Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940), one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, who truly invited us to walk through the door of his creativity beside him when he said: “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.” 

For those with Scleroderma, Paul Klee’s death on 29th June has become significant because it marks World Scleroderma Day, where Klee’s legacy has helped to inspire the formation of the World Scleroderma Foundation. Based in Basel, Switzerland, it draws together world experts in Scleroderma research and patient groups in an effort to support research for a cure.

Ten years ago, Paul Klee was an artist I studied in great depth at University alongside Wassily Kandinsky as I have long been fascinated with the symbiotic relationship between art and music, and both artists' work is truly a synthesis of the arts that have forever enchanted me. 

However, it was also during these formative years of my passion for art and music history, that I was starting to develop a cluster of mysterious symptoms that were starting to manifest within my body just as Paul Klee had experienced in the early to mid 1930s. 

Since my own diagnosis of Scleroderma in 2018, and looking back at the spinetingling synchronicities I share with Paul Klee, I have spent much time contemplating the relationship between meaning, purpose, courage and endurance within creativity that is so evident throughout the history of art from Paul Klee, to Frida Kahlo, to Vincent Van Gogh, to Henri Matisse and innumerable other examples. 

In order to dig into the rich tapestry of Paul Klee and other artists’ creativity, I want to examine what creativity truly means and how on this World Scleroderma Day, we can be emboldened globally to embody it just like an artist would, so that we can channel this into more research for this debilitating condition. 

The word ‘creativity’ in English and most European languages comes from the Latin “creatus”, literally "to have grown." 

Growth is the natural state for every living being on Earth. For if we aren’t growing, we’re dying. In this way, we can understand the true meaning of creativity as a journey of growth and perpetual transformation where the gifts and discomforts that it brings is a part of our natural cycle of life just like the seasons. 

​​Paul Klee once remarked that ‘motion is at the heart of all growth’ and, as a result, movement is at the heart of his paintings. 

As the art historian Wieland Schmied has noted before, the themes of dying and death are deeply laced into Klee’s art: ‘His [Klee’s] pictures are parallels to nature; the painter creates them through a process of organic growth. Growth is a crucial word for understanding Paul Klee’s work. Klee shows us the stages, the phases of a constantly evolving transformation, the metamorphosis of forms, the changing aspect of shapes.’

Paul Klee had an infinite capacity for self-renewal believing that we must all ‘be born again’ and these are words that I can deeply relate to. Through a life-long battle with multiple chronic illnesses since childhood, life has taught me to be courageous, but thanks to the research for this post, and my own life path, I truly understand creativity’s mystical healing properties to this elixir. 

Whilst I grieve the jarring symptoms Scleroderma brings me each day, I also believe that cultivating courage within creativity, as Paul Klee did, can be a profound lesson for us all to rediscover our strengths, keep our spirits and determination unshaken in times of need, and that with this courage, our hearts and our world will be healed through embodying creativity in every essence of our lives. 

These unprecedented times we are living in truly calls for visionaries and creatives just like Paul Klee who can express creativity to craft images, videos, and text to persuade and inspire. 

I hope that an understanding of Paul Klee and his reverence for creativity will offer the opportunity to catalyse creative solutions for Scleroderma where we can highlight the importance for research, and ultimately one day, a cure. 

A cure for Scleroderma will come one day, through the creativity of science. Far from being diametrically opposed, both the scientist and the artist understand that the cycle of birth and rebirth underpins all existence.

Perhaps most poignantly of all, one of Paul Klee’s last paintings is called ‘This Star Teaches Bending’ (1940). This World Scleroderma Day, this profound work reminds us that even the brightness and majesty of a shining star was once no more than stardust. 

Like Paul Klee, we need to use our own creativity so that our talents and gifts can shine brightly like the stars bringing hope and inspiration to all those around us.