The Tree as Artist and Art Form

December 30th, 2015 · 8 Comments · Explore New York

To Paul Klee, a tree embodied the creative process. In a public lecture, the artist likened the artist to a tree. The artist is deeply rooted in the world, while the artist’s work is similar to the tree’s crown, as the book Art and Phenomenology explains. “Standing at his appointed place, at the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths, ” Klee observed. “And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.” In Klee’s conceptual view, the manifestation of the human body into artistic creation and the tree’s shaping are intertwined.

Examine a branch or trunk or crown, feel the tree’s presence and qualities, and it will speak to you or move you in some way. A single tree is one of the most soulful, persistent, and expressive of nature’s creations. Trees speak to us, energetically and visually, on a deep level.

The human body and the body of a tree are in kinship. The About Trees Exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee museum in Bern, Switzerland, seeks to explain this connection. The roots, trunk, and crown correspond to the feet, body, and the head. We can only wonder at their strength through the seasons and weather’s vagaries. On the whole, trees outlive humans, their lives spanning the generations. The glorious American elms on the Central Park Mall looked at children playing and the Sunday strollers at the turn into the 20th century the way they do the drummers, skateboarders, and walkers today. This is not to say that trees aren’t frail or vulnerable.

A tree both exemplifies certain predictable laws of nature and processes, but in countless variations and individual forms. A tree can be fierce and soaring, gentle and fragile, imposing, graceful, gnarly and quirky, ancient, or tender. We can see it and project our moods upon it, or conversely draw its energy to us. Trees are imbued with meanings and symbolism, something the storytellers have known since ancient times.

Trees On a HillsideTrees become part of life’s experiences and chapters. The autumn of 1974, after my mother died, I bonded with a tree along a local road near my Western Pennsylvania home. It was a tiny tree, just planted. How, I wondered, would this new, small tree make it through the winter? Yes, at age 22, I was wondering how I would make it without my mother that year. As the tree made it to spring, so did I.

We see qualities and character we admire and honor. A tree on Greenwich Street in New York’s West Village survives despite the encroachment of a chain-link fence that has made searing impressions upon its trunk. Along Route 208 in Ulster County is a huge tree that by its very elegant, rounded branches seems to say, “I preside over the fields and the seasons.” Each tree is not only life-giving to our Earth and us. It’s an unmistakable art form.

Behold each one. Look closely in wonder.

Roots and Rock

Tree With a Rainbow SkyEvergreen Near a Country Church

Yellow and BlueTree In Chain Link

Ridges In a TrunkTiny Branches

Spring Renewal: New Leaves, Old TrunkCommanding Presence

Tree RootsTree Silhouette and the Ridge

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • gberke

    How nicely done! Yes, a tree is all that!

  • Colleen

    Thanks for the lovely reminder of the resilience and beauty of nature. A good way to wrap up 2015.

    • Susan DeMark


      My pleasure! It worked out that way, for the essay to be at year’s end and the transition to 2016. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, it is a particularly fitting time to reflect on nature’s resilience.

      Thanks, and all the best in the New Year!

  • David

    A lovely look at nature and how it reflects us humans as artists, living beings, and survivors. As I’ve told you before, I love the tree in Greenwich Street and I hope it (and I) thrive until I get a chance to meet it in person.

    • Susan DeMark


      “…as artists, living beings, and survivors” — you capture that precisely.

      Yes, you can see how attached I am to that strong survivor tree in Greenwich Street. What a spirit! I look forward to you meeting that tree in person.

      Thanks so much, and all the very best to you, my friend, in the New Year!

  • Janet Bolitho

    As an ardent tree admirer, I found much to relate to in this piece of tree appreciation. Thank you for it.

    • Susan DeMark


      I’m very pleased that it resonated with you. Trees are such amazing companions on our journeys.

      I enjoy your photography, and I look forward to keeping up with all your document so well and beautifully in Port Melbourne and its environs.


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