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Origins Educational Years page 4

 
 

Josef Albers & Yale University
At Yale, Josef Albers introduced me to the meaning of visual. To be able to look at images abstractly without regard for content, and to see what was happening in terms of color, form or space. Basic design terminology took on new meaning for me that had never existed prior to Yale. I learned the significance of nuance those small but important considerations that I had not been aware of before Albers. I began the Color class with Albers and finished the course with Sy Sillman. I took basic drawing with Albers, and both of these courses were revelations for me, and had an enduring influence on my own development.

For anyone with an interest in teaching, Josef Albers was an exemplary role model. He had enormous experience and insight into teaching and students. He was the most effective and inspirational teacher I have encountered in my career. I am certain it was Albers and not coincidence that led to so many of his graduates going into teaching. My experiences at Yale were the foundation for what I was to do as a teacher, and it prepared me to appreciate at a later date the teaching of Armin Hofmann.

While I was enrolled at Yale, Josef Albers was invited to the Minneapolis School of Art for several days of meeting with faculty and giving lectures. He never traveled by air, so he took the train to Minneapolis. I was chosen to assist him while he was in Minneapolis. I flew out and picked him up at the train station. I was his companion, guide and driver while in Minneapolis. The one event that is still most vivid for me was Alber’s meeting with the drawing teachers. They asked him to explain his philosophy on drawing. Albers clearly outlined his views and sequencing of a drawing program. The teachers were quite defensive, and began to challenge Alber’s opinions. Gustav Krollman, an elderly Austrian drawing master, was especially vocal. After a few moments of verbal attacks, Albers would listen to the comments and then say, “Gentlemen prefer blondes.” This infuriated Gustav Krollman. After these exchanges had gone on for a few minutes, Gustav finally blurted out, “You damn Prussians are all alike!”

After the meeting was over, Albers wanted a break so we went out and sat in the park. I asked him what he meant by “Gentlemen prefer blondes.” He said that he had fought these battles thirty years ago and now he had to conserve his energy for more positive purposes. They had asked for his views and he had given them. They disagreed indicating that they preferred something else, so they should do what they preferred and he would do the same.There was nothing to be gained by argument.

Albers was very Germanic in that he used himself to punish or reward students. When critiquing painting students it was customary for him to ask a student what they were trying to do. If the student responded in terms of color, space or form, Albers engaged in meaningful discussion with the student. If the student responded in terms of feelings, or some esoteric rationale, Albers would throw up his arms and in a loud voice exclaim, “Gott in Himmel! Don’t show me your intestines.” He would avoid that student for several weeks. It did not take students long to learn how they should reply to Alber’s questions.

On several occasions, I would pass Albers on the sidewalk and speak to him with a good morning or good afternoon. He never acknowledged that he even knew me. Several of the Graphic Design students asked Albers if we set up a non-credit painting class, would he critique us once a week. He agreed to do so. When the class began, there were about nine of us. In six weeks, it was down to four who regularly participated. I was one of the four. The next time I met Albers on campus and spoke, he gave me a hearty greeting, put his arm around my shoulder and asked me what all I was doing. A remarkable man.

 

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