Pedagogy Josef Albers page 5


Albers talked about type only once. He recounted how as a child in Germany, children’s books were printed in different sizes of type. Each size dictated the tone of voice with the largest type being shouted and the smallest being whispered. He suggested that we read advertisements using this method to see how ridiculous some of them were in establishing priorities.

While I was a student at Yale, Josef Albers was invited to the Minneapolis School of Art for several days of meeting with faculty and lectures. I was asked to assist him while he was in Minneapolis. He never traveled by air, so he took the train to Minneapolis. I flew out ahead of his arrival 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 Albers’ meeting with the drawing teachers. They asked him to explain his drawing program. Albers clearly outlined his approach to, and sequencing of, a basic drawing program. The reaction to his views were that the program inhibited creativity, and what about expression, mood and the role of emotion? Albers’ reply was that emotion can bring the artist to the easel, get out the paints and set-up or to work all night, but it had little to do with the actual drawing or painting. He believed the artist must be lucid, critical, focused and objective out of concern for imagery meeting the ends being sought. This required objectivity and not subjectivity.

The teachers became increasingly defensive, and began challenging Albers’ views. 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 outside and sat in the park. I asked him what he meant by “Gentlemen prefer blondes.” He told me that he had fought these battles thirty years ago, and now that he was growing old, he must conserve his energy for more productive purposes. They asked for his views and he gave 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 through argument as it was apparent no one was open to changing their mind.

Albers on Color
The longer I taught design, the more appreciative I became for Albers’ color class. There have been numerous critics of Albers and his color course. Largely by individuals who never took the course or truly understood it. The principal criticism was his use of color papers in place of pigments

Albers’ rationale was that the purpose of the course was for students to learn about color, and he did not believe they should have to cope with problems connected to brushes, mixing pigments and applying color all at the same time. Imagery was always abstract because Albers wanted color to dictate quantities and with representational images, content tended to dictate quantities.

Using cut and torn color papers was simple and quick. It allowed students to make considerably more visual decisions in the same amount of time than if they had been using pigment. He also liked the fact that each sheet of color was numbered on the back, and if more of that color was required, it could be identified and purchased at the art store by using the code number.

The process of laying one color against another was much quicker than mixing color, applying it and waiting for it to dry. The more judgments students made, the more they learned. Albers’ exercises were designed to make students explore and refine which are positive learning processes.

I believe that Albers always enjoyed seeing student work when it was put up for critique, but I am convinced that process was considerably more important to him than end results.

Over the years I have known a number of individuals who took Albers’ color course and later taught it. I never met two teachers that taught color the same, or exactly as Albers had presented the course. Yet, most of them were effective in that students understood criteria and objectives and applied what they learned. The pattern seemed to be using Albers' problems in the beginning and gradually substituting or adding problems of their own definition. Each teacher would personalize the course by emphasizing certain principles or identifying different objectives. This certainly was true for me.

I recall Albers talking about the relationship between shape and color. His point was that when studying color, all other elements such as shape should be subjugated. Active shapes, oppositional relationships or other visual dynamics detract from what is happening with color. I am sure this was the reasoning for his Homage To A Square series as the square is the most non-intrusive and static shape possible. Taking this point-of-view to heart, I guided students away from highly active compositions and kept the emphasis on color.

I tended to see most of the free studies other than the leaf studies as landscapes. With both the free and leaf studies, I stressed composition almost as strongly as color. I found the course excellent for working with refinements and developing student awareness of visual sensitivity through nuances.

Albers conceived color exercises within the framework of general principles. The principles never changed but problem definitions varied from year to year.

Especially in the color course, Albers introduced a number of principles, that within my experience, were unique to him. Principles were clear and had broad application to visual areas other than his courses. The genius of Albers as a teacher is found in his ability to define learning principles, relate one to another or how one principle built on another and defining criteria for each.


Color Principles >

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"You damn Prussians
-are all alike!"

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