Albers talked about type only once. He recounted how as a
child in Germany, childrens 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
conceived color exercises within the framework of general
principles. The principles never changed but problem definitions
varied from year to year.
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.