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Interaction of Color Turns 50: The Legacy of Josef and Anni Albers

Josef Albers, Dessau, ca. 1926 | photograph by Xanti Schawinsky
Anni Albers © 1947 Nancy Newhall. © 2003 The Estate of Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall,
Courtesy of Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“good teaching is ‘more a matter of right questions
than of right answers.’”

Josef and Anni Albers art pedagogy shapes how art students learn today and their bold art experiments contributed to our modern understanding of  color.  Both Josef and Anni believed that their roles as art educators was not to teach but to let the students discover for themselves — a radical reversal of previous generations of master/apprentice learning.  Their method developed from then exotic ideas of a young science called Psychology.  Josef, already an art teacher, left his post to attend the newly founded school, the Bauhaus, where he was exposed to these new and exciting ideas.


Josef Albers, Portrait Study, 1918 (ca.)
Ink and pencil on paper. JAAF: 1976.3.47
31.75 x 21.908 cm (12.5 x 8.625 inches)
©2007 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

While attending the Bauhaus, Josef took the Foundation Course under the monastic-like art teacher Johannes Itten.  Itten believed in several new ways of teaching art adopted from theorists like Friedrich Fröbel, creator of the Fröbel blocks — a structured way to play and learn creatively (known to have deeply affected Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings), Adolf Hölzel who placed importance on the Golden Section along with physical exercise and memory sense learning, and Franz Cižek who believed in the original state of naive man, founder of the Child Art Movement.  All of these ideas had a lasting effect on Josef and helped when he would take over the Foundation Course several years later when Itten left.  Josef was a less radical choice than Itten, who was a follower of Mazdaznan, a severe spiritual cult which lead Itten to force students and teachers at the school to eat only garlic gruel and practice meditation.


Anni Albers, Wall Hanging, 1925
Silk, cotton, and acetate.
145 x 92 cm (57.125 x 36.187 inches)
Die Neue Sammlung Staatliches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Munich
©2008 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 Anni Albers, a young student of the Bauhaus, met Josef in 1922.  She was enrolled in the weaving department, then one of the only curriculum that women were allowed to join.  The ideas of the Bauhaus were to resonate just as strong with Anni.  However for Anni, the concept of original naive man would have their greatest effect while Josef would place more emphasis on learning through science.  But, both would espouse the importance of experimentation.


Josef Albers, Factory, 1925
Sandblasted flashed glass. JAAF: 1976.6.4
29.2 x 36.2 cm (11-1/2 x 14-1/4 inches)
©2003 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In 1933, the married Albers would emigrate to America and bring their learning and art teaching pedagogy to Black Mountain College near Asheville in North Carolina.  It is there that the ideas learned during the Foundation Course at the Bauhaus would take root in America.  Black Mountain College, insular from larger more established Ivy league institutions, was ideal for such experiential learning.  Later their methodology would become so influential that they would receive an invitation to join the staff of Yale University School of Art – the ultimate acknowledgement of achievement.


During his years at Yale, Josef would study the effects of color areas on each other and our perception, developing a book that would bring together his teaching and experimentation.  That book, Interaction of Color, itself a grand experiment, was published in 1963 in concert with Yale and would become a seminal work for art learning in America.  It would forever shape how we perceive color and in many ways lead to our modern understanding of color theory.  On retiring from Yale, the couple moved to Connecticut where a foundation devoted to their work and teachings exists today.  The Josef and Ani Albers Foundation works to preserve and promote the enduring achievements of both Josef and Anni Albers, and the aesthetic and philosophical principles by which they lived.

Interaction of Color

As an art student, I read and learned, like many others before me, from the book Interaction of Color as well as Itten’s book published the same year The Art of Color.  Both these important books turn 50 years old this year.  Yale, in an effort to continue the influence of Albers’ book in a new digial era have released Interaction of Color as an APP which includes: the full text, 125 plates, 60 interactive studies, and over two hours of video commentary, available for $9.99.  You can find out more about the app here:  The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation has many great programs and exhibitions.  To find out more about them visit:  October 31, 2013 a new book by the director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation will release the book Josef Albers: Art as Experience: The Teaching Method of a Bauhaus Master (Hardcover – October 31, 2013).

About the author: Bill Indursky
Bill Indursky is an architect, trend expert, and digital entrepreneur. He is the former founder of V&M (Vintage & Modern (2006-2013)) and the current founder of Design Life Network (DLN). DLN is a MAGAZINE + DESIGN AGENCY + MARKETPLACE + TV CHANNEL promoting inspiring design of all eras online and on TV.

©2013-2016 Design Life Network
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