Sunday, February 10, 2013

Josef Albers: “making the mundane into art”

A “Leaf study” by David Versluis that was inspired by the legacy of design educator/artist Josef Albers (1888–1976). image © david versluis 2012

Above is a quick leaf study developed in the Design Foundations course at Dordt College, as a Photoshop® demonstration to show students how one can respond to autumnal leaves as a simultaneous palette of “color changes, establishing rhythms, and producing multiple readings.” (1)

Referencing autumn leaves, the following is an interesting passage about Albers's teaching pedagogy written in a newer publication titled, Josef Albers: To Open Eyes*:

At Black Mountain College [1930s-40s], where foliage was abundant and paper in short supply, Albers urged students to incorporate leaves into their free studies, and made several himself. The dazzling fall spectacle especially inspired Albers, who in any case, had probably never seen a color to which he couldn’t respond. Much later, he declaimed to one class at Yale “You mustn’t think of the autumn as a time of sadness, when winter is coming, because all the trees, they know winter is coming, so they get drunk! With color! Ach, it’s beautiful! So now bring in leaf studies.”

At Yale, students generally didn’t use leaves alone but cut them up and combined them with Color-aid paper, in Albers’s words, “the leaves improving the paper and the paper improving the leaves.” Sometimes leaves were used exclusively or left uncut; these strategies were altogether acceptable to Albers, who relished a good matière wherever it occurred. That paper was cheap and leaves were free for the taking delighted Albers, who as one student recalls, “would talk about how these leaf studies could make the mundane into art. Then he’d tell us about how [Kurt] Schwitters would make marvelous things out of the stuff he'd pick up from the sidewalk.” (2) 
Regarding the quote, “[Albers] would talk about how these leaf studies could make the mundane into art”—Albers, perhaps without knowing it, has put his finger on what constitutes a Reformed Christian view of art.
*Thanks to Roy R. Behrens for calling my attention to the book. 
  1. Horowitz, Frederick A., and Brenda Danilowitz. Josef Albers: To Open Eyes: The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale. First ed. London/New York: Phaidon, 2006. 228-32. Print. 
  2. Ibid. 232.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the editor has approved them.