Josef Albers
German-American artist and educator



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Josef Albers
German-American artist and educator
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Date of Birth

March 19, 1888

Date of Death

March 25, 1976

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Famed artist and educator Josef Albers believed that with a masterful understanding of the different components of art, one could manipulate form, material and color to do one’s bidding.

He’s particularly well known for his work in the field of color theory (and by the way, there’s an app for that). Albers explored and taught the study of color as a purist, examining colors’ relationships to each other rather than their decorative applications. He insisted that colors should “behave; to do what I want, and not what they want.”

That might paint him as a little domineering, but as an art educator he believed in integration of the arts into general study, and commonly related ideas of human respect and care into his aesthetic teachings. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he started off as an elementary school teacher, where he taught little German pipsqueaks everything from science to gym class to how to play nice.

In 1933 (a good time to get away from the Nazis), Josef’s career brought him from Germany to the bustling metropolis of Black Mountain, North Carolina. He had accepted a teaching position at the now-dormant Black Mountain College. The new job was cool, but unfortunately the school had no money, so he and his students had to do what artists do best: be creative. Not enough chairs? Hold class sitting on the floor. No budget for materials? Use found ones, like the brightly colored leaves that surrounded the Appalachian campus. Although the college’s dearth of funding would ultimately force it to close its doors, its scrappy spirit nourished the spontaneity of the artists who studied there.

Josef and wife Anni Albers are a pair of art history’s sweethearts. Once, reflecting on their first meeting (he was an instructor at Germany’s famous Bauhaus school and she a prospective student eleven years his junior), she described him as a “lean, half-starved, ascetic-looking Westphalian with irresistible blonde bangs." Irresistible? Really? These?Although they supported each other’s work and careers for many decades, they never collaborated on any projects except for Christmas cards and Easter eggs.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Josef Albers

Josef Albers (/ˈælbərz, ˈɑːl-/; German: [ˈalbɐs]; March 19, 1888 – March 25, 1976) was a German-born artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of modern art education programs of the twentieth century.


German years

Formative years in Westphalia

Albers was born into a Roman Catholic family of craftsmen in Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany in 1888. His father, Lorenzo Albers, was variously a housepainter, carpenter, and handyman. His mother came from a family of blacksmiths. His childhood included practical training in engraving glass, plumbing, and wiring, giving Josef versatility and lifelong confidence in the handling and manipulation of diverse materials. He worked from 1908 to 1913 as a schoolteacher in his home town; he also trained as an art teacher at Königliche Kunstschule in Berlin, Germany, from 1913 to 1915. From 1916 to 1919 he began his work as a printmaker at the Kunstgewerbschule in Essen, where he learnt stained-glass making with Dutch artist Johan Thorn Prikker. In 1918 he received his first public commission, Rosa mystica ora pro nobis, a stained-glass window for a church in Essen. In 1919 he moved to Munich, Germany, to study at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, where he was a pupil of Max Doerner and Franz Stuck.

Entry into the Bauhaus

Albers enrolled as a student in the preliminary course (vorkurs) of Johannes Itten at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. Although Albers had studied painting, it was as a maker of stained glass that he joined the faculty of the Bauhaus in 1922, approaching his chosen medium as a component of architecture and as a stand-alone art form. The director and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, asked him in 1923 to teach in the preliminary course 'Werklehre' of the department of design to introduce newcomers to the principles of handicrafts, because Albers came from that background and had appropriate practice and knowledge.

In 1925, the year the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Albers was promoted to professor. At this time, he married Anni Albers (née Fleischmann) who was a student at the institution. His work in Dessau included designing furniture and working with glass. As a younger instructor, he was teaching at the Bauhaus among established artists who included Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. The so-called "form master" Klee taught the formal aspects in the glass workshops where Albers was the "crafts master"; they cooperated for several years.

Emigration to the United States

Black Mountain College

With the closure of the Bauhaus under Nazi pressure in 1933 the artists dispersed, most leaving the country. Albers emigrated to the United States. The architect Philip Johnson, then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, arranged for Albers to be offered a job as head of a new art school, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. In November 1933, he joined the faculty of the college where he was the head of the painting program until 1949.

At Black Mountain, his students included Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Susan Weil. He also invited important American artists such as Willem de Kooning, to teach in the summer seminar. Weil remarked that, as a teacher, Albers was "his own academy". She said that Albers claimed that "when you're in school, you're not an artist, you're a student", although he was very supportive of self-expression when one became an artist and began on her or his journey. Albers produced many woodcuts and leaf studies at this time.

Yale University

In 1950, Albers left Black Mountain to head the department of design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. While at Yale, Albers worked to expand the nascent graphic design program (then called "graphic arts"), hiring designers Alvin Eisenman, Herbert Matter, and Alvin Lustig. Albers worked at Yale until he retired from teaching in 1958. At Yale, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Eva Hesse,Neil Welliver, and Jane Davis Doggett were notable students.

In 1962, as a fellow at Yale, he received a grant from the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies of Fine Arts for an exhibit and lecture on his work. Albers also collaborated with Yale professor and architect King-lui Wu in creating decorative designs for some of Wu's projects. Among these were distinctive geometric fireplaces for the Rouse (1954) and DuPont (1959) houses, the façade of Manuscript Society, one of Yale's secret senior groups (1962), and a design for the Mt. Bethel Baptist Church (1973). Also, at this time he worked on his structural constellation pieces.

Also during this time, he created the abstract album covers of band leader Enoch Light's Command LP records. His album cover for Terry Snyder and the All Stars 1959 album, Persuasive Percussion, shows a tightly packed grid or lattice of small black disks from which a few wander up and out as if stray molecules of some light gas. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973. Albers continued to paint and write, staying in New Haven with his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, until his death in 1976.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Josef Albers.