Unreal Nature

November 8, 2016

The Shaping Out of the Shapeless

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… The conception of a work gives only its temper, not its consistency.

This is from the editor’s title essay for Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art edited by Vincent Katz (2013:

… The transition from experimentation to power occurs regularly in the arts — a consequence of an artist discovering a way to do something that no one else has or can. What is rare is for one academic institution to have attracted such high numbers of students and faculty who effected this transition with such astounding frequency. It is sobering to reflect that the size of the College at any one time averaged fifty students.

The most influential artist/teacher at Black Mountain was Josef Albers who began his teaching career at the Bauhaus in Germany:

… After the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, Albers became a Bauhausmeister, professor of the elementary course in drawing. Later he was in charge of the furniture workshop and taught wallpaper design and typography. His own work during this period was primarily in colored glass. In 1928, Albers wrote:

To experiment is at first more valuable than to produce; free play in the beginning develops courage. Therefore, we do not begin with a theoretical introduction; we start directly with the material. …

The most familiar methods of using [materials] are summarized; and since they are already in use they are for the time being forbidden. for example: paper, in handicraft and industry, is generally used lying flat; the edge is rarely utilized. For this reason we try paper standing upright, or even as a building material; we reinforce it by complicated folding; we use both sides; we emphasize the edge. Paper is usually pasted; instead of pasting it we try to tie it, to pin it, to sew it, to rivet it …

Our aim is not so much to work differently as to work without copying or repeating others. We try to experiment, to train ourselves in “constructive thinking.” …

[ … ]

… Josef and Anni Albers did some of their best and most experimental work at Black Mountain — and the sixteen years they spent there are central to their careers — but on their own they would have been incapable of making Black Mountain a symbol of artistic experimentation. From his experience at the Bauhaus — where painters such as Kandinsky and Klee taught alongside designers like Breuer and multi-talents like László Moholy-Nagy — Josef Albers decided that diversity would be the backbone of the experience to which he wished to expose Black Mountain students.

Given the associations most people have for Albers — the design-driven Bauhaus and geometric abstraction — it is noteworthy that he invited to teach at Black Mountain artists associated with Surrealism, Humanism, Abstract Expressionism, and Chance Operations.

[ … ]

albers_anni_city_1949
Anni Albers, City, 1949 [cotton and linen]

… The opening to her [Anni Albers’s] “One Aspect of Art Work” is relevant today, and admirable for its insistence on individual creative effort:

Our world goes to pieces; we have to rebuild our world. We investigate and worry and analyze and forget that the new comes about through exuberance and not through a defined deficiency. We have to find our strength rather than our weakness. Out of the chaos of collapse we can save the lasting: we still have our “right” or “wrong,” the absolute of our inner voice — we still know beauty, freedom, happiness … unexplained and unquestioned.

albers_anni_blackwhitegold_i_1950
Anni Albers, Black, White, Gold, 1950

Art can be more than therapy; it can improve the world. Yet, to be fully engaging, it should be based on the manual interaction with materials, not simply an idea:

Art work deals with the problem of a piece of art, but more, it teaches the process of all creating, the shaping out of the shapeless. We learn from it that no picture exists before it is done, no form before it is shaped. The conception of a work gives only its temper, not its consistency. Things take shape in material and in the process of working it, and no imagination is great enough to know before the works are done what they will be like.

[ … ]

… Overall, while at Black Mountain, Albers showed interest in a multiplicity of approaches, for example, demonstrating that the geometric could be as free as freehand, and freehand as abstract as geometric. Albers’s conclusion to a text on the Graphic Tectonics summed up his attitude at the time: “… we cannot remain in a single viewpoint, we need more for the sake of free vision.” He was a meticulous planner and organizer, entirely devoted to his task as pedagogue, determined to provide the most varied and stimulating environment for the students — all this while being equally devoted and prolific in experimentation and achievement in his own art in various media.

[line break added] Albers painstakingly arranged for traveling exhibitions to come to Black Mountain, to borrow glass slides for presentations on ancient and modern art, and, at least from 1944 on, made sure that the students were exposed to a variety of artistic viewpoints in the form of the artists invited to teach at Black Mountain.

albers_monument1936
Josef Albers, Monument (of General Omega), 1936

-Julie

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