Josef Albers self portrait

Josef Albers Self Portrait

The true passion of Josef Albers (1888-1976) was teaching. A German artist who studied at the Bauhaus and was later exiled to the United States, he dedicated his life as an educator to an ambitious project; teaching his students to SEE. Applying a strict method, one removed from conventional academic practice, his work involved guiding students through their journey of self-discovery with regard to visual perception. With such a grounding, artists are properly prepared to develop their work in the most personal manner.

Josef Albers had a poetic streak, but as a teacher he was also very pragmatic and would not allow interpretative or emotional digressions. When it came to reviewing their progress, his students knew that any discussion would need to remain strictly confined to the formal area of colour, line and form. If students appealed to feelings or emotions in order to justify themselves, his Prussian nature would reveal itself: “Gott im Himmel! I don’t want to see your insides.” Such a deeply felt reaction from Albers emanated from his conviction that the development of visual perception had nothing to do with emotions, but with concentration and the training of the brain. You first have to “see it” to then interpret it.

Josef Albers Interaction of Color, is a little gem that every artist should have on their bedside table. Albers puts himself into an artist’s shoes and dissects the visual and colour process. He uses various exercises to demonstrate the fundamental fact that our perception of colour is relative. One colour may change into another, and two radically different colours may seem similar to our eyes given the right conditions. Colour intervals, transparencies, spatial illusions and optical mixes are all studied using precise and simple examples that, little by little, train our way of looking at things.

An understanding of colours and their interactions, and a sharpened visual perception, perhaps present the greatest challenge to artists and are what distinguish mere representation from genuine works of art.

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