josefalbers   37

Ruth Asawa, a Pioneer of Necessity
"Black Mountain College was not Ruth Asawa’s first choice. Determined to be an art teacher, she enrolled in Milwaukee State Teachers College from 1943 to ’46. She chose Milwaukee because it was the cheapest college in the catalog she consulted while she and her family were interned in the Rohwer Relocation Center, in Rohwer, Arkansas. However, when she learned that her fourth year was going to be devoted to practice teaching, and that no school in Wisconsin would hire someone who was Japanese, she decided to go to art school. The war might have been over, and the Japanese defeated, but the racism it engendered was still officially in place.

This is perhaps why she and her sister Lois took a bus trip to Mexico City, where she enrolled in a newly formed art school, La Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura La Esmeralda. She also enrolled at the University of Mexico, where she took a class with Clara Porset, an innovative furniture designer from Cuba who had been at Black Mountain College in 1934 and studied with Albers. Through the influence of Porset, as well as that of Asawa’s friend Elaine Schmitt, whom she had met at the end of her freshman year in Milwaukee, Black Mountain College and Josef Albers emerged as a viable American option — a small, relatively isolated environment where she had at least one friend, Schmitt.

Asawa was 20 years old when she and her sister arrived at Black Mountain in the summer of 1946. On the way there, at a stop in Missouri, they did not know whether to use the “colored” or “whites only” bathroom. Like other Asians living in America at that time (and even now), she was both visible and invisible, not always knowing which way she would be regarded.

I thought about the road that Asawa took to Black Mountain College on her way to becoming an artist when I went to the exhibition Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner (September 13–October 21, 2017), her first with this gallery, which now represents her estate. Asawa — whose work was included in the traveling exhibition, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, organized by Helen Molesworth — is the latest postwar American artist to be rediscovered by an establishment still waking up to its racist and sexist biases.

In the summer of 1947, Asawa returned to Mexico and worked as a volunteer teacher in the town of Toluca. While she was there, she learned about the crochet loop, which the locals used to make wire baskets. The act of making a loop, or bundling wires together and tying them with a knot, is central to her work. The loop, done in profuse repetition, gave her the freedom to make a range of transparent forms and to contain other transparent forms within them. Many of these works she suspended from the ceiling. Conceivably they could grow to any size, limited only by the dimensions of the room in which they were suspended. There are a number of works done in this way in the exhibition, spheres and cones and teardrop shapes, often with another shape suspended within. I was reminded of soap bubbles stretching but not dispersing, of a form changing slowly and inevitably as it descended from the ceiling.

Made of woven wire, the sculptures oscillate between solidity and dematerialization, which is underscored by the shadows they cast. I think this aspect of the work should have been dramatized more. The strongest works are the ones made of a number of what artist called “lobes” and forms suspended within forms. When she weaves a wire sphere within a larger, similarly shaped form, it evokes a woman’s body, an abstract figure with a womb.

The sculptures with an hourglass shape underscore this association. But this connection can be extended further. In some of Asawa’s sculptures, an elongated tubular form periodically swells into a globular structure with a small spherical form cocooned inside. It is as if these are models for cells undergoing a transformation, generative organisms giving birth to a similar being. At the same time, because they are suspended, gravity is registered as an inescapable and relentless force, an invisible presence manifesting itself on the very structure of the sculpture’s body.

Through the act of weaving the artist has transformed wire — an industrial material — into a cellular structure, something both microscopic and organic. Paradoxically, the structure is a kind of armor, at once protective and vulnerable, with inside and outside visible at the same time.

In other classes of sculptures, of which there are fewer examples, Asawa bundled together wires, which she tied with a knot. These spiky constructions — which are like abstract root systems — were inspired by nature, as were the artworks Asawa made while a student at Black Mountain: small oil paintings on paper, a potato print, a work in ink on paper made with a BMC (Black Mountain College) laundry stamp.

These pieces are complemented by archival materials and vintage photographs of her and of her works taken by Imogen Cunningham. The presentation is beautiful and clean, which made me happy and yet bugged. The wall text at the entrance to the show cited the difficulties Asawa encountered because she was a “woman of color,” which to my mind dilutes what happened.

In all of the work, a simple action or form is repeated. Asawa took this lesson and made it into something altogether unique in postwar sculpture. She does not weld or fabricate. There is nothing macho about her work. Rather, she weaves; her practice, gender, and race cast a shadow over her initial reception in the 1950s in New York, when she had shows at the Peridot Gallery in 1954, ’56, and ‘58. She was a woman of Japanese ancestry making art in the years after World War II, which was a double whammy. In the Time magazine review of her first show at Peridot, the writer paired her exhibition with one by Isamu Noguchi. That same writer identified her as a “San Francisco housewife.” The Art News review of her 1956 show by Eleanor C. Munro characterized her this way:
These are “domestic” sculptures in a feminine, handiwork mode — small and light and unobtrusive for home decoration, not meant, as is much contemporary sculpture, to be hoisted by cranes, carted by vans and installed on mountainsides.

Looking at this exhibition, and thinking about Asawas’ persistence and generosity, I realized why Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has often bothered me. In that poem, read by nearly all American schoolchildren, the poet talks about taking the road “less traveled.” That is all fine and dandy if you have that choice. Asawa did not. More than once, she had to make a road where there was none. She was a pioneer out of necessity."
ruthasawa  art  artists  education  arteducation  2017  blackmountaincollege  bmc  mexico  sanfrancisco  sculpture  josefalbers  claraporset 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
Black Mountain College Museum en Instagram: “"Albers was a beautiful teacher and an impossible person. He wasn’t easy to talk to, and I found his criticism so excruciating and so…”
[Robert Rauschenberg on Josef Albers as his teacher at Black Mountain College]

"Albers was a beautiful teacher and an impossible person. He wasn’t easy to talk to, and I found his criticism so excruciating and so devastating that I never asked for it. Years later, though, I'm still learning what he taught me, because what he taught had to do with the entire visual world. He didn’t teach you how to do art. The focus was always on your personal sense of looking. When he taught watercolor, for example, he taught the specific properties of watercolor - not how to make a good watercolor picture. When he taught drawing, he taught the efficient functioning of line. Color was about the flexibilities and the complex relationships that color have with one another.
...
I consider Albers the most important teacher I've ever had, and I'm sure he considered me one of his poorest students. Coming from Paris, entering in the middle of the term, and showing all that wildness and naivety and hunger, I must have seemed not serious to him, and I don’t think he ever realized the it was his discipline that I came for. Besides, my response to what I learned from him was just the opposite of what he intended. When Albers showed me that one color was as good as another that that you were just expressing a personal preference if you thought a certain color would be better, I found that I couldn’t decide to use one color instead of another, because I really wasn’t interested in taste. I was so involved with the materials separately that I didn’t want painting to be simply an act of employing one color to do something to another color, like using red to intensify green, because that would imply some subordination of red. I was very hesitant about arbitrarily designing form and selecting colors that would achieve some predetermined result, because I didn’t have any ideas to support that sort of thing — I didn’t want color to serve me, in other words. That’s why I ended doing the the all-white and all-black paintings — one of the reasons anyway." (via @rauschenbergfoundation)"
bmc  blackmountaincollege  teaching  robertrauschenberg  josefalbers  howeteach  looking  seeing  color 
december 2018 by robertogreco
Black Mountain College: "The Grass-Roots of Democracy" - Open Source with Christopher Lydon
"Our guest, the literary historian Louis Menand, explains that B.M.C. was a philosophical experiment intent on putting the progressive philosopher John Dewey‘s ideas to work in higher education. The college curriculum was unbelievably permissive — but it did ask that students undertake their own formation as citizens of the world by means of creative expression, and hard work, in a community of likeminded people.

The college may not have lived up to its utopian self-image — the scene was frequently riven by interpersonal conflict — but it did serve as a stage-set to some of modern culture’s most interesting personalities and partnerships."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  rutherickson  louismenand  teddreier  theodoredreier  sebastiansmee  taylordavis  williamdavis  2016  robertcreeley  jacoblawrence  josefalbers  robertrauschenberg  annialbers  davidtudor  franzkline  mercecunningham  johncage  charlesolson  buckminsterfuller  johndewey  democracy  art  music  film  poetry  cytwombly  bauhaus  experientiallearning  howwelearn  education  johnandrewrice  unschooling  deschooling  schools  schooling  learning  howelearn  howweteach  pedagogy  christopherlydon  abstractexpressionism  popart  jacksonpollock  arthistory  history  arts  purpose  lcproject  openstudioproject  leapbeforeyoulook  canon  discovery  conflict  artists  happenings  openness  rural  community  highered  highereducation  curriculum  willemdekooning  small  control  conversation  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  mitmedialab  medialab  chaos  utopia  dicklyons  artschools  davidbowie  experimentation  exploration  humanity  humanism  humility  politics 
october 2018 by robertogreco
Oral history interview with Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier, 2002 June 21-July 5 | Archives of American Art
"PK: How did you feel at the time? And I would ask you this as well, Albert. Would you give the Black Mountain experience as a kind of a watershed for you? Did something happen there? Was there an environment in which you did feel that, “Ah, this is heady stuff. We’re working with some new ideas, some new forms.” Did you feel that way about it?

RA: It probably felt as though we were ahead of the administration in that time. At that time we felt we were so beyond them.

AL: You mean as students? We were ahead of the people doing the teaching?

RA: Yes.

AL: I didn’t feel that. But go ahead.

RA: Well, we were encouraged to try out new things at that time.

AL: I think we felt that everything was possible. Everything was possible. Anything’s possible.

RA: And maybe it was our youth that gave us that feeling at that time. But we thought we were given permission to try out new things in terms of the way that . . .

PK: Materials?

RA: Materials. The things that the administration was trying to do. They were experimenting and we were also experimenting at the time. And we were so poor that we were taking materials that were around us and using leaves and rocks and things that were natural rather than having good paper and good materials that we bought. We had to scrounge around with things that were around us. And I think that was very good for us.

PK: And then the instructors there didn’t have that advantage, what you described as a kind of advantage. Since you didn’t have, you had to be more imaginative about what you could use.

RA: Yes.

PK: What you could bring together in your expression and maybe less tied to tradition.

RA: Well, it was through the teachers that we had who encouraged us to use things around us.

PK: Did most of the other students respond well to that freedom that they were offered?

AL: Some did and some didn’t. Some regarded [Josef] Albers as a Fascist, a dictator, because he didn’t react to or condone your feelings, “I feel this and I feel that.” He wasn’t terribly concerned with what we felt. He was concerned with what we saw and that we learned to see. And he would say, “If you want to express yourself do that on your own time. Don’t do it in my class.” He taught design, the same course, year-in-and-year-out. And it wasn’t Design 101, or Design 102, and Design 103. He taught the same course pretty much the same problems year-in-and-year-out. And we did the same things over and over again.

RA: The same problems had a deeper, deeper feeling, experience.

AL: This was continued with him, certainly all the time that he was at Black Mountain. And sitting here in this living room, he was about to be made head of the Design Department at Yale. But there it was about to be made a graduate school and he was very unhappy about that.

PK: Why?

AL: Because he said, “Design knows nothing about graduation. Art knows nothing about graduation.” He wanted those farm boys direct from the farm. He didn’t want them after they could spiel off all that they knew about art, which they might by the time they were in graduate school. He wanted them discovering it. That’s what he wanted. He really wanted us while we were still discovering things. That’s why I say that we had a feeling that everything was possible. And if you wanted to express yourself, and there were many that did, you either did it strictly on your own time or you dropped out of his classes because he did not go in for that.

PK: So he wasn’t one on faculty who gave that kind of permission, I gather, that you were talking about earlier.

AL: No, you had definite problems. You had definite problems and each student’s solution was discussed with the whole class. And very often you learned something from the comments of the rest of the class. They weren’t huge classes. If you didn’t bring something, you’ve got your problem, if you didn’t come back with something, you weren’t made very welcome. That’s freeloading."
ruthasawa  albertlanier  2002  interviews  bmc  blackmountaincollege  josefalbers  markjohnson  paulkarlstrom 
september 2017 by robertogreco
David Byrne | Journal | A Society in Miniature
"How does one learn to think different?

The Tate show is wonderful, even if it only covers a smattering of Bob’s prodigious output. The curator, Achim Borchardt-Hume, met my friend and I, and we began to ask about the place where Bob spent some of his formative years, Black Mountain College, in western North Carolina, near Asheville. We were curious what sort of place would nurture the innovation and free thinking of someone like Bob, as well as that of host of other writers, artists, architects, composers and choreographers who passed through that place. Ultimately one wants to know, can that spark be re-ignited, in a contemporary way?

That tiny place in Asheville North Carolina seemed to possess some magic ingredient during its relatively short life—pre- and post-WWII—that produced an incredible number of ground-breaking creators in a wide range of fields. It almost seemed as if everyone who was touched by that place, by their experience there, went on to a have a major impact in the 20th century, and beyond.

It was established in 1933, during the depths of the economic depression, and by the time the war was in full swing the faculty included an amazing group of people. Here is a partial list: Josef and Anni Albers, he a teacher and artist from the Bauhaus in Germany, she a textile artist; Walter Gropius, the innovative German modernist architect; painter Jacob Lawrence; the painters Elaine and Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell; Alfred Kazin, the writer; Buckminster Fuller the writer and architect—he made his dome there in ‘48; Paul Goodman, the playwright and social critic and poet Charles Olson. Poet William Carlos Williams and even Albert Einstein eventually joined the staff, as well.

The students were a hugely influential and innovative bunch, too. As word spread others visited there during their summer sessions to create new work—in 1952, John Cage came down and staged his first "happening" here while students Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham assisted him with what later became known as performance art. There were painters Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Dorothea Rockburne, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, film director (Bonnie and Clyde!) Arthur Penn, writer Francine du Plessix Gray and poet Robert Creeley.

What kind of place could attract and nurture this diverse group of people?

One can’t help but wonder if there was a formula and if the kind of radical innovation that happened there and that was carried out into the world can be repeated. What was that formula? Was it the teachers? The location? The philosophy? The students—the self-selected types who opted to try that kind of experiment?

Here are the basics of the school’s philosophy. John Rice, the founder, believed that the arts are as important as academic subjects:

1. There was less segregation between disciplines than what might find at a conventional school.
2. There was also no separation between faculty and students; they ate together and mingled freely.
3. There were no grades.
4. One didn’t have to attend classes. During break sessions the faculty trusted the students, and, as a result—without the top down rules—the students worked harder than during normal class times.
5. Here’s what now seems like a really radical idea—manual labor (gardening, construction, etc) was also key. Try that at Harvard!. No one had outside jobs; they they all chipped in to build the actual school and to help serving meals or doing maintenance. The schools finances were somewhat precarious, so this was an practical economical measure as well as being philosophical. In order to allow for these daytime activities and work, classes were often scheduled at night!

A Society in Miniature—Created by its Members

It was also believed that the school community should be a kind of miniature society and to that end it should be democratic and communal. Students were on the school board and they chimed in on hiring and all the other decisions. All of these things—the work, play and learning balance, the non separation of disciplines and the self determination—were believed by the founders to be equally important. Students, Rice believed, learned better through experience than from the passing on of rote information. It was not a top down kind of education—it was non-hierarchical in that sense—and one was encouraged to discover things for oneself. Not all students are cut out for this (some kids do need discipline!), but the ones that did thrived. Needless to say, that also meant that as a result collaboration, experimentation and work across disciplines was all encouraged. The idea was less to turn out clever academics, but rather to help students find themselves and become a “complete person”. You weren’t learning a trade, but learning how to think, how to collaborate and cooperate.

The overarching theme as I see it (but maybe not explicitly expressed) is that students—with the help of the faculty—were here to create a kind of society in miniature. THIS was the deep and rich experience that they would take with them—something far more profound than specific lessons in creative writing, engineering or color theory.

I asked the curator, Achim, if these new ideas about progressive education and their implementation were what was primarily responsible for the explosion of creativity in this tiny school. He said, yes, those factors were influential, but just as much were other factors—the fact that many of the faculty were refugees (those pesky immigrants!) from the rise of nationalism and intolerance going on in Europe at the time. So you had this influx of some of the best and the brightest. The little college reached out for talent and they came to this little tolerant oasis in the Smoky Mountains. Oddly they did not end up at the big name universities—they gravitated to the mountains of North Carolina. (Though later some did end up at Yale and elsewhere.)

Rice himself asked Josef Albers to create the arts curriculum (though Philip Johnson made the recommendation), as the Bauhaus was being shuttered as Nazi influence grew across Germany. Albers was key in mixing disciplines in the arts department; there was little distinction made between fine and decorative arts (Ani Albers made nice rugs), as well none between architecture, theater, music, dance and writing. A writer in the literature deparment developed the pottery program. I personally find Albers artwork boring, but as pedagogical aids (and demonstrations of how our eyes and brains work) they are gorgeous. There’s an interactive tablet app version of his course available now—lots of fun.

Rauschenberg was very receptive to Werklehre, Albers's teaching method that incorporated design elements. In his teaching, Alber used various non-traditional art materials like paper, wire, rocks and wood to demonstrate the possibilities and limits of those various materials. He would have his students fold paper into sculptures so that they might understand the three dimensional properties of what is ordinarily seen as two dimensional. He had them solve color problems by devising situations in which colors are perceived differently in different environments. For a comparison, this was not about learning oil painting techniques

Bob hated Albers—he was too didactic for Bob’s freewheeling sensibility. But to his credit, Albers realized his limitations and brought in others who were very different in sensibility than he and his wife. He allowed for difference. Bob too adapted, he recognized the value of the discipline that Albers espoused.

Achim pointed out that these innovative artists allowed the Black Mountain students to experience the most innovative ideas that had been emerging in Europe firsthand (see learning by experience above). They were getting this stuff before many others and in a more visceral way. Intolerance was draining the sources of innovation from large parts of Europe and they would find roots in this odd corner of the New World.

The place Asheville was and still is an island of open mindedness and tolerance in a state that is fairly conservative. Other southern colleges were still quite segregated, but Black Mountain bravely bucked that tradition. They admitted Alma Stone Williams, the first black student to attend an all white educational institution in the South. I’m going to propose that the atmosphere in Asheville might have helped to allow these things to happen; in other southern towns Ms. Williams would have been hounded and possibly driven out. (That said, some of the locals thought the school as all about wild behavior and orgies.) The school wanted to bring the (NY-based black) painter Jacob Lawrence to visit, but busses, as we know, were segregated at the time, so they had a car drive him all the way down from NY. Homosexuality was tolerated there, as well, which, given that word of this tolerance might have gotten out, all of this may have encouraged young men who didn’t fit in to attend this college—a place where they wouldn’t be viewed simply as perverts and freaks. In this too I’d argue that Asheville had a tolerant hand.

Bob continued to be active post Black Mountain, and, though we might consider the idea naive, he believed in the power of art to bring people together. His series of international collaborations—ROCI—produced some wonderful work, but maybe just as important, his presence in many countries kick started a whole generation of younger artists in those places around the world.

Is This a Model for Today?

Are you kidding? Yes, in all ways—in the collaborations and the innovative work, in the tolerance and welcoming of the persecuted and unappreciated. We need to look to this place and time as a model for today—and boy do we need it now more than ever!

Why should we emulate this? Well, because it works! The ideas that flowed out of this place changed the course of 20th century innovation in a wide range of fields, and the influence is still being … [more]
2017  davidbyrne  bmc  blackmountaincollege  via:austinkleon  sfsh  education  thinking  learning  society  pocketsofutopia  utopia  roberrauschenberg  anialbers  josefalbers  achimborchardt-hume  jacoblawrence  diversity  johnrice  segregation  integration  agesegregation  hierarchy  horizontality  grades  grading  bauhaus  refugees  werklehre  asheville  almastonewilliams  alberteinstein  inclusivity  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  johncage  process  tcsnnmy  progressive  johndewey  work  community  democracy 
february 2017 by robertogreco
How John Cage made performance the true heart of Black Mountain College - LA Times
"A month after the New York Times had listed John Cage (along with Leonard Bernstein) as one of the six most promising young American composers, and just as Cage was starting to become an avant-garde celebrity in New York, he used his exceptional powers of persuasion to borrow a car from Sonia Sekula. The edgy Swiss Abstract Expressionist painter and the 35-year-old Cage happened to be neighbors in a Lower East Side tenement building that the composer had encouraged starving young artists to inhabit.

Cage thought it high time that he and dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham drove across country to see how the West Coast, where they were both from, reacted to their radical ideas about music and dance. In April 1948, the pair set out for California in Sekula's jalopy.

The trip began with a five-day stopover at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. That visit doesn't merit more than an aside in the catalog of the Hammer Museum's exhibition "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957." There is a lot of important territory to cover in the 24-year history of the uniquely influential liberal arts college where noted artists and thinkers held forth. Nor is there much in the way of decent documentation of the visit.

Cage had finished Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, his most ambitious work up to this time and one for which he would finally be taken seriously as a composer and not be seen merely as the beguilingly inventive mastermind of musical novelties. A main motivation for heading west was an invitation to play Sonatas and Interludes at the Monday Evening Concerts series in Los Angeles.

But it was at Black Mountain where Cage gave the first public performance, if you want to call it that. This was Sonatas and Interludes at a makeshift concert in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a makeshift stage with a modest piano and before an audience of the tiny college's student body and faculty. (If everyone showed up, at best 100 were on hand.)

The school couldn't afford to pay Cage and Cunningham — they taught as well as performed — but the morning they left, they found Sekula's car overflowing with artwork and food, the students' and faculty's expression of gratitude. Cage and Cunningham got something else, as well: an invitation to return and teach that summer.

They did, and thanks to Cage, neither Black Mountain nor American art would ever be the same.

By its nature, an art exhibition cannot fully convey what that meant or how Cage did it. "Leap" does not look away from the importance of music, dance, theater and literature at Black Mountain, and beginning Tuesday, the Hammer will make an eight-day leap into Black Mountain performance through concerts and lectures and dance performances.

Although visual art must understandably be a museum's core concern, there is validity to curator Helen Molesworth treating it as central to Black Mountain. Founded in 1933, the school was modeled after the Bauhaus in Germany, and the émigré German Bauhaus painter, pedagogue and color theorist Josef Albers guided Black Mountain through some of its early years.

Albers and his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, are as central to the exhibition as they were to the school. Because of the couple's great curiosity, they avidly explored a range of attitudes and cultures, which were shared throughout a school where students and faculty lived, ate, worked and socialized in an environment of inescapable conversation and inevitable argument. Molesworth captures this chattering zeitgeist by displaying carefully chosen artworks in such a way that they talk to one another.

What was all that chattering about? Attitudes toward music, Molesworth notes in the catalog, were one way to distinguish artistic differences at Black Mountain. Music, according to a Black Mountain brochure, represented "a world of inner order [that] can help toward developing that community for which we all toil." The noted Viennese violinist Rudolf Kolisch, invited in summer 1944 to take part in Black Mountain's celebration of Arnold Schoenberg's 70th birthday, taught a course called Democratic Principals of Ensemble Playing.

But it was Cage who advocated true democracy, which meant throwing a monkey wrench into such high-minded musical conceit, and Cunningham was the monkey.

Cage had become fascinated by Erik Satie, the then-obscure, feisty French composer who wittily defied the German deification of structural logic. In summer 1948, in response to the Schoenberg Festival four years earlier, Cage produced a Satie Festival that included a lecture defending Satie. He used the very ideals that Black Mountain professed to "oblige" German refugees to listen to his half-hour presentations of Satie's piano music for 25 consecutive evenings.

Creating an uproar

Cage's attitude was that Beethoven had been in error because he created music defined by harmony. Cage proposed following Satie's example of music defined on time lengths.

This defense was essentially personal. Cage always liked to say he had no gift for harmony, and here he hit home. Albers' pedagogic philosophy was that art didn't require talent as much as it did understanding and technique. But Cage, one of the most gifted musicians of all time, never felt comfortable with the harmony on which Western music was said to depend.

The defense of Satie created the expected uproar and led to a famous food fight among distinguished artists, the Beethoven camp armed with sausages, Satie-ists with crepes.

The climax of the festival was the staging of "The Ruse of Medusa," Satie's surreal farce with piano interludes called monkey dances, which featured, of course, Cunningham.

Buckminster Fuller, who attempted to build his first geodesic dome at Black Mountain that summer (he failed but succeeded the following summer), portrayed the nonsensical baron. A theater student, Arthur Penn (the future filmmaker), directed. Décor was by Willem and Elaine de Kooning, then young artists Cage had brought along to Black Mountain. A small acting role was assigned to student sculptor Ruth Asawa, whose works are among the highlights of "Leap."

The levity of "Medusa" lightened the atmosphere but in no way lessened Cage's challenges to the Black Mountain belief system. His target was not harmony but memory, the idea that for music to be followed you must be able to remember what came before. But what is necessary for Beethoven and Schoenberg is not for Satie. Cage wanted a contemporary art that reflects life as it was led. To the Black Mountain traditional modernists, and especially for the émigrés, memory must always be honored, one must never forget.

Rather than disremember, Cage simply called for action. He used performance to bring together a community of artists through their work without the compromise of collaboration. Essentially, Cage made "Medusa" an extension of breakfast. He and Cunningham began each morning at Black Mountain with Fuller, discussing ideas and telling stories about themselves. For Cage, memory wasn't a required prescription for consuming art but a deeper one for making it, bringing the experiences of many into the moment.

Four years later, in 1952, Cage returned to Black Mountain, and this time he staged what has become the most celebrated of all the college's activities. It wasn't called anything, just announced as a concert. There were entertainments of all sorts given almost daily, most often evening dances, excellent for letting off steam and fostering romances.

It was a strange summer for Cage. He was working on "Williams Mix," what came to be the first American piece of electronic music made by splicing recording tape. This had a Black Mountain association, having been commissioned by Paul and Vera Williams, who met and married as students there. Cage had intended to employ his students to help him with the laborious business of splicing tape. But the kids were too clever to be lured into that, and no one signed up for the class.

Instead, Cage hung out with them at meals, the dining hall being the principal place on campus for discussion. One morning the topic was French dramatist Antonin Artaud's ideas about theater reflecting the immediacy of experience, and Cage suggested making an illustrative theater piece to be performed that day using the resources of Black Mountain.

He asked artists to do their thing somewhat simultaneously. He quickly sketched out a layout with the audience surrounding the performers and created the timing for the participants. They were not told what to do, just where and when.

The poet Charles Olson read, probably on a ladder. Cage delivered a lecture he had written earlier for Juilliard. Cunningham improvised a dance. Avant-garde virtuoso David Tudor played something or other on the piano. Robert Rauschenberg, who had been a student of Albers, hung his white paintings and maybe a black one. There were projections of film and a painting by Franz Kline overhead.

This is widely credited as having been the first Happening and the inciter of performance art. Retrospectively it has been given the title "Theater Piece No. 1," although it is not an official part of the Cage catalog. Though a pack rat, Cage considered it such a classroom-casual event that he never even bothered to keep the "score." No one bothered to take a photograph.

And no one is sure exactly what happened at the first Happening. Witness accounts vary. An enormous literature has sprung about theorizing why that could be, what it all means and how we deal with a fleeting historic event we can't pin down. But Cage's revolutionary intention (or non-intention) was to defeat memory.

The participants couldn't remember because they were too focused on their own work. There had been no rehearsal, other than Cunningham testing the space so that he wouldn't accidentally kick someone. Not all artists are afforded the luxury of leaping before they look.

The lack of structure, moreover, meant it was impossible to take everything… [more]
bmc  blackmountaincollege  2015  johncage  history  eriksatie  mercecunningham  buckminsterfuller  soniasekula  education  democracy  annicalbers  josefalbers  helenmolesworth  leapbeforeyoulook  art  music  highered  highereducation  robertrauschenberg  happenings  williamdekooning  elaindekooning  arthurpenn  charlesolson  davidtudor 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
"Work with Material

Life today is very bewildering. We have no picture of it which is all-inclusive, such as former times may have had. We have to make a choice between concepts of great diversity. And as a common ground is wanting, we are baffled by them. We must find our way back to simplicity of conception in order to find ourselves. For only by simplicity can we experience meaning, and only by experiencing meaning can we become qualified for independent comprehension.

In all learning today dependence on authority plays a large part, because of the tremendous field of knowledge to be covered in a short time. This often leaves the student oscillating between admiration and uncertainty, with the well-known result that a feeling of inferiority is today common both in individuals and in whole nations.

Independence presumes a spirit of adventurousness—a faith in one's own strength. It is this which should be promoted. Work in a field where authority has not made itself felt may help toward this goal. For we are overgrown with information, decorative maybe, but useless in any constructive sense. We have developed our receptivity and have neglected our own formative impulse. It is no accident that nervous breakdowns occur more often in our civilization than in those where creative power had a natural outlet in daily activities. And this fact leads to a suggestion: we must come down to earth from the clouds where we live in vagueness, and experience the most real thing there is: material.

Civilization seems in general to estrange men from materials, that is, from materials in their original form. For the process of shaping these is so divided into separate steps that one person is rarely involved in the whole course of manufacture, often knowing only the finished product. But if we want to get from materials the sense of directness, the adventure of being close to the stuff the world is made of, we have to go back to the material itself, to its original state, and from there on partake in its stages of change.

We use materials to satisfy our practical needs and our spiritual ones as well. We have useful things and beautiful things—equipment and works of art. In earlier civilizations there was no clear separation of this sort. The useful thing, could be made beautiful in the hands of the artisan, who was also the manufacturer. His creative impulse was not thwarted by drudgery in one section of a long and complicated mechanical process. He was also a creator. Machines reduce the boredom of repetition. On the other hand they permit a play of the imagination only in the preliminary planning of the product.

Material, that is to say unformed or unshaped matter, is the field where authority blocks independent experimentation less than in many other fields, and for this reason it seems well fitted to become the training ground for invention and free speculation. It is here that even the shyest beginner can catch a glimpse of the exhilaration of creating, by being a creator while at the same time he is checked by irrevocable laws set by the nature of the material, not by man. Free experimentation here can result in the fulfillment of an inner urge to give form and to give permanence to ideas, that is to say, it can result in art, or it can result in the satisfaction of invention in some more technical way.

But most important to one's own growth is to see oneself leave the safe ground of accepted conventions and to find oneself alone and self-dependent. It is an adventure which can permeate one's whole being. Self-confidence can grow. And a longing for excitement can be satisfied without external means, within oneself; for creating is the most intense excitement one can come to know.

All art work, such as music, architecture, and even religion and the laws of science, can be understood as the transformed wish for stability and order. But art work understood as work with a substance which can be grasped and formed is more suited for the development of the taste for exploration than work in other fields, for the fact of the inherent laws of material is of importance. They introduce boundaries for a task of free imagination. This very freedom can be so bewildering to the searching person that it may lead to resignation if he is faced with the immense welter of possibilities; but within set limits the imagination can find something to hold to. There still remains a fullness of choice but one not as overwhelming as that offered by unlimited opportunities. These boundaries may be conceived as the skeleton of a structure. To the beginners a material with very definite limitations can for this reason be most helpful in the process of building up independent work.

The crafts, understood as conventions of treating material, introduce another factor: traditions of operation which embody set laws. This may be helpful in one direction, as a frame for work. But these rules may also evoke a challenge. They are revokable, for they are set by man. They may provoke us to test ourselves against them. But always they provide a discipline which balances the hubris of creative ecstasy.

All crafts are suited to this end, but some better than others. The more possibilities for attack the material offers in its appearance and in its structural elements, the more it can call forth imagination and productiveness. Weaving is an example of a craft which is many-sided. Besides surface qualities, such as rough and smooth, dull and shiny, hard and soft, it also includes color, and, as the dominating element, texture, which is the result of the construction of weaves. Like any craft it may end in producing useful objects, or it may rise to the level of art.

When teaching the crafts, in addition to the work of free exploring, both the useful and the artistic have to be considered. As we have said before, today only the first step in the process of producing things of need is left to free planning. No variation is possible when production is once taken up, assuming that today mass production must necessarily include machine work. This means that the teaching has to lead toward planning for industrial repetition, with emphasis on making models for industry. It also must attempt to evoke a consciousness of developments, and further perhaps a foreseeing of them. Hence, the result of craft work, work done in direct contact with the material, can come here to have a meaning to a far wider range of people than would be the case if they remained restricted to handwork only. And from the industrial standpoint, machine production will get a fresh impetus from taking up the results of intimate work with material.

The other aspect of craft work is concerned with art work, the realization of a hope for a lawful and enduring nature. Other elements, such as proportion, space relations, rhythm, predominate in these experiments, as they do in the other arts. No limitations other than the veto of the material itself are set. More than an active process, it is a listening for the dictation of the material and a taking in of the laws of harmony. It is for this reason that we can find certitude in the belief that we are taking part in an eternal order.

1937"

[Additiona sections:

"Work with Material [above]
Weaving at the Bauhaus
On Jewelry
Design Anonymous and Timeless
Material as Metaphor"]
josefalbers  annialbers  bmc  blackmountaincollege  1937  materials  craft  art  jewelry  bauhaus  timelessness  anonymity  metaphor 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Mapping BMC
"Crossroads and Cosmopolitanism at Black Mountain College chronicles the stories of fifteen students and teachers. Select any artist to begin their story."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  robertcreeley  robertrauschenberg  ruthasawa  mercecunningham  johncage  jeancharlot  josefalbers  margueritewildenhain  rayjohnson  rolandhayes  trudeguermonprez  willemdekooning  charlesolson  annialbers  buckminsterfuller 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Learn By Painting - The New Yorker
"What made Black Mountain different from other colleges was that the center of the curriculum was art-making. Students studied pretty much whatever they wanted, but everyone was supposed to take a class in some kind of artistic practice—painting, weaving, sculpture, pottery, poetry, architecture, design, dance, music, photography. The goal was not to produce painters, poets, and architects. It was to produce citizens.

Black Mountain was founded by a renegade classics professor named John Andrew Rice, who had been kicked out of Rollins College, in Florida. Rice believed that making something is a different learning experience from remembering something. A lot of education is reception. You listen to an expert explain a subject to you, and then you repeat back what you heard to show that you learned it. Teachers push students to engage actively with the material, but it’s easy to be passive, to absorb the information and check off the box.

Rice thought that this made for bad social habits. Democracy is about making choices, and people need to take ownership of their choices. We don’t want to vote the way someone else tells us to. We want to vote based on beliefs we have chosen for ourselves. Making art is making choices. Art-making is practice democracy.

Rice did not think of art-making as therapy or self-expression. He thought of it as mental training. As anyone who has tried to write a poem knows, the discipline in art-making is exercised from within rather than without. You quickly realize that it’s your own laziness, ignorance, and sloppiness, not somebody else’s bad advice, that are getting in your way. No one can write your poem for you. You have to figure out a way to write it yourself. You have to make a something where there was a nothing.

A lot of Rice’s ideas came from the educational philosophy of John Dewey (although the idea that true learning has to come from within goes back to Plato), and Rice was lucky to find an art teacher who had read Dewey and who thought the same way. This was Josef Albers. Albers had not been so lucky. He was an original member of the Bauhaus school, but when Hitler came to power, in 1933, the Bauhaus closed down rather than accept Nazi professors. Albers’s wife, Anni, was from a prominent Jewish family, and they were understandably anxious to get out of Germany. Rice heard about them from the architect Philip Johnson, and he sent a telegram to Albers inviting him and his wife to come teach at Black Mountain. The reply read: “I speak not one word English.” (Albers had read his Dewey in translation.) Rice told him to come anyway. Albers eventually did learn English, and he and Anni, an accomplished and creative weaver, established the mode of art instruction at Black Mountain. Everything would be hands-on, collaborative, materials-based, and experimental.

Bauhaus was all about abolishing distinctions between craft, or design, and fine art, and Black Mountain was one of the places where this aesthetic entered the world of American art. (Another was the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, where Andy Warhol went to college.) Albers’s most famous (although probably not his favorite) student at Black Mountain was Robert Rauschenberg, and Rauschenberg is the presiding spirit at the I.C.A. exhibition. Although goofier than most Black Mountain art—there is an earnestness about a lot of the work; this was schoolwork, after all—putting an automobile tire around a stuffed goat is the essence of Black Mountain practice.

Black Mountain College was a holistic learning environment. Teachers and students worked together; people who came to teach (and who stayed—not everyone found the work conditions to their liking) sat in on one another’s classes and ended up learning as much as the students. When a new building needed to be constructed, students and teachers built it themselves, just as, at the old Dewey School, at the University of Chicago, the children grew their own food and cooked their own meals.

It seems as though half the midcentury American avant-garde came through Black Mountain in one capacity or the other. The I.C.A. exhibition includes works by (besides Rauschenberg and the Alberses) Ruth Asawa, John Cage, John Chamberlain, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Shoji Hamada, Lou Harrison, Ray Johnson, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Ben Shahn, David Tudor, and Cy Twombly. Black Mountain produced art of almost every kind.

Did it also produce good citizens? That’s an educational outcome everyone embraces but that’s hard to measure. In the case of Black Mountain, the sample size is miniscule, and most students left before graduating. There is also the self-selection issue. People who choose to attend progressive colleges are already progressive-minded, just as people who want a liberal education are usually already liberal (meaning interested in knowledge for its own sake), and people who prefer vocational or pre-professional education are already headed down those roads. College choice tends to confirm prior effects of socialization. But why keep those things separate? Knowing and doing are two sides of the same activity, which is adapting to our environment. That was Dewey’s point.

People who teach in the traditional liberal-arts fields today are sometimes aghast at the avidity with which undergraduates flock to courses in tech fields, like computer science. Maybe those students see dollar signs in coding. Why shouldn’t they? Right now, tech is where value is being created, as they say. But maybe students are also excited to take courses in which knowing and making are part of the same learning process. Those tech courses are hands-on, collaborative, materials-based (well, virtual materials), and experimental—a digital Black Mountain curriculum. The other liberal-arts fields might take notice. Arts practice should be part of everyone’s education, not just in preschool."
blackmountaincollege  bmc  2015  louismenand  johndewey  democracy  practice  experience  education  tcsnmy  progressive  progressivism  art  arts  highered  highereducation  collectivism  learning  unschooling  deschooling  bauhaus  johnandrewrice  making  creativity  josefalbers  annialbers  craft  design  robertrauschenberg  collaboration  ruthasawa  johncage  mercecunningham  buckminsterfuller  willemdekooning  robertduncan  johnchamberlain  robertcreeley  shojihamada  louharrison  rayjohnson  franzkline  jacoblawrence  robertmotherwell  charlesolson  benshahn  davidtudor  cytwombly  kennethnoland  elainedekooning  liberalarts  technology 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Return to Black Mountain College - WSJ
"“Black Mountain is a myth, but it was mythic in its inception,” says Helen Molesworth, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, who is organizing the first major American museum show to examine the school’s legacy, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957, opening this month at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. “The people who made it had a lofty sense of what they were doing before it even started. They were trying to form a better world.” The exhibition will feature work by nearly 100 artists. Along with stars like the architect Walter Gropius and the Alberses, it includes figures like the sculptor Ruth Asawa, the collagist Ray Johnson and the funk potter Peter Voulkos, together with scores of photos and archival materials, as well as dance and music performances held within the galleries.

Other 20th-century art luminaries passed through the college too, including the abstract expressionists Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, Russian-born WPA muralist Ilya Bolotowsky and Jacob Lawrence, the African-American painter whose Great Migration pictures were the subject of a recent MoMA retrospective, all drawn largely by Josef Albers’s allure. From the start, “Albers had an international reputation, and so did the college,” says Alice Sebrell, program director of the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in nearby Asheville, which was founded in 1993 to honor the school. “He was very open to artists whose work was different from his own. The whole package was appealing to artists who were doing non-mainstream work.”

From today’s vantage point, the reality of Black Mountain College as a crucial nexus for artistic, intellectual and even political activity is coming into sharp focus. Artists, scholars, educators and curators are increasingly recognizing that its unique environment was essential to the flowering of midcentury American art and culture, a place where the avant-garde of Europe and the United States came together and created something new. The past year has seen another major show, Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment 1933–1957, at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, which explored the creative contributions made by German refugee artists and intellectuals who converged at the school during the Nazi era. A new book, The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College, was published last December.

“Today Black Mountain seems so avant la lettre, so proto-Beat, proto-hippie, so completely off the known of the region but also of the nation,” says Eva Díaz, the book’s author. In a contemporary art world riveted by the idea of experimentation, she adds, “Black Mountain is often invoked as a touchstone.”

The school’s interdisciplinary outlook is like catnip to curators and academics because it anticipated the current interest in performance art, craft and design. Artists are fascinated by it too: “There’s a growing need for us to be socially engaged, to want an interaction with a larger aspect of society,” says photographer and sculptor Sara VanDerBeek, whose father, the experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek, studied at the college from 1949 to 1951. “That’s in keeping with the things they were discussing and engaging in at Black Mountain.”"



"“The teachers who were at Black Mountain were there because they really believed in freedom and education,” says abstractionist Dorothea Rockburne, who heard of it as a teenager in Montreal and began saving money to attend, which she finally did, from 1950 to 1954. She took science with the physicist Goldowski, but her most profound connection was with the German mathematician Max Dehn, with whom she studied topology, linear algebra and Euclidean geometry.

Part of what made Black Mountain special was the mix of disciplines, the intensity and the fact that everyone was together so constantly in the remote location. “We were all foreigners, so to speak, in that setting,” says Theodore Dreier Jr. (the son of the co-founder), who studied music there before transferring to Harvard, later becoming a psychiatrist. “It enhanced that kind of participatory, creative openness.”

The college was never accredited, largely because the founders wanted to remain independent from outside influences. Its largest class was 100, and only 66 students ever graduated. But great teaching was always the byword. Although the constantly evolving curriculum always included classroom instruction, Rockburne recalls that most of Dehn’s teaching “took place on our morning walks to the waterfall five days a week. He would explain to me the mathematics of nature,” pointing out examples of probability theory and Fibonacci progression as they occurred in plants. “I always had the sense that my teachers were living for me.”

By 1941, just before the United States joined the war, the school had raised the money to buy its own lakeside campus. It moved after the faculty and students had spent a year and a half constructing a two-story, 202-foot-long, streamlined modernist compound known as the Studies Building. When its summer art and music sessions, initiated by Albers, began in 1944, a dizzying array of instructors arrived, including the art critic Clement Greenberg, the choreographer Agnes de Mille, the gamelan composer Lou Harrison and the photographer Harry Callahan—most long before they became well known."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  2015  carolkino  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  art  education  schools  unschooling  deschooling  democracy  freedom  autonomy  learning  history  robertrauschenberg  johncage  johnandrewrice  rollinscollege  highered  highereducation  stanvanderbeek  saravanderbeek  mercecunningham  jeromerobbins  josefalbers  bauhaus  communes  cytwombly  annialbers  buckminsterfuller  helenmolesworth  robertmotherwell  jacoblawrence  franzkline  ilyabolotowsky  alicesebrell  theodoredreier  jonathanwilliams  walking 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Manual Issue 4: Blue | e-flux
"Indigo blue, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, zaffre blue, indanthrone blue, phthalo blue, cyan blue, Han blue, French blue, Berlin blue, Prussian blue, Venetian blue, Dresden blue, Tiffany blue, Lanvin blue, Majorelle blue, International Klein Blue, Facebook blue. The names given to different shades of blue speak of plants, minerals, and modern chemistry; exoticism, global trade, and national pride; capitalist branding and pure invention. The fourth issue of Manual is a meditation on blue. From precious substance to controllable algorithm to the wide blue yonder, join us as we leap into the blue. 

From the Files: Curatorial assistant A. Will Brown discusses color theory of Joseph Albers’s Homage to the Square series, revealing notations on the back of the canvases. 

Double Takes: Curator Dominic Molon and cognitive scientist Karen Schloss illuminate the perceptual play of a Dan Flavin light sculpture; conservator Ingrid Neumann and curator Lawrence Berman unearth the matter and meaning of the ancient pigments in an Egyptian paintbox; art historian Margot Nishimura and paper preservation specialist Linda Catano look closely at the exquisite details and hues of a 15th-century manuscript illumination. 

Object Lessons: Curator Kate Irvin provides a tactile archaeology of the faded shades of indigo of a Japanese boro garment. Louis van Tilborgh and Oda van Maanen of the Van Gogh Museum examine the dominant blues and disappearing violets of van Gogh’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise. 

Portfolio: A survey of blue from azure to zaffre. 

How To: Curator Elizabeth A. Williams illuminates the history of blue and white porcelain. Photographer Anna Strickland discusses Anna Atkins’s early cyanotypes. 

Artists on Art: Artist Spencer Finch presents a tear-out color study. Author Maggie Nelson considers an Alice Neel’s portrait. Graphic designer Jessica Helfand mixes Facebook blue with the cyanotype process."
blue  color  colors  indigo  josefalbers  awillbrown  dominicmolon  karenscholes  danflavin  ingridneumann  lawrenceberman  margotnishimura  lindacatano  kateirvin  louisvantilborgh  odavanmaanen  vangogh  elizabethwilliams  annastrickland  annaatkins  maggienelson  aliceneel  jessicahelfand  cyanotypes  glvo  boro  yvesklein  ikb  toread  2015  internationalkleinblue 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The Life and Work of an Institution of Progressive Higher Education: Towards a History of Black Mountain College, 1933-1949 by Jonathan Fisher | BMCS
"This ambitious new democratic structure for the administration of a college was unique to BMC, and to my knowledge has not been repeated on such a scale since. It would mean that teachers, in addition to their classroom and other responsibilities on campus, would also be taking on administrative tasks like bookkeeping, fundraising, hiring of new faculty and student admissions on a rotating basis. This commitment to a radically more democratic organizational structure for the new Black Mountain College would last until the bitter end, despite a list-ditch effort led by Dreier and Albers to alter it in the late 1940s. This attempt ultimately led to the Board of Fellows voting to remove Dreier, who had been on an extended leave of absence, in 1948. Josef and Anni Albers would leave the following year. But it was this radically democratic structure that would attract some of the world’s most visionary artists and teachers to this tiny town in rural Western North Carolina for more than two decades. It was also this structure which would allow the BMC community to move forward on issues of racial integration in the 1930s and ‘40s—decades before such attempts would be made at larger, more established colleges in the southeastern United States. It was ultimately John Dewey’s principles of progressive education that were at the foundation of these radical organizational structures, which were adopted by BMC’s founders.

During the first five years of Black Mountain College’s existence, things went remarkably smoothly. Of course finding enough money was always a problem. It was the height of the Great Depression in the United States and despite Rice, Dreier and Albers’ best efforts, BMC had never managed to secure more than minimal financial support for their new experimental progressive institution. A budget drawn up by Dreier in the first year of BMC totaled $32,000, with staff salaries totaling less than $2000, excluding Albers’ salary of $1000 annually, which was supported separately by an individual benefactor (Duberman, 1972, p.71). In these early years there were none of the scandals or disputes that would plague the community later on in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Furthermore, the college’s system of governance appeared to be working. And efforts at self-sustainability were taken on unflinchingly. A student-run cooperative store was set up on campus as well as a print shop and a cottage school for the community’s youngest members (ibid.). In addition to their academic work, students engaged in projects ranging from the staffing of the various cooperative enterprises set up on campus, to the manufacture of bookshelves, curtains and other furnishings for campus buildings. These activities helped supplement the goods available to them on the campus they were leasing from a Christian group, which used it for a summer camp for just a few months each year.

Among the highlights of these early years of the college were two visits by John Dewey, who in 1936 began serving officially as a member of BMC’s Advisory Council. Both of Dewey’s visits took place during the 1934-35 school year. It is unclear from the correspondence in the North Carolina Archives whether or not Dewey ever visited the campus again. But these two early visits set a precedent, which caused BMC faculty—especially Rice and Dreier— to request future visits, which always seem never to have quite worked out (e.g. Dreier [to Dewey] April 6, 1938; Dewey [to Dreier] April 13, 1938). In one of the oldest Dewey letters in the BMC General Collection of the North Carolina Archives, which is handwritten on Columbia University Department of Philosophy letterhead, Dewey expresses his regrets at not being able to pay Rice and the others at BMC a visit during the fall of 1936. He writes of postponing his planned visit until the spring, “when I hope to see the countryside and the flowers at their best” (Dewey [to John Rice] October 29, 1936)."



"Ultimately Dewey remained committed to his position on the Advisory council until the late 40s. A final lengthy unsent hand-written letter from Dreier addressed to Dewey provides a grim picture of the final days of Dreier’s involvement in college affairs (Dreier [unsent letter to John Dewey] 1947, July). Duberman has described in less sympathetic terms Dreier and Albers’ ploy to wrest control of BMC from the faculty and hand it over to a new Board of Trustees. At the root of Dreier’s decision, as usual, was a concern for the financial stability of the college. Black Mountain had never been officially accredited by the State of North Carolina, and student enrollment was too unreliable (Duberman p.484-5). But this was just one of many problems facing BMC in the late 40s. Dreier despairs in his unsent letter at the difficulty of finding good teachers who are also capable and willing college administrators:
Our program, a pretty real thing to [Albers] and me, was not much more than words to most new [faculty] members with one or two notable exceptions… One way of looking at the present difficulty is to say that we simply haven’t been able to get the staff we need. If we could get an adequate team that could pull together, then I think we could raise the money we need (Dreier [unsent letter to Dewey] 1947, July).

So, Dreier’s concerns are both immediate and practical, but no less frustrating for their immediacy or practicality. He is trying to escape a catch-22 of money and talent. But also, more tellingly, Dreier writes:
Another way of looking at our trouble is that our program has become unclear, conviction has sagged… Hardly anybody sees what’s wrong, but gradually the whole thing is sagging toward breaking (ibid.).

Dreier’s pain and frustration are palpable here. The emotion of this letter is even intensified by the fact that he decided not to send it to his mentor, Dewey. But this unsent letter to Dewey shows the philosophers’ influence as a guiding voice for Dreier, Albers and other faculty at BMC in the 1940s. Dreier, in writing this letter seems to be implicitly asking himself, “what would Dewey do?” not because John Dewey was some all-knowing being, capable of rescuing Black Mountain College from dire financial straits, but because Dewey’s pragmatist method of evaluating experience and taking action had been the basis for everything he had helped create at BMC over the course of the previous 15 years.

The changes in administrative structure that Dreier alludes to in his final unsent letter to Dewey, which he and Albers attempted to implement as a last-ditch effort at financial solvency for BMC, ultimately failed to stick. The ensuing crisis ended in Dreier and Albers being forced to leave. Ironically, strict adherence to the Deweyan progressive educational principle of professional autonomy, which was at the core of Rice’s idea for Black Mountain College, and which Dreier resigned from Rollins in support of, was the same issue that brought Dreier and Albers careers at BMC to an end when they switched sides. In other words, the same philosophical inclination that justified the founding of BMC in 1933 remained and kept BMC on its own radical trajectory in the late 40s, even when figures like Dreier and Albers stepped in to try to change the way the college was organized. So, on the one hand, Albers and Dreier failed at prolonging the life of BMC. But, on the other hand, even in this final failure on Dreier and Albers’s part— in their capitulation to the mainstream bureaucratic structure of higher education, the creation of a non-faculty Board of Trustees which would have had hiring and firing power for BMC— illustrates that the college retained that uniquely Deweyan pragmatist orientation and progressivism. When the community became aware of the changes that Dreier and Albers had gotten underway, they acted democratically to kick Dreier and Albers out!"
bmc  blackmountaincollege  education  progressive  progressiveeducation  johnndewey  johnandrewsrice  josefalbers  theodoredreier  democracy  tcsnmy  progressivism  compromise  annialbers  pragmatism  democratic  democraticschools  unschooling  deschooling  experience  complexity  cv  lcproject  openstudioproject 
august 2014 by robertogreco
The Art of Graphic Design: Lustig, Albers, Johnson, and the 1945 Summer Session by Julie J. Thomson | BMCS
"Without visionary artists and educators like Josef Albers and Alvin Lustig who propelled the establishment of graphic design in the academy, the field of graphic design would not have experienced the boom starting in the 1960s that continues today. What Albers and Lustig were able to achieve at Yale was strongly informed from their time teaching and working directly with students at Black Mountain College. Having a student like Ray Johnson at Black Mountain, who achieved success and recognition in the field while still a teenager also supported the possible results that such education could have for students, even though much of this would depend upon the individual student. Black Mountain College gave artists like Albers and Lustig the space and opportunity to develop their own theories about teaching, but it also gave them the opportunity to instill a spirit of experimentation and confidence in the personal vision of their students."
graphicdesign  bmc  blackmountaincollege  alvinlustig  josefalbers  rayjohnson  juliethompson  1955  2013 
august 2014 by robertogreco

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