Josef Albers

Born in the latter years of the 19th century Germany, Josef Albers (1888-1976) was an eclectically gifted artist whose influence within the modernist movement was one of both giving shape (or color, in most instances) to inventive new methods and of spreading style’s many tenets to the mid-20th century United States. As both edifier and practitioner, and Josef Albers was a notable exception to the notorious maxim, “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”

In fact, Albers’ mind was famously dynamic in its capacity for original thought, a gift which seeped generously into those works which sprang forth from his inspired brushstrokes, and which also encouraged new ways of thinking among those fortunate enough to study under Albers’ tutelage.

The later artistic education of a then 32-year-old Josef Albers at Bauhaus was heavily cross-disciplinary in its conceptualization, emphasizing the intersection of fine art and industrialization’s technological imprint upon the Germany of Albers’ youth. A complex curriculum of that sort would generate within Josef Albers a construct-awareness which came into play both pedagogically and creatively; the latter fueling the former.

Indeed, Albers was particularly cognizant of artistic convention as a whole and of the preconceived structures upon which his primary style of modernism rested; thus, harboring such awareness rendered Albers particularly adept at both conveying the importance of creative precedent while recognizing their tendency to crowd out innovation. In this way, Albers demonstrated throughout his concurrent teaching and creating careers the seriousness with which he took his artistic duties to challenge cultural edifices, even those within the artistic realm itself.

Interestingly, Albers’ initial work at Bauhaus was in the discipline of stained glass productions. This period saw him assuming a modicum of instructional responsibility, as he was also tasked with managing the academy’s glass workshop during this time. His time as the Bauhaus resident glass works impresario was followed by a significant promotion into the professorial ranks. Thus, in his late-30s would Josef Albers—born pedagogue, insightful theorist, and skilled creator that he was—step formally into a line of work which demanded a routine summoning of the full application of those numerous talents for which he had long nurtured and harbored an enormous capacity.

But, as would happen for so many European artists active during the early 1930s, the winds of history saw fit to trespass upon the otherwise idyllic and productive life Albers and his wife (they wed during the preceding decade) Anni, who, following the ascent of Nazism, fled to the United States. There Albers would remain for the remainder of his life, working in the academic space and eventually accepting a department head role with Yale where he contributed greatly to the university’s design program.

Josef Albers Artwork

What cannot be overstated about the significance of Josef Albers’ significance to modernism specifically and the 20th century art community in its entirety is not simply that broad range of interests and talents which characterized the near-entirety of his career; rather, it is his capacity for so cleverly intertwining the respective concepts of disparate disciplines into an overarching construct of paramount artistic theory and application. His ability to extrapolate larger meaning and to invoke deep feeling by way of seemingly simple manipulation of color is on full display with works such as Homage to the Square (1965), while his very well-known Two Portals (1961) achieves optical illusion of the most compelling sort while challenging the viewer to reconsider what they think they understand about visual perspective.

As for that budding artist looking to sell your art, your efforts would only benefit from a careful of study of Albers’ collected works, as a great many of his more recognizable artistic feats were in fact commissioned…which is to say, purchased before they existed. You might also explore the “about us” links of various art dealers and purveyors, as these will provide considerable direction as to where the commercial demand exists and how a would-be art careerist might tailor their own works accordingly.

And, of course, the aspect of legacy via one’s pupils is very much deserving of mention in Albers’ case. After all, his many years spent teaching in both his native Germany and his adopted America would see him shaping the minds and talents of innumerable artists and designers, many of whom are with us still and nearly all of whom continued to create long after Albers’ passing in 1976, thus ensuring posterity of a most meaningful and enduring sort. Brilliant works of his own and a small army of notable students would collectively ensure Albers’ survival long after his mortality staked its claim.