Friday, January 24, 2014

BOOK REVIEW ~ Josef Albers / Interaction of Colour

Many many years ago, before I went to Art College in the year bluuuuuure. Like all prospective art students from the 1960's onwards. along with your letter of acceptance came a quite hefty book list. On this were -a biography of Paul Klee, Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, Marshall McLuhan's The Guttenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders, these are just a few that I remember. I had to order them through the local W H Smith, as there wasn't really an art book selection in Scunthorpe. Some of these books are, to be frank quite obscure. One of the most obscure, because it was out of print at the time, was Josef Alber's / Interaction of Colour. It has always been a rather expensive book to buy because of the number of high spec colour prints it contains. I may have just decided I'd get it later, and never did until recently. My revisting of early artistic enthusiasms stimulated a renewed interest in colour theory, and finally I bought a copy of Interaction of Colour last year.

Albers was, for a time, part of the faculty of the Bahaus, along with Klee and Kandinsky, both of whom wrote their own books exploringt the creative process and the use of colour.  Klee and Kandinsky's books, though influential, are not particularly analytical and are primarily concerned with how to liberate a freer form of creative expression. In comparison Albers approach is to provide practical experiential and systematic ways for students to discover for themselves how colours relate. Relationships of colours being never so fixed that they comform to a strict series of rules, its to do with quality or quantity of colour. A colours behaviour is dependent on what conditions you place it in. Here he describes how he sees the teacher's role:~

" In the end, teaching is a matter not of method but of heart. Therefore, the most decisive factor is the teacher's personality. Their enthusiastic concern with the student's growth counts more than how much he knows. It is well known that 'the teacher is always right,' but rarely does this fact elicit respect or sympathy; even less often does it prove competence and authority."

"But the teacher actually is right and always will gain confidence when he admits that he does not know, that he cannot decide, and as it often is with colour, that he is unable to make a choice or give advice."

"Besides, good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers." 

The book is divided into two sections. The first section consisting of eleven short chapters explaining specific aspects of colour relationship and setting practical exercises to do. The second section giving a series of example pages that are companions to those earlier chapters. These demonstrate the effects referred to, and give a better visual sense for what he is describing.  Albers says that his book isn't concerned with encouraging self-expression but providing precise methods for self-exploration and discovery. This style of delivery can present itself as being a bit cold, dry and matter of fact. Nonetheless his colour exercises are very effective, being developed over many years of hands on teaching xperience in Germany and the US. In a sense The Interaction of Colour more readily resembles an artistic version of a 'car manual' than 'a good read.' or a visual feast.

Its clear once you start reading it, just how influential this book has been. Over its fifty years of publication the theoretical underpinning and the simple practicality of its exercises mean its been plundered as a teaching resource for Primary Schools through to BA Art Degree Courses. I've certainly learnt quite a bit I didn't know, its clarified things I knew from experience but never uindestood why, and explained why somethings I've tried would never have worked ~ it was the Weber-Fechner Law ~  apparently! Some of Albers more complex explanations did I'm afraid lose me, I needed more specific visual reference in order to understand what he was talking about.  Nonetheless its still quite a special book.

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