Josef Albers and the Department of Design at Yale.

Susan Nan Chevlowe, City University of New York, Graduate Center


This dissertation explores Josef Albers's role in restructuring the School of Fine Arts at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The chairmanship of the newly formed Department of Design, which Albers assumed in 1950, was his last full-time teaching position until he retired from Yale in 1958. As Chairman, Albers transformed Yale's more than 80-year-old entrenched Beaux-Arts-based program founded in 1864 into a Department of Design, infused with the spirit of the Bauhaus, the famed German school founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, where Albers himself had been a student and teacher beginning some thirty years earlier from 1920--1933.;Albers fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and came to Yale after 16 years as Chairman of the Department of Art at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The Bauhaus had become a pivotal model for the teaching of art in the United States. This model involved an alignment of the arts with industry; a strong, if strained, relationship between the fine arts and crafts and between mass produced goods and craft traditions; and a greater alignment between the arts themselves, i.e. art, architecture, and drama. What was envisioned at Yale was a modern program in which the school could serve as a design laboratory that would enrich the entire cultural fabric of the country. With "new materials, new forms, and new methods of instruction," the traditional boundaries between the fine arts and the useful arts in terms of forms and materials were understood to have lost much of their meaning. These developments reflected a mid-century understanding of the Bauhaus in America that in turn shaped how Albers was understood at this time. Albers's reception by American critics and American business---which began to collect and use modern, abstract art to define its corporate image---is also explored in this context.;Albers believed that art education was general education and that artists should work with their hands. By 1958 he would make the claim that in "democratic education, the visual and manual type of student is just as important as the intellectual student."