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Former Students’ Memories of Classes Taught by Famous Artists

They are a class of people who will tell you about the first time they saw a Kandinsky or de Kooning with the excitement of recounting their first kiss. They may tell you that they’re atheists, but the truth is that most young art students are idolators. Arriving on campus for the first time, before they think about where they’ll be living, what they’ll be learning, or what they’ll accomplish as bona fide art school graduates, many rising students are bracing themselves for the thought of studying with one of their heroes. This myth-making remains true, even afterwards, when they find that things didn’t go exactly as expected.

As a few of these accounts from art school grads testify, the trials and frustrations that come from studying with a giant can be as edifying as the joys and pleasures. This is especially true of students like Romare Bearden, who grew to believe that “art cannot be taught.” The same sentiment might arise from the notebook of critic Dave Hickey. “[The students] asked why I didn’t read their papers,” he said. “I asked them how much they would enjoy teaching a swimming class where everybody drowned.”

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Josef Albers

Dorothea Rockburne on studying with Josef Albers:

But I painted all the time at Black Mountain.  I painted and I did not know what I was doing nor did I want to know what I was doing.  Because many of the art students were doing “New York” art, magazine art, which is fine. I mean it’s not a criticism. They were copying it and taking their place to later become their own person. But I did not like the Albers classes, I did not like the concept of giving color a job. It was like color was on the unemployment line and you have to make dark colors come forward and light colors go backward, and after having an academic training where you learn that in many of the Renaissance paintings for example, the dark blue of Mary’s robe will come forward. You know what I mean? It’s an old problem, and I just thought it was a big yawn and didn’t want to do those things. I wanted to make every mistake possible and I did. And I did have an exhibition here, at the end.

Read the full interview in Black Mountain Studies Journal.

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