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Artists Johannes Itten
Johannes Itten Photo

Johannes Itten

Swiss Painter, Designer, and Teacher

Movement: Bauhaus

Born: November 11, 1888 - Suderen-Linden, Switzerland

Died: March 25, 1967 - Zurich, Switzerland

Johannes Itten Timeline


"Only those who love color are admitted to its beauty and immanent presence. It affords utility to all, but unveils its deeper mysteries only to its devotees."
Johannes Itten
"Color is life, for a world without color seems dead. As a flame produces light, light produces color. As intonation lends color to the spoken word, color lends spiritually realized sound to a form."
Johannes Itten
"Colors are primordial ideas, children of the aboriginal colorless light and its counterpart, colorless darkness.. Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and the living soul of the world through colors."
Johannes Itten
"Play becomes joy, joy becomes work, work becomes play."
Johannes Itten
"The objective laws of form and color help to strengthen a person's powers and to expand his creative gift."
Johannes Itten
"In music, the theory of composition has long been an important and accepted part of a professional education. However, a musician may know counterpoint and still be a dull composer, if he lacks insight and inspiration. Just so, a painter may know all the resources of composition in form and color. Yet remain sterile if inspiration be denied him"
The Art of Color (1961)
"If new ideas are to take the shape of art, it is necessary to prepare and coordinate physical, sensual, spiritual, and intellectual forces and abilities. This insight largely determined the subject and method of my Bauhaus teaching. The task was to build the whole man as a creative being, a program which I also championed again and again in the faculty council."
Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus (1963)
"The end and aim of all artistic endeavor is liberation of the spiritual essence of form and color and its release from imprisonment in the world of objects. It is from this aspiration that non-objective art has arisen."
The Elements of Color (1970)

"He who wants to become a master of color must see, feel, and experience each individual color in its many endless combinations with all other colors. Colors must have a mystical capacity for spiritual expression, without being tied to objects."

Johannes Itten Signature


Trained as an elementary school teacher, Itten joined the first instructors at the Bauhaus, where he was a Master from 1919-1923. His development of the preliminary class of the school revolutionized art education. Instead of having students copy works of the Old Masters, he encouraged them to explore their own feelings and to experiment with colors, materials, and forms. This course emphasized three elements: studies of natural forms and colors, the analysis of canonical artworks, and life drawing. He was a pioneer of holistic art teaching and went on to run his own art school, along with serving at senior positions in renowned art academies.

Key Ideas

Itten's Vorkurs or foundations course at the Bauhaus pioneered techniques that remain central to art school teaching today, including the encouragement of self-expression and experimentation with materials and techniques. All students were required to complete this training before moving onto more specific courses - the course was the starting point of the Bauhaus curriculum.
As a believer in Eastern Mazdaznan, Itten encouraged students to embrace mysticism as part of their art practice. He taught meditation and breathing exercises, as well as gymnastic routines that were designed to maximize creativity. His teachings were adopted by many at the Bauhaus, but when the school adopted a more industrial philosophy, Itten left to found his own private art school in Berlin.
Itten developed an intricate theory of color, which associated color palettes with types of people and seasons. His work on color contrasts, which characterized seven different types of comparisons, was important for the development of Op Art, but would also influence palettes designed by cosmetic companies in the late-20th century.

Most Important Art

Johannes Itten Famous Art

The Encounter (1916)

Although Itten painted this color abstraction prior to his arrival at the Bauhaus, it includes many of the fundamental principles that would be central to his teaching there. His use of geometric shapes, including the dominant spiral and repeated circles and rectangles, along with his exploration of the color spectrum preview his later interests.

While non-objective, Encounter is layered with both personal and symbolic meaning. It forms part of a series of paintings of similar composition and palette, completed between 1915-16, that Itten's correspondence linked to the suicide of his girlfriend, Hildegard Wendland. This work, which has also been titled Meeting, centers on two intertwining spiral forms. This particular shape has more universal significance as a Theosophical archetype of geometric forms in nature and a symbol of transcendence beyond the physical, concrete world.

The painting can also be understood as a study in dynamic contrasts of color, created from a comprehensive range of hues. The striped horizontal section of the lower right color features gradations of bright colors, from yellow to blue. It is flanked above and on the left, by vertical metallic stripes that are superimposed by the dominant form of the double spiral, which creates a rhythm of dark and light. One half of this spiral catalogues colors, the other values of gray, until they meet in a center of gray and pastel yellow. The result suggests a cosmic catalogue of different hues, swept together in a united geometric arrangement. Itten's emphasis on primary shapes and primary colors drew from the influence of Kandinsky, but would influence other Bauhaus students and instructors, including Paul Klee and Josef Albers.
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Johannes Itten Artworks in Focus:

Johannes Itten: Of Interest

Itten - the Lifelong TeacherItten leading his students in physical exercisesThe famous diagram of the Bauhaus course study plan. Itten's course is the first layer of knowledge in the Bauhaus curriculum (outer-most circle of this diagram)Itten's major book, The Elements of Color
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Content compiled and written by Sarah Archino

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sarah Archino
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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