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Artists Josef Albers
Josef Albers Photo

Josef Albers

American Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Teacher, and Theoretician

Movements and Styles: Bauhaus, Geometric Abstraction

Born: March 19 1888 - Bottrop, Germany

Died: March 25 1976 - New Haven, CT, USA

Josef Albers Timeline


"Instead of art I have taught philosophy. Though technique for me is a big word, I never have taught how to paint. All my doing was to make people to see."
Josef Albers
"Art is revelation instead of information, expression instead of description, creation instead of imitation or repetition. Art is concerned with the HOW, not the WHAT; not with literal content, but with the performance of the factual content. The performance - how it is done - that is the content of art."
Josef Albers
"Any ground subtracts its own hue from the colors which it carries and therefore influences."
Josef Albers
"In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is - as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art."
Josef Albers
"Simultaneous contrast is not just a curious optical phenomenon - it is the very heart of painting."
Josef Albers
"Albers was a beautiful teacher and an impossible person ... what he taught had to do with the entire visual world ... I consider Albers the most important teacher I've ever had, and I'm sure he considered me one of his poorest students."
Robert Rauschenberg

“When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color."

Josef Albers Signature


Josef Albers was instrumental in bringing the tenets of European modernism, particularly those associated with the Bauhaus, to America. His legacy as a teacher of artists, as well as his extensive theoretical work proposing that color, rather than form, is the primary medium of pictorial language, profoundly influenced the development of modern art in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

Key Ideas

Albers's 1963 book Interaction of Color provided the most comprehensive analysis of the function and perception of color to date and profoundly influenced art education and artistic practice, especially Color Field Painting and Minimalism, in the 20th century.
His series Homage to the Square, produced from 1949 until his death, used a single geometric shape to systematically explore the vast range of visual effects that could be achieved through color and spatial relationships alone.
Albers's art and theories were widely disseminated to generations of artists and art-school faculty through his teachings at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale University, and they provided the theoretical basis for the development of non-objective art during and after the age of Abstract Expressionism.


Josef Albers Photo

Early years

Josef Albers was born March 19, 1888, in Bottrop, Germany. From 1905 to 1908 he studied to become a teacher in Buren, teaching in Westphalian primary schools from 1908 to 1913. After attending the Konigliche Kunstschule in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, he was certified to teach art. Albers studied lithography in Essen and attended the Academy in Munich. In 1920 at the age of 32, Albers entered the Bauhaus, a school in Weimar that was committed to exploring the relationship between the arts and technological society and emphasized the integration of architecture, fine art, and craft.

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Josef Albers Biography Continues

Important Art by Josef Albers

The below artworks are the most important by Josef Albers - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Shrine (1942)
Artwork Images

Shrine (1942)

Artwork description & Analysis: In 1942 Josef Albers embarked on a series of zinc plate lithographs entitled Graphic Tectonics, a title that references both the solidity of geological matter and movement. While he is best known for his color studies, much of Albers non-sculptural work prior to the 1950s was monochromatic and focused on unmodulated linear and geometric relations, spatial ambiguity, and the perception of dimension, creating "maximum effect from minimum means." This series of works was completed while he taught at Black Mountain College as part of his continued exploration of optical illusions and arrangements of lines that generated conflict between perception (what one sees) and cognition (what one knows).

Zinc Lithograph - Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York

Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)
Artwork Images

Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: Homage to the Square is the signature series of over 1000 related works, which Albers began in 1949 and continued to develop until his death in 1976. Such sustained attention to a single aspect of painting reflects his conviction that insight is only attained through "continued trying and critical repetition." This early work exemplifies his basic approach to exploring the mutability of human perception and the range of optical and psychological effects that colors alone can produce depending on their position and proximity. Albers chose a single, repeated geometric shape, which he insisted was devoid of symbolism, to systematically experiment with the "relativity" of color, how it changes through juxtaposition, placement, and interaction with other colors, generating the illusion of attraction, resistance, weight, and movement. As in his earlier monochromatic and linear studies, this series explores the potential of static two-dimensional media to invoke dynamic three-dimensional space.

Oil on Masonite - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Two Portals (1961)
Artwork Images

Two Portals (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: After retiring from Yale in 1958 at the age of 70, Albers's former teacher and colleague, Walter Gropius, invited Albers to design a mural for the interior of the new Graduate Center at Harvard University, leading to other important mural commissions. Two Portals at the Time and Life Building, pictured here, features alternating polished nickel and bronze squares, surrounded by alternating bands of tan and white glass, to suggest receding planes, providing the illusion of depth on a flat surface.

Bronze and glass - Time-Life Building, New York City

More Josef Albers Artwork and Analysis:

Manhattan (1963) Repeat and Reverse (1963) Soft Spoken (1969)

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Josef Albers
Interactive chart with Josef Albers's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Ludwig Mies van der RoheLudwig Mies van der Rohe
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich
Johannes IttenJohannes Itten

Personal Contacts

Walter GropiusWalter Gropius
Anni AlbersAnni Albers
Paul KleePaul Klee



Influences on Artist
Josef Albers
Josef Albers
Years Worked: 1915 - 1976
Influenced by Artist


Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Cy TwomblyCy Twombly
Richard AnuszkiewiczRichard Anuszkiewicz
Eva HesseEva Hesse
John ChamberlainJohn Chamberlain

Personal Contacts

Anni AlbersAnni Albers
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Elaine de KooningElaine de Kooning


Pop ArtPop Art
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Geometric AbstractionGeometric Abstraction

Useful Resources on Josef Albers







The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living

By Nicholas Fox Weber, Martin Filler, and Paul Warwick Thompson

Josef Albers: To Open Eyes: The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale Recomended resource

By Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz

written by artist

Josef Albers: Formulation: Articulation

By Josef Albers and T.G. Rosenthal

Interaction of Color Recomended resource

By Josef Albers and Nicholas Fox Weber

More Interesting Books about Josef Albers
Interacting with Color: Josef Albers Comes to the iPad

By Beryl Gilothwest
Art in America
August 14, 2013

The Square in the Raw: Josef Albers' Unguarded Moments Recomended resource

By Thomas Micchelli
August 25, 2012

Harmony, Harder Than It Looks Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
July 26, 2012

Josef Albers: A Crash Course on How to See Squarely

By Jamie Simon
Smithsonian Magazine
February 17, 2010

More Interesting Articles about Josef Albers
Valerie Fletcher on Maximum Effect from Minimum Means: Josef Albers

At the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
April 6, 2010

Josef Albers's Homage to the Square: Aurora

Michael Murawsk at Kemper Art Museum

An Iconic Book Reimagined: Josef Albers' "Interaction of Color"

Yale University - July 29, 2013

Color in Context: Revisiting Albers Recomended resource

With Anoka Faruquu at Yale University - October 12, 2013

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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