The Ignorant Schulmeister and his Armchair Revolution

This essay is a preliminary examination of the artistic pedagogy of Josef Albers mainly using his encounter with Constancio Bernardo, his student at Yale School of Art in the 1950s, as a case study. After being mentored by Albers, Bernardo made the earliest examples of modern abstract painting in Southeast Asia. Drawing from Jacques Ranciere’s conceptualization of “aesthetic revolution” and “intellectual emancipation,” I argue that Albers’s Bauhaus-indebted pedagogy impacted Bernardo’s approach to his own work and teaching philosophy. Their mentorship registers a paradigm shift in the nature of art education from studio apprenticeship to classroom instruction. These changes made it possible for Bernardo to be converted to abstract painting and also allowed him to appreciate avant-garde participatory art practices in later decades. Both Albers and Bernardo were participants in an unforeseen aesthetic revolution.

Fig. 1 Josef Albers teaching at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, circa 1946. Genevieve Naylor/Reznikoff Artistic Partnership

The story of the Albers-Bernardo mentorship begins with how the two artists found themselves at Yale University at a decisive time of change for the School of Art. But how did they get there? Some background is in order.

In 1933, when Nazi pressure forced the German Bauhaus to close, Josef Albers who was educated at the school and who eventually became Meister of the Foundation course, took a job at the Black Mountain College. Having never left Europe, he and his bride Ani Albers took an Atlas and desperately tried to find North Carolina on the map of the Philippines.[1] When Albers became the head of the Department of Painting and Design at Yale, Filipino painter Constancio Bernardo, who had come to study at Yale on scholarship, would be among the first MFA cohort to study under him. Their mentorship resulted in Bernardo’s startling conversion from academic painting to the rigorous discipline in formalist abstraction which Josef Albers imported from the Bauhaus. Bernardo’s transmission of lessons he learned from Albers would help catalyze the changes in the curriculum of fine arts education in the Philippines. As one of the prime movers of a pedagogical shift that nurtured generations of Filipino artists, he weaned arts education away from an earlier Modernism rooted in the Iberian art academy towards a vision more in line with an avant-garde American art school.

Educating artists in the university

It bears recalling that Yale offered one of the earliest college-based art education in the United States.[2] The Yale School of Fine Arts was established in 1864 and kept its original name until the 1950s, when the word “fine” was dropped from the school’s name. Art historian Howard Singerman notes that “fine arts” signified the alignment of art practice, as well as art history, with the academic humanities; that is, with the literature, poetry, and music of the Beaux-Arts, and with their histories. This was to change in the post-war period.[3] Singerman offers the Bauhaus, not as an origin, but as a switching point for this shift in pedagogy. The lessons learned from the Bauhaus in the United States from the 1940s, when many European artists sought refuge in the US, through the 1960s, were not necessarily the lessons taught at Weimar or Dessau, or not all of them. The professed purpose of the Bauhaus preliminary course, or Vorkurs, in America as in Germany, was to unify art and the branches of industrial design. On college campuses, however, the course’s design experiments and material investigations pointed, “not toward tubular steel and product design,”[4] but toward painting, conducted in departments that continued to offer only the historical, personal media that had been the fine arts. The migration of the Bauhaus to the United States also historically framed the transformations that shaped most western-style art academies. What follows is a reconstruction of the encounter between Josef Albers and Constancio Bernardo at Yale. We will then consider how Albersian pedagogy dovetails with Jacques Ranciere’s ideas of intellectual emancipation and how Bernardo as a practitioner of this pedagogy aided in the proliferation of participatory art practices in the Philippines. Both were the direct result of the shifts that swept the mid-century art school.

The Albers-Bernardo encounter

The Albers-Bernardo mentorship was made possible by significant changes in the Fine Arts program at Yale. Charles Sawyer became Dean of Fine Arts in the late 1940s, specifically to effect change in an art program that Sawyer saw as “rather moribund” and that “needed a good shaking up.”[5]

Sawyer was among the distinguished experts invited “to clarify the strange art of today” in “A Life Round Table on Modern Art” on July 12, 1948.[6] The discussion around modern art touched on its difficulty, its tendency to “abuse” private symbols or to lean toward the esoteric, and its emphasis on originality and individuality. In the wake of Adolf Hitler banning avant-garde expression as entartete Kunst, and Stalin’s criminalization of art production that was not representational, individuality became equated with freedom.[7]

But none of these ideas and artistic impulses were reflected at Yale School of Fine Arts when Bernardo arrived in 1948. With a tradition of art education grounded in the Italian Renaissance, Yale seemed to Bernardo an excellent choice to continue with the realist tradition that he imbibed at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, an art academy which perpetrated the traditions of Iberian art academies from the Spanish colonial era. At Yale, basic and advanced painting courses “emphasized formulaic technical instruction oriented toward figure painting ‘in the tradition of Ingres.’”[8] Along with portrait painting and mural painting, students learned the techniques of egg tempera, including how to gesso a panel, develop crosshatches using fine brushes, and apply gold leaf.[9] Bernardo recalled in 1983 that in his first two years at Yale he learned 15th century Italian “technique” (not style).[10]

Fig. 3. One of Bernardo’s 55 surviving academie sketches from Yale, 1949, Charcoal and chalk on paper 64 X 48 cm. Estate of Constancio Bernardo.

In 1948, studio sessions at the Yale School of Fine Arts consisted of sketching models in various poses in the classroom, reflecting a European tradition that emphasized figure drawing. On large drawing sheets, chalk, and pencil, Bernardo observed the movements and studied the musculature of the nude or half-naked models. The production of these so-called “academies”” was codified in the atelier. First, students copied prints of classical sculptures, becoming familiar with the principles of contour, light, and shade. From copying works of past artists one would assimilate their methods. To advance to the next level, students presented drawings for evaluation.[11]

Building on his decades of experience, Albers instituted a new drawing curriculum at Yale which trained students not in techniques but “in ways of seeing.”[12] From this pronouncement, we can imagine how Albers might have paralleled the figure of Joseph Jacotot, whose career and principles Ranciere revisited in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1991). The Rancierian concept of intellectual emancipation complements his account of a “silent revolution” in artistic pedagogy,[13] which took place around the beginning of the 19th century, and which split the modern era between what Ranciere designates as the representative and aesthetic regimes of art.[14]

Albers as Ranciere’s Ignorant Schoolmaster

Joseph Jacotot (1770–1840), was a French schoolteacher who during his exile in Belgium in the first decades of the 19th century developed an educational approach, which he called “universal teaching”. Jacotot’s approach stemmed from a discovery he made when he was invited to teach French to Flemish students whose language he didn’t speak.[15] Nonetheless, his students managed to learn to speak and write French, which they accomplished through studying a bilingual edition of Fénelon’s novel Télémaque (1699).

Like the exiled Jacotot who taught French to the Flemish, Albers too was an exile when he restarted his teaching career in a foreign land. He arrived in the U.S. in 1933 speaking no word of English. Nevertheless, Albers’s teaching method was highly cerebral, and he encouraged experimentation and direct lessons from experience. The numerous figure studies and sketches of nudes by Bernardo in his first year at Yale were replaced with serial studies of line and color under Albers.[16] Albers exclaimed in his classroom: “No longer any naked women—only squares!”[17] He did not eliminate life drawing courses altogether but he totally changed the approach. Where the practice of drawing from a model had taken multiple sessions over days and weeks, Albers asked his models to take natural poses and hold them for only two or three minutes, “compelling students to draw more loosely in “rapid-fire exercises” that were annotated with prodding instructions such as “Look at the model and dance with your pencil!’”[18] To drive home the message of the unimportance of figuration, Albers categorically declared that representational drawing is not art and referred to representational painting as “telling stories” or “propaganda.”[19]

Albers’ design-based exercises were extensions of those he studied and later taught at the German Bauhaus school. Founded on principles of simplicity and functionality, the Bauhaus philosophy espoused a purity of design. Albers’s exercises promoted simple materials, clarity of line and economy of form. He urged eliminating any hierarchy between figure and ground, and taught that intervals and spaces embody “active negatives”[20] that are just as important as typographic spaces between words. His formula of “one creating four” (two lines forming a cross yielding quadrants, four corners, four angles, and four directions) was the basis of what he referred to as the Schwindle,[21] stating “2+2 must equal to 5,”[22] the proverbial sum being more than its spare elements.

In Albers’s art of the Schwindle, the most important protagonist was color. Viewing color as unstable, elusive, and mutable, he stated, “Color is a deception. Color is always fooling us.”[23] He challenged students to “make the viewer think he’s getting sixteen colors when he’s only getting four.”[24] The interrelation of elements—the graphic and chromatic interplay based on placement, application, mass and intensity—yields compositional drama and variability. Albers wrote extensively on the tectonic effects achieved through line and color, explaining, “We constantly see color in relation to color… Seeing is not only a visual affair, it is a psychological affair… It is impossible to remember a color precisely. Color is a psychic effect.”[25]

Learning how the parts constitute the whole through active engagement with material underscored all of Albers’ teachings. In his preliminary instruction he emphasised that the student must experiment with material in order to truly understand its potential use and limitations in design. Albers encouraged his students to work with a wide variety of material including cardboard, wire, glass, straw, rubber, matchboxes, and razor blades and would often charge them to explore the properties of a singular material, specifying which tools, if any, could be used to this end. As such, the student would discover a material’s inherent design qualities by using it to create a new structure.[26]

Crucial for Albers’s students was the fact that he saw the practice of painting as connected to the artist’s environment. Like Jacotot who enriched his teaching methods with his immigrant experience, Albers developed his color course subsequent to his arrival in the United States but it reflected a Bauhaus-indebted approach to material instruction as did his instruction generally.[27] Students used foliage and Color-aid paper in their studies, employing materials available to them to study the material of colour itself; they did not mix pigments to create a new, composite colour. In his colour course the former Bauhaus Meister created a structured environment in which he encouraged students to experiment with colour by assigning exercises (problems to be solved) meant to attune students to perceptual phenomena. One came to appreciate the relativity of colour upon completing Albers’s course; but more, the means to the end were in themselves significant. Students met Albers’s charge to use colour relationships to create the illusion of volume, numerous surface effects, or the appearance of transparency through a relational process of trial and error often by placing countless pieces of paper in juxtaposition with one another until arriving at the desired effect. Above all else, his colour instruction was meant to challenge students to discover the potential (and limitations) of colour-as-material and its use in the design. And like all his instruction it was not geared toward a prescribed end; students ultimately were to make use of his methods on their own terms.[28]

Intellectual Emancipation as the artistic pedagogy of Ranciere’s Aesthetic Revolution

In teaching his students to see color anew, Albers was teaching a form of intellectual emancipation that transcended simple skills training in the art academy.Writing on the nature of “the image,” Rancière reminds us that artistic images have never solely been a visual matter, and that pure form (e.g. paint on canvas, charcoal on paper or sculpted clay) is a very modernist idea that seeks to preserve the special status of art via an appeal to materials. He argues that the creation of an “image” has always involved the conjuring up of a likeness, which can be achieved with all sorts of materials, and always involves a dual operation of visual and textual elements. Where once the visual offered a representation of the textual—the depiction of a shared story (often taken from Judeo-Christian scripture or classical mythology), the “story” (in the forms of description, explanation or account) now often makes sense of the visual. This “equality” of sorts between what is seen and what is “read” is one of the key themes in Rancière’s take on the ruptures that have defined the history of western art.

            Josef Albers’ pedagogy does not concern itself with the rudiments of representative painting and drawing; rather, it is concerned with the “textual,” elements of art making, as Rancière would have it. Textuality is what made it possible for abstract art to emerge. A text is already implied in the painting, and a familiarity with it is assumed. In Albers’s case, the viewers need to only know the significance of specific colors in their own minds in order to understand what is being depicted in his paintings and to be able to make these color-associations.[29]

In the Politics of Aesthetics, Ranciere directly references the Bauhaus-inspired attempt to unify the branches of industrial design and fine arts in the art academy as part of the “Modernist discourse”[30] which “presents the revolution of pictorial abstraction as painting’s discovery of its own “proper medium: two-dimensional surface.”[31] In other words, Bauhaus pedagogy was a model of emancipation away from the tyranny of representation and the two-dimensional surface. The surface in both the Albersian and Rancierian terms does not have any distinctive feature. Ranciere then moves the conversation by reminding us that a “surface” is not simply a geometric composition of lines. It is a certain “distribution of the sensible.” By this he meant that when artists paint on canvas, for example, they weren’t simply manipulating oils on a surface; they were inscribing their creativity on the “surface of shared writing,” which is the shared domain of aesthetics and politics.[32] Ranciere also emphasizes the link between Bauhaus and the arts and crafts movement, which developed furniture as part of a design for a new community or for a vision of that community.[33] For these reasons, the teaching method which Albers brought to Yale benefitted from, and was also burdened by, its applicability to teaching painters and sculptors as well as architects and industrial designers. As they were attuned to the requisites of the aesthetic regime of art which destroys the systems of genres and isolation of “art” in the singular, the Bauhaus-infused pedagogy was often tasked to create solutions for problems outside the traditional purview of art and artistic education.

The expansion of the Bauhaus arts education foregrounds the clash between art and education that Claire Bishop observes in Artificial Hells. Since early in the last decade “both artists and curators have become increasingly engaged in projects that appropriate the tropes of education as both a method and a form: lectures, seminars, libraries, reading-rooms, publications, workshops and even full-blown schools;” a phenomenon which can be seen as an effort to reconcile the conflicting criteria of between art and education.[34] While Bishop only observes “dynamic overlaps” between the two domains, especially in terms of spectatorship, we can sense from our account of Bauhaus-infused arts education how it liberated two-dimensional representative painting and exploded into avant-garde arts practices such as participatory art. While Bishop stops at examining ‘Pedagogic Projects’ as works of art in the penultimate chapter of her book, I hazard to say that the entirety participatory art was actually forged in the halls of education, specifically in graduate programs of American art schools in the mid-century. Not only did participatory art historically include educational experiments, it was also rooted in the shift to the intellectual and textual nature of the art academy. In this respect, Josef Albers whose performance-level classroom instructions are well-documented should be considered a major figure in initiating and giving conceptual springboards for both participatory and relational works in contemporary art.

Let us revisit the Albers-Bernardo encounter once more to see where the emancipatory shoots of participatory art might have sprouted in the academy.

Bernardo thoroughly internalized Albers’ teaching within a brief but intense period from 1950 to 1952, culminating in his painting Opus No. 1, the centerpiece of his Master’s thesis exhibition, Perpetual Motion.[35]

Fig .4.  Constancio Bernardo’s main work for his MFA Thesis at Yale, Perpetual Motion: Opus 1, 1951, oil on canvas (later reworked in acrylic), 98 X 127 cm. Photo: At Maculangan.

In the painting, a horizontal rectangle of thinly applied red paint is animated by bold white lines that form acute angles and are overlaid with bold blue diagonal lines. The lines create illusions of depth through the suggestion of recession and of shadows. Thinner lines add to the geometric complexity, suggesting axiomatically rendered rooms and portals. Cubic volumes interchangeably recede and protrude—space yields to volume, mass dissolves into space. Rather modest in size and stark in composition, the painted canvas must have been seen by Albers as the perfect execution of an UberSchwindle. Bernardo recalled in later years that Albers sat for hours on end studying this painting and told him, “You are not my student; you are my peer.”[36]

The leanness and muscularity of Opus No. 1 could not have been achieved without the hundred abstraction studies Bernardo had made before his thesis exhibition. Extant examples of these studies show improvisations on the horizontal rectangular format, a monochromatic ground (red, blue or purple) and abstract linear compositions that explore the tectonic and kinetic possibilities of angular lines or inclined planes that seem to bounce off the edges within prescribed perimeters.

Fig. 5. Study for Perpetual Motion (front), n.d., colored pencil and paint on paper, 23 X 31 cm.
Fig. 6. Study for Perpetual Motion (back), n.d., colored pencil and paint on paper over swatches, 23 X 31 cm.

 In the preparatory version of Perpetual Motion,[37] (a 20 X 27 cm version, 1952), two stacked horizontal color bars overlaid with black and white lines evoke a schematic cityscape. Bernardo’s multiple studies were made shortly after Albers’s first linear Structural Constellations in 1949. Both artists were exploring volume shifts and vibrating forms through linear constructions. This exploration did not merely involve sitting in front of a canvas and waiting for inspiration. The process was physical and performative and in order to teach it, Albers who found gestures more effective than words, often asked his students to get on their feet and follow his movements.

Fig. 7.a Josef Albers teaching a colors class at Yale in 1952. 
Fig. 7.b Josef Albers teaching a class at Yale in 1956. Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

In a 1955 video taken by John Cohen at Yale,[38] the camera follows Albers as he instructs his students to see lines and shape from various perspectives. Wearing a stiff-collared shirt with a tie, Albers paced around and pushed a rotating board while asking his students, at some distance from him, to notice the changes in their view. He often taught standing up, ordering his students with a booming and heavily accented voice to raise their pencils and pay attention to the movements and interaction of colors. Albers repeatedly told his students that art was “not an object,” it was “an experience.”[39] Looking at art was more important than the finished product. For Albers, ideas were borne out of material and perceptual possibilities and limitations. The same was true for his teaching, which his student Richard Lytle notes was very theatrical; “He was a showman.” Theoretical positions had to be “formed and ‘re-formed’” through events in the classroom. This often demanded that students physically perform and relate with objects and to Albers.[40] In the middle of the crit, he would get up on top of the table to make a point.

More illustrative of the relational aspect of the Albersian teaching method than the performances at large classes are the consultations with students which shows how Albers, often depicted as stringent and impersonal, relates to his students. Since Bernardo’s concern in his MFA thesis was in searching for the Absolute in “pure abstraction,” he often relied on a conflation of metaphysical and religious experience. Bernardo found an affinity with Albers’s Catholicism. Religious experience then became Albers’s touchstone to converse with Bernardo about “pure abstraction” akin to Jacotot’s use of the bilingual edition of Fenelon’s novel as a conduit to teach French. Being both foreigners to the U.S., their religion became their common language. Albers was born and raised a Catholic and throughout his life he regularly attended Sunday mass and went to confession. New studies on his spirituality[41] have drawn attention to his religious upbringing as well as his admiration for the masters of early Christian art and architecture, pointing out his early sketches of cathedrals in Germany. [42] Explaining the conception of his series Homage to the Square (1959), Albers said: “My things have the look of [Orthodox] icons.”[43]

Albers encouraged Bernardo to distill the spiritual and to learn to express the personal and psychological components of his associative abstract paintings through the repetition of form and color. Added to the trauma of war, Bernardo’s sublimation of spirituality, in part, was an attempt to cope with the death of his third son, Constancio, Jr. back in Manila.[44] He was unable to attend his son’s funeral because he subsisted only through his allowance. Caught in the whirlwind of radical, exciting change and denied the comfort of the familiar in either home or family, Bernardo held strongly to his faith as an anchor in the face of devastating loss.

From Albers, Bernardo learned many enduring lessons, including the need to see a “present free from the dominant influences and conditions of the past.”[45] Constancio wrote about “the effect of conflict upon the artist,”[46] and the notion that “every great idea leaves behind it a certain amount of latent tyranny.”[47] He learned that “traditions and conventions can be too overgrown that they hamper progress.” More than Albers’s technical demonstrations, it was through the imparting of the possibilities in abstract painting that Bernardo was converted from a figurative painting to geometric abstraction. His Master’s thesis went on to explore how abstract painting can create poetry and enable spiritual awakening.[48] Perpetual Motion (1952) both alluded to the movement of vision through the interaction of line and color and to the metaphorical transition from figuration to abstraction, and the crossing of borders, between earthly places, and between the physical and spiritual world. Bernardo said in an interview that he saw “a flaw in extreme allegiance to the physical world,”[49]and suggested that we don’t give enough attention to what only the mind sees.[50] This parallels a 1968 interview where Albers stated, “I make you see more than there is … Absolutely something else.”[51]

 Frank Horowitz, a student of Albers in the mid-50s, suggests that Albers, who was very critical with students even when he admired their work, was known to put as much emphasis on the attitude of the student as on his or her portfolio. Albers would have witnessed the industry with which Bernardo approached innovation, and must have discerned in the younger artist what he admired in his best students. Albers favored the “strictly objective, unadorned through style or mannerism” to yield a language that carried to the viewer a profound sense of truth.”[52]

As a testament to the effectiveness of Albers as the Ignorant Schulmeister Bernardo was able to combine two issues that Albers was addressing at the time: linear and chromatic abstraction. Albers did not merge them until later in the decade; his linear abstraction peaked with Structural constellation series; the chromatic abstractions with his Homage to the Square series. The achievement of both linear and chromatic abstraction in Bernardo’s Perpetual Motion could very well explain Albers’ assessment of Bernardo as a “peer.”

Several of Albers’s students have applied his lessons in color and line to other materials; Eva Hesse, for instance, applied his lessons in fiberglass and polyester resin.[53] Applicability in other mediums was a guiding principle in Albers’s teaching. Art critic Jefferey Saletnik writes, “For Albers, color was in constant flux. In his instruction he emphasized its relativity as material and its role in creating visual relationships, especially those causing optical estrangement.” “What counts,” Albers claimed, “is not so-called knowledge of so-called facts, but vision – seeing.”[54] Saletnik concludes: “His [Albers] focus was process.[55]

Albers and Bernardo shared the process-oriented, material-based mode of instruction that constituted a major aspect of the Bauhaus Vorkurs, which was key to Bernardo’s experimentation with unconventional materials. On the surface, Albers gave practical advice to Bernardo to help him understand color but it conveyed a deeper understanding of what it means to see and create art. The color exercises Bernardo made with Albers have been misleadingly regarded by art critic Leonides Benesa as a precursor of Op-Art, which arose in the 1960s.

Fig. 8. Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Against Deep Blue, 1955, oil on masonite, 61 x 61 cm. President and Fellows of Harvard College.

But both Albers and Bernardo tended toward the quietistic, not the visually noisy abstractions of Op Art. In calling this picture Against Deep Blue, Albers alluded to the color of a flawless summer sky and its reflection in deep water. “My painting is meditative and peaceful,” Albers once said, “and that’s what I’m aiming for, images to help meditation in the 20th century.”

Fig. 9. Constancio Bernardo, Bernardian Synthesis No. 1, 1978. Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 122 cm. (closed). Collection of National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy of the Estate of Constancio Bernardo.

In Bernardian Synthesis No. 1, a 1978 triptych, Bernardo distills an environment. Even looking at it briefly, one is aware of depth, light, and movement. Nothing is superfluous. Between the simple colors—orange, yellow—lie rarer in-between hues. Shadows track the surface like a skater across ice.

Fig. 10. Constancio Bernardo in class in 1970. Photo: Estate of Constancio Bernardo.

Applying Albers’s lessons to Activist and Participatory Art

According to Social Realist artist Santiago Bose (1949-2002), when he was a young student at the University of the Philippines in the late 60s, Bernardo encouraged him to find his original style in abstraction and to identify with it.[56] He took this as a sign that he should expand his sources of inspiration and go beyond the medium of what the academy prescribed as art.[57] He consequently explored mixed media which has roots in indigenous cultures. He also started making videos of his performances and created installation work. Like Bernardo he also became an organizer and educator. In an artist statement, Bose wrote, “‘Western modernism’ has liberated artists to go back to their roots and incorporate them in a contemporary vocabulary. The use of mixed media, fiber, grass, paper, bamboo and organic materials, and the use of installation, which is also rooted in traditional communities, make this art form easily acceptable to a broad range of audiences.”[58]

In Bernardo’s classes, the idea of art as an object, a property or commodity, was demystified. From the Albersian foundational courses, Bernardo learned that art was above all an “experience,” a process and a way of seeing. Bose took the lessons a step further, challenging the idea of the artist as an individual creator. Similar to the Bauhaus, where a sense of community was cultivated to explore new creative possibilities, Bose was active in organizing artists guilds. By using available materials and local concepts, Bernardo taught his students to enrich Western modernism in the Bauhaus tradition, and to expand its visual vocabulary.         

Judy-Freya Sibayan, a performance artist-curator and student of Bernardo in the late 60s, recalled in her memoirs how Bernardo encouraged her first performances. Two Red Balloons To and Fro (1974) was a performance made by Sibayan for an audience of one. She asked Bernardo to stand in front of the window of his classroom on the uppermost floor of the Main Library (where the School of Fine Arts was located), overlooking a field divided by a footpath used by students as a shortcut between two academic buildings.[59]Sibayan stood at one end of the path, with a red balloon in hand. At the other end of the path was her classmate holding another red balloon. They requested students walking from each end of the path to bring the balloon to the person standing at the other end. Bernardo watched the performance of two balloons being carried, floating to and fro, from his vantage point for about an hour.[60]

From these two accounts by Bernardo’s students we can surmise how Bernardo was able to teach the values that guided other forms of art by using only the tools that he is directly knowledgeable of. He was able to inspire the activist art of Santiago Bose, despite the fact that he was not an activist. Like Albers, Bernardo used the idea of “geometric abstraction” as a conduit for his student’s intellectual emancipation. In Sibayan’s case, Bernardo merely expanded the notion of “surface” and “medium” to accommodate her early practice of participatoryand relational art.

Bernardo’s openness to conceptual art and performance was attributed by Sibayan to his American education. But the source of his sensibility goes further than that. Albers brought with him tales about Bauhaus costume parties and gesture dances in which instinctive play was cultivated. In “Stage Workshops” headed by Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus in Weimar, students were directed to overcome dichotomies between disciplines.[61] Schlemmer and his students, including Albers, tried to solve the problem of translating painting to performance. Both in painting and performance, Schlemmer’s main interest was in space design; the painting delineated the two-dimensional elements of space, and performance provided a place in which it was possible to experience space directly, in all dimensions.

In Bernardo’s classroom, performance could very well function like a painting in enhancing the sensation of space. Bernardo, who wrote about his educational methods for journals, advocated the revision of the studio practice curriculum, which was still completely based on the atelier system of the earlier academy.[62] With the support of his former students who joined the faculty at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, Bernardo included courses in modern abstract painting and experimental practices. He also spearheaded the hiring of new faculty who were capable of teaching them. Most important, in his own capacity as a professor and assistant dean, he was able to implement his desired changes as an example to follow.

The limitations of the Rancierian-Albersian-Bernardian pedagogy
            In her analysis of Ranciere, Jane McDonnell notes that the proliferation of textuality and political content of art does not mark “the end of any pure artistic experience, unmediated by the sullying influence of words.”[63] The hierarchical logic dictating the use of certain forms for certain subjects could simply be cast aside, and as seen in Bose and Sibayan’s activist and participatory art practices, this makes possible novel arrangements and rearrangements of forms and ideas. In Albers’s pedagogy, an equality between the visual and the textual echoes Ranciere’s notion that various artistic practices now circulate freely and compete on equal terms in an aesthetic regime of art. The pedagogy rightly debunks the notion of a pure sphere concerned only with art “itself.”
            Albers’s pedagogical method closely adheres to Ranciere’s ideas, suggesting that the art of painting, for example, has never simply been a matter of pigment on canvas. Equally, however, it does not validate the claims of those who see in contemporary art an entirely new and uniquely powerful solution to socio-political problems. Seen from a Rancierian perspective, both positions rest on false assumptions about the purity of art and its redemptive power.

Albersian pedagogy enacts and in a sense inaugurates and then perpetually confirms the inequality of teacher and student. In this set-up, Ranciere explains, that it is not so much that a student is the one who needs explanation. It is rather that the act of explanation constitutes the student as the one who is unable to learn without explanation, without the intervention of a “master-explicator”. But even with this sense, the Albersian and Bernardian pedagogy still depended on a principle of explication,[64] with the explicator’s “special trick,” or Schwindel in Albersian terms, consisting of a “double inaugural gesture:”[65]On the one hand, he decrees the absolute beginning: it is only now that the act of learning will begin. On the other hand, having thrown a veil of ignorance over everything that is to be learned, he appoints himself to the task of lifting it.”[66]

A kind of pedagogy outside the illusions of this explicative regime is yet to be realized in

arts education. Beyond art, the Albersian-Bernardian pedagogy can serve as an allegory of the explanatory logic dominating society and politics, which presents an alternative way of moving things forward but not its actual solution.

Howard Singerman has mentioned that Bauhaus pedagogy has been largely confused in America, where aspects of a curriculum intended to train designers were taken up at art schools and by students who saw themselves as artists.[67] Bauhaus pedagogic practice should be seen as it was: a training method in design. Instead, it has been too often subsumed by notions of so-called Modernist art teaching, of which, according to Saletnik “Albers has long been emblematic and against which artists and critics have railed.”[68] The conflation of Bauhaus methods with the medium-centric concerns of art criticism, however, has obscured the range of their significance as approach, process, or way of thinking in the twentieth century and, importantly, how these actual instructional methods may have been influential to artists like Bernardo.


The art academy’s shift of emphasis from “representative painting” to an education in the visual arts (or as Albers would say, in way of seeing) dovetails with Ranciere’s theory of the emergence of an “aesthetic” regime of art: a rupture with the “beaux arts” or “fine arts” tradition of Europe.[69] Ranciere’s lessons in intellectual emancipation from the Ignorant Schoolmaster illuminates Albers’s teaching career from the Bauhaus to Yale. We examined Albers pedagogy, which enabled students to see what modern art is all about: that it is about vision and responding to the reality of the times. Albers cast off the established rubrics in arts education that blinkered the imagination of his students, initiating them into the principles of modern art as it was taught in the Bauhaus. We also demonstrated how Bernardo transferred these lessons to his students back in the Philippines. Albers was the Ignorant Schulmeister who was not what Bernardo expected to encounter at Yale, but he turned out to be the ideal teacher to give lessons on the aesthetic revolution and the unbounded power of Modernism in shaping pioneering artistic practices.


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—. Interview with Constancio Bernardo, August 1, 2002.

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—.”The Possibility of the Absolute in Painting,” MFA thesis, Yale University, 1952.

—. “Artist’s notes” in Ensemble 1 in November, 17 November – 5 December 1971. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1971.

Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012.

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__. Politics of Aesthetics. London: Verso, 2003.

—. The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso, 2009.

—. “On ignorant schoolmasters” in: Bingham C and Biesta GJJ, Jacques Rancière: Education, Truth, Emancipation. London/New York: Continuum, 2010, 1–24.

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[1] Charles Darwent, “Josef and Anni Albers: the Bauhaus misfits who scaled art”s peaks,” The Guardian, October 10, 2018.

[2] Howard Singerman, Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University. (University of California Press, 1999), 67-94. Art historian Howard Singerman’s Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University sheds light on how Josef Albers transformed the Yale School of Art in the fifties.

[3] Loc.cit.

[4] Loc. cit.

[5] See Roy Rob Kelly, Collected Writings of Rob Roy Kelly, Accessed March 21, 2021.

[6] Russell W. Davenport, “A Life Roundtable on Modern Art,” Life, October 11, 1948.

[7] Ibid., 79.

[8] Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz, Josef Albers: To Open Eyes, The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale (New York: Phaidon Press, 2009), 241-242.

[9] Ibid.

[10]  Angelo Bernardo, A Life in Sketches, 10.

[11] Howard Singerman, Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University. (University of California Press, 1999), 67-94. for an extensive discussion of the links between the Italian and French Academies and the Yale School of Fine Arts.

[12] Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Stanford. CA.: Stanford University Press, 1991). See Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz, op cit., 241-242.

[13] Ranciere, 2003, 82.

[14] Here we equate the classical academic training which focused on drawing and painting the nude as part of the apparatuses of the representative regime. This is in conjunction with Ranciere’s pronouncements in Politics of Aesthetics: “   “ See, Politics of Aesthetics, 10-15.

[15]  Rancière, 1991, vii.

[16] During this transition period, Bernardo requested and was granted another extension, on the basis of good grades and his supplementary scholarship from Yale. He was invited to join the Yale Honors Fraternity, Pi Alpha.

[17] Frederick Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz, Josef Albers: To Open Eyes, The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale (New York: Phaidon Press, 2009), 241-242. 189.

[18] Ibid, 190.

[19] Ibid, 247.

[20] Ibid, 90.

[21] Collins German Dictionary, s.v. “Schwindeln,” accessed April 22, 2021. From Middle High German swindeln, from Old High German swintilōn, from Proto-Germanic *swindlōną, from Proto-Germanic *swindaną. Meaning harmless lies

[22] Ibid, 103.

[23] Ibid, 195.

[24] Ibid, 246.

[25] Ibid, 99.

[26] Jeffrey Saletnik, “Josef Albers, Eva Hesse, and the imperative of Teaching,” Tate Papers no.7, (Spring 2007),

[27] This was particularly the case in Albers’s design instruction. For a discussion of Albers’s material and materie studies (as well as distinctions between the two) see Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz, Josef Albers: To Open Eyes, London, 2006.

[28] Ibid, 203.

[29]Jane Mcdonnell, “Political and Aesthetic Equality in the Work of Jacques Rancière: Applying his Writing to

Debates in Education and the Arts: Political and Aesthetic Equality in the Work of Jacques Rancière,” Journal

Philosophy of Education (2017). Accessed April 15, 2021. 51. 10.1111/1467-9752.12241.

[30] Politics of Aesthetics, 10

[31] Loc. cit.

[32] Loc. cit.

[33] Loc. cit.

[34] Ibid, 248.

[35] Angelo Bernardo, Constancio Ma. Bernardo Compendium of Artworks, Constancio Bernardo

Foundation, Inc.

[36] Narrated to Yolanda  Johnson, who was Bernardo”s student at the University of the Philippines, as shared with the author. Angelo Bernardo, Constancio Bernardo: A Life in Sketches, Manila: Soumak Publications, 2016.

[37] Angelo Bernardo, Bibliographical Compilation for the Constancio Bernardo Foundation for the Arts, Inc., and Ayala Foundation, Inc./Filipinas Heritage Library.

[38] John Cohen, dir. Josef Albers teaching at Yale, 1955; New Haven, CT: Josef Anni Albers Foundation, 2013.

[39] John Dewey, Art as Experience, New York, 1934. Jeffrey Saletnick wrote that “Rainer K. Wick notes that Dewey’s The School and Society and Democracy and Education were published in German translation in the first two decades of the twentieth century and that Dewey’s ideas were known generally at the Bauhaus in his Teaching at the Bauhaus, Ostfidern-Ruit, 2000. Albers came to know Dewey in detail subsequent to his emigration to the United States and his ideas underscore many of the artist-educator’s essays on art and education, notably his essay ‘Art as Experience’ (1935).”

[40]Anoka Faruqee (dir.), Search Versus Re-Search: Recollections of Josef Albers at Yale, (New Haven:  Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 2016). See the testament from painter and Yale Professor Richard Lytle about how he directly applied for the MFA Program and entered a trial period.

[41]Donna Mae Linton, “The Sacred Modernist: Josef Albers as a Catholic Artist.” Art and Christianity, 71, 2012, 11.

[42] According to Albers Foundation director Nicholas Fox Weber, Albers did var­i­ous paint­ings with spe­cific reli­gious themes in his years at Black Moun­tain Col­lege, including abstrac­tions of crosses and other images that encap­su­late the essential ele­ments of tra­di­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Annunciation. He also made prints of Mexican gods, and geometric abstrac­t paintings with names like Sanctuary (1941-42). At the same time, he took remark­able pho­tographs of angels made from folded paper, church facades, and other clearly reli­gious subjects. And he designed fantastically imaginative Christmas cards.Nicholas Fox Weber, “Introduction,” in “The Sacred Modernist: Josef Albers as a Catholic Artist.” Art and Christianity, no. 71, 2012, 1.  See also

[43] Nicholas Fox Weber, op cit., 1.

[44] Angelo Bernardo, op cit., 25.

[45] Ibid, 3.

[46] Ibid, 5.

[47] Ibid, 11.

[48] Ibid, 9-10.

[49]  “Nakikita ko na may depekto pala ang sobrang pananalig sa pisikal na mundo. Parang hindi nabibigyan ng pansin ang nakikita lamang ng pag-iisip

[50] Andrew Magsanggol, “The Father of Philippine Op Art,” Business World, 1989, From A. G. Bernardo’s bibliographical compilation. He earlier qualified “abstract representation” as “the articulation of the imagery in its extreme willful distortion and exaggeration of nature, dreams and hallucinatory experiences.” Privileging the articulation of essence “in the unknown” or in an “unbounded realm” is a nod to Charles Baudelaire’s invocation in “The Voyage” to plunge into the depths of the unknown to find the new.”

[51] Oral history interview with Josef Albers, 22 June—5 July 5 1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[52] Ibid, 189. Wassily Kandinsky, a colleague of Albers at the Bauhaus and a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism was quoted in a 1955 Issue of Cahiers d”Art thus: “Today a point sometimes says more in a painting than a human figure. Man has developed a new faculty which permits him to go beneath the skin of nature and touch its essence, its content… The painter needs discreet, silent, almost insignificant objects… How silent is an apple beside Laocoön. A circle is even more silent.” This calls to mind the sentiment of the ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides”s declaration that “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is speaking picture.”

[53] Despite her avoidance of color in her later and more widely known sculptural work, many of Hesse”s drawings and wall sculptures show the degree to which she was a brilliant colorist.

[54] Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, New Haven and London, 2006, 1–2.

[55] Jeffrey Saletnik, “Josef Albers, Eva Hesse, and the imperative of Teaching,” Tate Papers no.7, (Spring 2007),

[56]  Santiago Bose, “Drawing from the Psychic Lodes: Contemporary Art and Its Socio-Political Content Among Filipino Artists,” Kalam Seminar, (Jakarta: Indonesian Visual Art Archive, 1999), 25.

[57]  In Manila, U.S. Army jeepneys were repurposed as commuter transport as a contingency during the aftermath of the war.

[58] Santiago Bose, loc cit. See also, “Santiago Bose,” in Filipino/American Artist Directory,

[59] Judy Freya Sibayan, The Hypertext of HerMe(s) (United Kingdom: KT Press, 2014).

[60]  Ibid., 18.

[61] See Susanne Lahusen, “Oskar Schlemmer: Mechanical Ballets?” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 4, no. 2 (1986): 65-77. Accessed April 30, 2021. doi:10.2307/1290727. For an extended description of the Stage Workshops.

[62] Constancio Bernardo, “A Report from the Philippine Founding Committee for Insea / Rapport Du Comité Fondateur Aux Iles Philippines,” Art Education 9, no. 1 (1956): 17, Accessed April 29, 2021. doi:10.2307/3184081.

[63]Jane McDonnell, Loc. cit.

[64] Ranciere, 1991, 8.

[65] Rancière, 1991, 6.

[66] Rancière, 1991, 6–7.

[67] Howard Singerman, Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 68.

[68] Thierry de Duve, “When Form Has Become Attitude – And Beyond”, in Stephen Foster and Nicholas de Ville ed., The Artist and the Academy: Issues in Fine Art Education and the Wider Cultural Context, Southampton, 1994, 23–40.

[69] Rancière, 2007, 73.