Black Mountain College


Black Mountain College Experiment in Art. By Vincent Katz. (Cambridge, MA: Mit Press, 2013. 328 pp.).

Black Mountain College by Vincent Katz recounts the history of the college’s founding members and the twenty-six years when it was a functioning college in North Carolina. Black Mountain College was a liberal arts school founded by a man named John Andrew Rice. Rice was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University before gathering a group of educators and idealist to found BMC (Black Mountain College).


Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina

This experimental college allowed its students to break tradition on “the process of” how art is created and how to use different materials to create these pieces displayed in the book.  It was a college for the rebels, the rule breakers, and risk takers. Katz engages the audience to explore a different perspective on art itself and discovering different ways to do something that no one else has done or could have done.  He also expresses how art is viewed within society and how BMC has stretched beyond that to achieve a fruitful twenty-six years of existence.

Katz breaks up the book into four essays by Martin Brody, Kevin Power and Robert Creeley. Those essays further examine performances of the students, reviews about the college, and the affect of Charles Olson. One of the main factors that Rice idealized was for the students to control their learning by having a ‘group influence’. “…Group Influence was how people at the college described the collective effect of bringing people out of their shells—sometimes a painful process of dropping pretenses and defenses, other times a warmly welcomed experience of inclusion” (Katz 19). Rice’s theory about bringing individual artists together broke down the psychological system regarding how students learn to improve their work.  Receiving feedback from others in a group setting was impactful because that inspired the students to think beyond their original idea, therefore advancing their piece to a higher level.


BMC Students in a “Group Influence” 

Black Mountain was a college that allowed students to grow in their strengths, pushed their perspectives on how to creatively improve their pieces and encouraged them to believe that they can still be successful with experimental art. “Theo van Doesburg wrote… an institution where the students themselves were encouraged to create, instead of being taught merely to repeat that which had already been created” (Katz 22). The curriculum that was offered pushed the students to generate diverse concepts and elements that would produce something new. Repeating the past was indeed making that product better for societies use, but being in that rotation can easily have the audience lose interest. Developing a unique piece will grab the audience and keep them entertained until the next clever idea surfaces. Katz analyzes the relationships between student and staff. Not only did their roles switch in a classroom environment, there was also an informal connection that was shared.  The relationships that were formed collectively as well as individually shaped BMC and the surrounding community. It took various people from different backgrounds to support and inspire each other while being an artist in a traditional society.

The book is centered on elements that shifted students from producing art with traditional materials that wasn’t satisfying to their project to finding suitable components that expressed their ideas thoroughly.  “Art can be more than therapy; it can improve the world. Yet, to be fully engaging, it should be based on the manual interaction with materials, not simply an idea” (Katz 31).  Experimental art is merging traditional materials with uncommon materials to work cohesively as one unit. Along with joining these materials, collaborating with others can help to produce an improved segment in the work.

Creating any piece of art starts with the idea, but without the components that make up the piece, there can’t be a complete expression of the artist’s’ vision. The message should be portrayed clearly within the materials presented in the piece.  Another element that was characterized at BMC, as well as within the students on a personal level, was being the peculiar group of individuals that continued on the path that wasn’t accepted by most. These students embraced this path and scholarly mentality and used it to their advantage. “…I had the courage to look for something new, and I believe I got that at Black Mountain. The people there were brave. They persisted at a time when nobody wanted them” (Katz 227).  Standing out amongst other art colleges or as an artist within a group is brave and courageous, but can also be haunting and exciting at the same time. Being the unique artist delivers opportunities to display your work and ideas while others remain similar. BMC welcomed open-minded people and with this group of people John Rice wanted students to continue with that mindset when creating their art, while acknowledging that there is always more than one way to design.

Black Mountain College was indeed an experiment itself; the college launched a new approach in forming an alternate style of teaching, learning and creating.  Students were allowed to be themselves, stand out and become the teacher. They were welcomed with an open-minded environment to explore all options available to them and to expect that nothing is impossible to create.  “Art is always a personal moral adventure: we learn courage from art work. We have to go where no one was before us” (Katz 32).   Art broadens the artist ideas, skills, and their audience.  BMC was shaped around these certain elements that both student and staff had embedded in them while enrolled there. John Rice set the stage for a college that was focused on what life experiences the student took away from their time there. He also wanted BMC to be a place to express open ideas, innovative art pieces and the growth of relationships.  John Rice along with fellow educators opened up a new portal for art that current designers are now experiencing.  Creative designs that are seen all around the world started with the rebels, the rule breakers, and risk takers that could have been apart of BMC or had been affected by its impact. Recognizing BMC’s transformation toward the current day in age is effective and will continue to be in the upcoming future.


The Poster Style Today

Advertisement has progressed over the last hundred years as well as through the five hundred pages of Eskilson’s text. The movement called Plakatil is better known as the Poster style and it has changed over time within the movement itself as well as how it influenced advertisement creation today. In some cases the poster style was used to advertise for the World War I to show young men to feel comfortable enough to enlist. Along with advertising for the War, it was also used for business companies to display their new or upcoming product. Advertising during this movement represented a direct way to get the viewer’s attention by using an image and one grabbing word. For example, there are well known companies such as Nike, Starbucks and Under Armor that use this technique to ultimately grab a passing customer.

Lucian Bernhard was the one that created the Poster Style and expressed that using simple form, having a central image and allowing one word that describes the company be more effective than crowding the poster with long paragraphs, and hard to understand graphic.

When Lucian Bernhard created the Poster Style he produced a simple way to grab the viewers attention with one word and one image or central point. Viewing advertisement around campus, heading to work and having it shown on television only allows the viewer to see the display for a few seconds therefore the message should be clear without confusing the audience or having the audience lose interest. Therefore, it needs to be simple, clear and quick to be ultimately remembered when it is crossed again. The examples, Nike, Under Armor and Starbucks are easily remember and very easy to describe. This style can be used for advertisement in areas where it’s urgent to read or in malls when shoppers are intrigued by the word “sale” or “discount”. Other ways of advertising in an effective way are in areas of transportation; this gives the viewer time to analyze the catching word and the grabbing graphic. TV commercial’s, brochures, road signs, posters and billboards are also other forms of effective ways to advertise anything the creator wants to grab attention too. To achieve an effective way of advertisement in this movement as well as today is all about the approach that the artist takes when working with limited elements and having those elements work together.

Graphic Design has grown over the years of technology as well as how that effects development of product designs, website designs, print designs, marketing and advertising. The growth of it has benefited the world of design and its designers but also has caused concern to “what will designers create next?” or “what will be the next big thing?” questions which means what can designers create that will keep up with the pace of society. These concerns could have also affected Bernhard because he was at first the only person who created these posters. When society started to change he had to think bigger and start looking for innovative ways to draw the audience in without using the same relationship between image and text. Bernhard kept up with the changing of design by expanding his ideas and thoughts to another artist, Ludwig Hohlwein. Enlarging Bernhard’s techniques and ideas allows for the next artist like Hohlwein to come and enlarge those ideas as well as express his own. This process goes on forever therefore it allows designers to be prepared at all times with fresh new ways to please society.

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was the pioneer of abstraction in modern art. He viewed non-objective, abstract art as the ideal visual mode to express the “inner necessity” of the artist and to convey universal human emotions and ideas. In creating his pieces he exploited the evocative interrelation between color and form to create an aesthetic experience that engaged the sight, sound, and emotions of the public. The characteristics that best define Kandinsky’s work, is being highly inspired to create art that communicated a universal sense of spirituality. He innovated a pictorial language that only loosely related to the outside world, but expressed volumes about the artist’s inner experience.

The piece Composition VII was created in 1913 during the pre-World War I and was one of Kandinsky’s main works that brought attention to his time. Composition VII shows the artists rejection of pictorial representation through swirling hurricanes of colors and shapes. As the different colors and symbols spiral around each other, Kandinsky eliminated traditional references to depth and laid bare the different abstracted glyphs in order to communicate deeper themes and emotions common to all cultures and viewers. composition-vii-1913The piece doesn’t follow a grid but follows an asymmetrical pattern. For example on the left side of the painting it’s weighed more with the multiple lines, shapes and various colors. While on the right side there is less chaos because of the amount of space between each element. There is no central focus point instead your mind explores throughout the painting. The painting as a whole is very busy but also very intriguing because each section has a lot going on that I don’t want to miss anything therefore my attention is held longer in one area. The colors, shapes, and lines are balanced because there isn’t one element out weighing the other. Together they create an interesting piece that draws the viewer in closer to try and identify the elements within the painting.

The legacy of Kandinsky is being able to create his lyrical style and innovation theories on non-figurative art. He impacted his time period through his art and ideas, which inspired many generations of artists, from his students at, the Bauhaus and Abstract Expressionist after World War II. Even though he made an impact on the people in his life, he made an impact on our time period by expanding how art is created and how to push the limits of the norm. In doing so Kandinsky should be remembered by innovating a pictorial language that related to those of the outside world. He should also be remembered as the person who explored abstract art to the fullest by allowing others to experience it as well as to create it themselves.



What happened to Johann Fust?

All we know about Fust is that he gave Gutenberg money to borrow for his printing business. Gutenberg couldn’t pay Fust back therefore defaulting in giving him his printing press, printing materials and anything dealing with what made Gutenberg famous. Where does Fust go from there? Well, he gets a new partner who I’m guessing can pay the bills. This gentleman was named Peter Schoffer. They printed apiece called Mainz Psalter in 1457 with wooden cut illustrations and metal type. A different collaboration than having everything printed from either all metal or all wood type and illustrations. After that short description in chapter one about what happened after Fust took everything Gutenberg, we don’t hear anything else from him or what he did next. So sit back and leave the Fust digging to me.

Johann Fust was a German printer from a wealthy family extending as far back as the 13th century. His printing or his name wasn’t as well known until he got involved as a banker for Gutenberg’s printing business. After the lawsuit against Gutenberg, Fust then continued his “newly” stolen printing business with his partner named Peter Schoeffer. They crossed paths in a twisted rumor where Schoeffer was assisting Gutenberg during the time he was borrowing money from Fust for his printing business. Schoeffer basically got a front row seat on ‘how to use a printing press for dummies’. He then stood with Fust when the lawsuit against Gutenberg came out. Can we stop for a minute and recognize the amount of shade that both Gutenberg’s former business partner and assistant threw. What was the point of all of this? The answer is greed and basically to be famous for “supposedly” creating the printing press. Moving forward, Gutenberg was non-existent after that and was never to be heard from again. Fust and Schoeffer on the other hand flew with the business by making identical pieces just as Gutenberg would have printed them as well as setting the books at a price. Fust used his business salesman skills to sweep the nation with selling the “42-Line Bible”


on both paper and vellum copies. Paper was sold for 40 guiders while vellum was sold for 75 guiders a piece. I’m not entirely sure what “guiders” are but I’m guessing it’s the word they use for dollars.

The printing press sped up production, which was something the world wasn’t used too and that resulted in more rumors. Fust was accused of doing witchcraft. The reason behind this accusation was the red ink that was used on the printed pages was referred to blood. Another reason why he was accused, was the actual speed books were being printed. Fust served some jail time for black magic but then released when the accounts against him were wrong. Apparently the devil is the only reason behind the speedy printing process when in reality it was some non-experienced guy with one job, which was to press the typeset to the paper.

In the year 1466, Fust died. Although, he died his business was run by his son-in-law, which happened to be Peter Schoeffer who married his only daughter Christina. They had children who invested their lives in the business. Their way of printing stayed within their family but also with their sworn in employees. Yes, sworn in like how the president swears he will be a good person and protect America, basically on the same level as that. Well, some people in the business weren’t good people and allowed the secret to flow from their lips. The secret of the printing press was released to the world which developed multiple different printing businesses and different ways of printing with metal type. Even though their secret wasn’t theirs originally maybe that was the reason why it happened. Karma came back to bite them, I mean what else do you expect?

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