Itten on Expressive Forms

October 18th, 2011

Three student exercises from Johannes Itten’s first year art course at the Bauhaus, reproduced in his 1964 Design and Form.

Writes Itten, “Freeing and deepening the expressive ability of students is the teacher’s most difficult task.

“To execute the following exercises it is necessary to choose a very flexible, expressive medium which reacts immediately to the slightest motion of the hand, such as India ink brush…

“If a genuine feeling is to be expressed in a line or plane, this feeling must first resound within the artist. Arm, hand, finger, the whole body, should be permeated by this feeling. Such devotion to work requires concentration and relaxation.

“Brush drawing would never have reached the level shown here if the students had not prepared themselves through breathing, concentrating, and relaxing exercises” (p147).

Attempts to represent the course of an emotion in a line. This exercise demands relaxation and involuntary ‘letting it happen’ (pl154, p149).

Change and transition from plane feeling to line feeling (pl155, p150).

“Superficially fixed seeing, fluctuating thinking, and willful acting must give way to inner vision. This requires a readiness to be guided by inspiration. The painter must wait until his feeling urges him to create. In the moment of complete devotion all forms will be in the right relationship, as if they had created themselves. Nothing can be added or subtracted afterwards without alien and inorganic effect.

“Every work created in this way surprises by its unforeseen formation. A famous Chinese ink picture consists of a single circle, painted on silk. To draw a large circle freehand with a brush requires complete control of the body and the deepest concentration of the mind. Although this thin line is even all around, it is felt. One of the cardinal principles of the Chinese ink painter is: ‘Heart and hand must be one.’

“The beginner becomes aware of the elastic point of the brush only when he really feels the form and is ready to follow this feeling… When the student has reached a certain sureness of movement and knows the difference between forms he has experienced and others he has not, he should be confronted with nature” (p147).

Portrait studies. Such exercises serve to synchronize the eye and hand motion. When the eye ceases to observe, the hand stops to move. Only the spontaneously observed is produced in this way, not the previously known. Instantly experienced form relations are created instead of schematic designs of known details (pl167, p162).

Leave a Comment