Toward an Eccentric [Design] Pedagogy: Johannes Itten and Dan Friedman

By Frank Tierney.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

While always aware of the shifting center, both Johannes Itten and Dan Friedman lived eccentric lives and remained committed to the expressive spirit of their work. Itten and Friedman orbit the center of modernism, existing at the beginning and end of its art, design and pedagogy.

Both formed theories of contrast: it became the main theme in Itten’s Vorkurs and is at the heart of Friedman’s typographic exercises, where the student studies—and challenges—traditional value pairs. These exercises suggest deconstruction in postmodern graphic design.

Itten joined the Bauhaus as an established painter/printmaker and was charged with designing and implementing a foundation design course. Itten’s resignation from the Bauhaus was due to the pushing of expressionism to the periphery of Bauhaus teaching. Itten’s foundation course attempted to combine craft with technology while cultivating individualistic creativity. Itten’s intense spiritual beliefs may have alienated his colleagues. When the emphasis of Bauhaus curriculum shifted toward technology, industry and the socially-oriented design of constructivism, Itten left the school. Later in life he turned to color-field painting.

Friedman interwove artistic and professional practice with teaching throughout his life. Friedman structured the first program in visual arts at the State University of New York in Purchase. Along with other Swiss-inspired designers, Friedman is credited with developing and bringing new (wave) typography to the United States. A craftsman, some of Friedman’s day-glow furniture was commercially produced in Europe. In 1995, Friedman died of AIDS-related causes shortly after taking on a professorship at the Cooper Union School of Art.

Keywords: Design Teaching, Design Pedagogy, Typography, Contrast Theory, New Wave Typography, Eccentric Pedagogy, Queer Pedagogy

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.435-442. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 587.967KB).

Frank Tierney

Assistant Professor, Communication Design, Texas Tech University School of Art, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA

I was educated in Graphic Design at RISD and Yale in the late 70s and early 80s. Many of the instructors at that time and in those places were directly influenced by the Bauhaus and the Schule für Gestaltung, Basel. After practicing and teaching design, it became clear to me that some of the influential teachers from these institutions were considered “eccentric,” and that their sometimes aloof, sometimes engaged relationship to the center of Modernism had made them highly effective teachers of design and typography. Can studying the elliptical careers of artists/designers/educators like Dan Friedman or Johannes Itten reveal ways to teach and live integrated lives that mesh spirit and expression with craft, technology, design and art?


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