Johannes Itten


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(b Südern-Linden, 11 Nov. 1888; d Zurich, 25 May 1967).

Swiss painter, designer, writer on art, teacher, and administrator. In 1916 he opened his own school of art in Vienna, then from 1919 to 1923 he taught at the Bauhaus, where he was in charge of the ‘preliminary course’, obligatory for all students. In 1923 he left the Bauhaus and opened another school of his own in Berlin, then from 1932 to 1938 he taught at the Krefeld School of Textile Design. In 1938 he settled in Zurich, where he held four posts concurrently—as director of the School of Arts and Crafts, the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Rietberg Museum, and the School of Textile Design. He held the first three posts until 1953 and retired from the fourth in 1961. Itten wrote several books on art theory and his work as a painter consisted mainly of geometrical abstractions exemplifying his researches into colour. However, he is best remembered as a teacher, especially for his preliminary course at the Bauhaus, which had a great influence on instruction in other art schools. He emphasized the importance of knowledge of materials, but also encouraged his pupils to develop their imaginations through, for example, automatic writing (see automatism). His mystical ideas were opposed to the technological outlook of Gropius (their quarrels caused Itten's departure from the Bauhaus) and he had a reputation as a crank (he followed an obscure faith called Mazdazhan, shaved his head, and wore a long robe), but he influenced many of his students. Frank Whitford (Bauhaus, 1984) describes him as ‘a perplexing mixture of saint and charlatan’.

Subjects: Art.

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