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The Weirdness and Joy of Black Mountain College | The Nation
"Can the art of teaching art be exhibited? No, but people keep trying."

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"Can art be taught? That question isn’t as old or as hoary as one might imagine. For many centuries, artists were taught, either through a studio apprenticeship or, later, in a formal academy. It only became possible to think of art as something different in the 19th century, when the old system fell apart and it seemed conceivable that anyone could be an artist. But very few people were. Perhaps being an artist was the result of some peculiar inner drive or necessity, some genius that burned in certain kinds of people—something they were born with rather than something that they learned. The question has by now fueled two centuries’ worth of bar banter, family quarrels, and panel discussions. What keeps the conversation going is that many of the people who say that art can’t be taught still make their living by teaching it. Teaching does have its own rewards, and so does trying to learn, whether the learning “takes” or not.

A related question is easier to answer: Can the art of teaching art be exhibited? No, but people keep trying. The ambitious show “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957,” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, is the latest such effort. (It will be on view at the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, from February 21 to May 15, and then at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University in Columbus from September 17 to January 1, 2017. A handsome catalog is available from Yale University Press.) In fact, Black Mountain exhibitions have become a genre unto themselves. “Leap Before You Look,” curated by Helen Molesworth, formerly of the ICA/Boston and now at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, is the fourth that I know of. The first, which I saw in 2002, was “Black Mountain College: Una Aventura Americana,” curated by Vincent Katz, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. Then came “Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College 1933–1957,” curated by Caroline Collier and Michael Harrison, at the Arnolfini in Bristol, England, and Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, in 2005 and 2006. And last summer, I paid a visit to the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, which mounted “Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment 1933–1957,” curated by Eugen Blume and Gabriele Knapstein.

Why the recurring preoccupation with a short-lived, unaccredited school at the back of beyond, which never had enough students to pay its way? It could be the school’s believe-it-or-not story and how, the more you learn about it, the more unlikely it seems. The tale begins in 1933, when an unorthodox, arrogant classics professor named John Andrew Rice and several of his colleagues were purged from Rollins College in Florida. A number of their fellow professors resigned in protest, and some students withdrew as well. Bent on starting a college of their own, they found a complex of buildings for rent near Asheville, North Carolina, and some start-up money—but not much. At first, the faculty worked without salaries, but at least they owned the joint: The papers of incorporation specified that “the sole membership of the corporation” would be “the whole body of the faculty.” In other words, there was no board of directors and no non-teaching administration either, so the instructors had no other masters than themselves.

There was splendor and misery at Black Mountain, which was run according to the will of its teachers and, to a great extent, its students. The faculty believed that the curriculum should reflect what the students needed or desired to learn. This principle runs contrary not only to the present conception of the student as a consumer or client who is to be supplied with certain knowledge, but also to the designs of the conservative governors of North Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states, who believe that they should have the final say over what’s being taught and who’s doing the teaching at their state colleges and universities. At Black Mountain, teachers and students committed themselves to shared undertakings, the educational equivalent of socialism: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

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"Black Mountain’s founder had in his own way anticipated the Maoist doctrine of continuous revolution. “At one time Rice said he thought the college should disperse every ten years into smaller units,” recalled M.C. Richards, the English professor turned potter who’d been instrumental in bringing Olson to the campus. “This was to avoid too much stability. It was to be faithful to the chaos out of which creativity constellates.” No one was better at cultivating chaos and spangling the atmosphere with its constellations than Olson. Who else would have thought of suggesting to a fellow poet, Robert Creeley, that he fill in as a teacher of biology? When Creeley pointed out that he’d never studied the subject, even in high school, Olson “said, ‘Terrific, you can learn something,’” Creeley recalled. “Subsequently, I realized that teaching is teaching. It has, paradoxically, nothing to do with the subject.” In other words, true learning, as described by Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, is fostered by teaching what one does not know.

As Rancière wrote, this kind of education can never be institutionalized; “it is the natural method of the human mind,” yet everything works against it. No wonder Black Mountain could never come to terms with the outside world or itself. Robert Duncan, in his extraordinary poem “The Song of the Border-Guard”—shown in “Leap Before You Look” as a broadside accompanied by a Twombly linocut—imagines “a barbarian host at the border-line of sense.” Which side of the border was Black Mountain on? Were its denizens the barbarians readying themselves to overcome the common sense of Eisenhower’s America, or were they guardians of a deeper sense of life and learning against the yahoo horde surrounding them? No matter. “The enamourd guards desert their posts / harkening to the lion-smell of a poem / that rings in their ears.” And the poem of Black Mountain still rings in ours."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  pedagogy  teaching  education  highereducation  highered  2016  barryschwabsky  leapbeforeyoulook  johnandrewrice  rancière  reproduction  ephemeral  ephemerality  institutions  institutionalization  lcproject  openstudioproject  tcsnmy  sfsh  cv  art  arts  socialism  jacquesrancière 
september 2019 by robertogreco
The most influential college you’ve never heard of, why it folded, and why it matters | Scalawag
"But Black Mountain College was not, strictly speaking, an art school. And it certainly didn’t start that way. In 1933, classics professor John Andrew Rice tossed the snowball that kicked off a decades-long avalanche, foregoing more pointed Latin and Greek coursework at Rollins College to lead his students on Socratic journeys about topics from religion to “What is Art” and bad-mouthing academic hierarchy. The Rollins College president, a self-proclaimed “experimenter in education,” was nonetheless displeased. For this curricular skullduggery, and for Rice’s generally winking attitude toward authority, he had Rice fired.

Popular as Rice was, his exit caused a scandal. When the dust settled, eight professors had left Rollins, and a number of students with them. After some uncertainty, Rice and his colleagues decided to put their rebellious philosophies to test. Thanks to a local professor, property was located in western North Carolina, a grand colonnaded hall atop an Appalachian hill in the shadows of the Blue Ridge; funders were secured to support the endeavor; teachers were recruited. From a pedagogic schism, Black Mountain College was born.

The goal was from the outset to approach education in an unregimented way. There were no required courses, no extensive examinations, no formal grading. The school was not even accredited, “graduating” only sixty students throughout its lifetime. Yet its alums were accepted by graduate schools and as transfers, from Harvard to Princeton to the Pasadena Playhouse College of the Theatre, despite their lack of certificates.

To ensure an open curriculum, the founders decided to avoid top-down control, instead granting ownership of the school to the whole faculty evenly, including new hires. Meanwhile, the school decided to make no decisions without student input—student officers could be present at faculty meetings and would sit on the governing Board of Fellows (constituted otherwise of a subgroup of the professoriate). Discussions of school policy were typically open affairs attended by all. Collectivism was applauded; democracy reigned.

This opened space for BMC’s idea that learning and living should interlace. As Louis Adamic, who spent three months at the school as a curious visitor, described the method in a breathless 1936 article for Harper’s: “At BMC there is no head-cramming. There education is experience that involves in action the whole person.”

To that end, Rice and his cofounders made art a core piece of the Black Mountain experience, in an effort to get each student to “put the same faith in doing that he has been taught to have in absorbing,” as an early school catalogue put it. Serendipitously (for Black Mountain, anyway), the year of the college’s founding, the Nazis closed down the radical Bauhaus art school in Germany. Josef and Anni Albers, looking to escape the rising tide of fascism, agreed to come on at BMC to teach art, despite the fact, as Josef wrote, that he did not “speak one word English.” In subsequent years, many Germans would follow.

The Albers’ arrival was a coup for the school. It immediately provided a strong artistic spine and influenced the pedagogy greatly: Josef was a champion of a humanistic approach to education, of art as a way to engage the world completely. So while art was central, everyone was not to become an artist, per se; instead, art looked more like the core of a liberal arts education today. BMC alum Will Hamlin described the result to historian Martin Duberman: “I think we had this in common with the painters and weavers and musicians, that we were trying to make some kind of order out of things, I mean really trying, not just pretending to be… I think we were—with a few exceptions—really working at creating our own universes of meaning.”

The decision to avoid any sort of administrative board cut both ways. The educational model was open as the sky. But the school was constantly scrambling for money, seemingly always on the verge of closing—although it still maintained a pay-what-you-can system (sometimes counterbalanced by accepting wealthier students for that reason alone).

The “precariousness, though deplored and decried at the time, may well have contributed to the community élan,” as Duberman writes. “The severity of the struggle for economic survival helped to knit the community together.” The upshot was a focus on collectively tending to the college: a work program was instituted early on, and students and professors alike worked a farm that provided food for sustenance and sometimes sale, constructed new school buildings, washed dishes, and maintained the grounds. This was cause for grumbling in some corners—it was work, after all—and romantic reverie in others. Rice, the school’s cheeky founder, perhaps summed up the ambivalent attitude best in his autobiography. “Untoiling poets may sing of the dignity of toil;” he wrote, “others know there is degradation in obligatory sweat.”

Nevertheless, there was definite communal buy-in among the Black Mountaineers. When psychologist John Wallen joined the faculty in 1945, he broadened the question of collective responsibility by reaching out to the largely bemused and distrustful surrounding community. (There was a bit of a cultural gap between the school and its environs. A maintenance man on BMC’s first campus described the student body to me as many contemporary locals would: “nothing to do but moonshine and sex.”)

In many ways, the experiment was successful. Students volunteered in town, worked in the Southern Negro Youth Conference, registered voters, gathered signatures for petitions. But it was also short-lived, as Wallen left BMC contentiously not two years into his appointment, taking his ideals with him.

Still, while insulated at times from its surroundings, the school tackled the social issues of its day. It offered a home to German Jews, artists and intellectuals during another era when immigration vexed the United States. In 1944, ten years before Brown v. Board of Education, Alma Stone, a Black musician from Georgia, attended BMC’s summer institute in the Jim Crow South. The following summer black artists began to teach, and Black students enrolled full-time, some back from the war on the GI Bill. When the students went into town, they abided by segregation laws; but when outsiders came to Black Mountain for concerts, theater productions, and the like, everybody sat where they pleased.

Democracy proved hard. Immediately upon BMC’s founding, a more powerful group of faculty emerged at its helm: John Rice, Josef Albers, engineer Theodore Dreier, a few compatriots. Soon, some of their colleagues began to resent the group’s authority as at odds with the school’s mission; when Rice had a very public affair with a student in the late ’30s, it provided a catalyst to put him on leave for a time. He never returned.

Sans affair (although that continued to happen every so often), this process repeated itself throughout the school’s history: groups of professors were forced out or resigned, sometimes taking significant portions of the student body with them. Eventually even Albers fell victim to such a dispute after a younger crop of professors decided that he and his ilk had become too stuffy.

The infighting shaped life at the school and gives a sense of the easy-come-easy-go nature of the work. Professors were appointed initially to two-year terms, and later to one-year terms; there was no tenure. Faculty could be asked to leave for the vaguest of reasons—complaints about classroom technique became shorthand for any number of nebulous collegial gripes. Yet because they were part of steering the college, because of their great freedom in implementing their visions of education, professors came. And they stayed.

Josef and Anni Albers, despite the consistently meager pay, taught at the school for 16 years. Co-founder Theodore Dreier, too. Poet Mary Catherine Richards stayed seven years and continued to be involved with the school after she left. The poet Charles Olson stayed six years, until the school closed. (Some students stayed about as long.) The pay was bad, yes. But to be architects of education, rather than grunts on its front line, was for many worth the shortfall.

Albers’s exit in 1949 began the last, most incandescent period of BMC’s history, under the rectorship of Olson, a six-foot-seven-inch whirlwind of a man. After a (comparatively) more staid period in the late ‘40s, the school under Olson lived up to its ideals of radical experimentation. Any semblance of traditional course structure was scrapped, seminars ran until the wee hours of morning, the lines blurred fully between students and faculty. The literary arts took central importance, and the “Black Mountain School” of poets emerged, buoyed by Robert Creeley’s publication of the Black Mountain Review, a journal whose contributors also included Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

The Olson years were BMC magnified: yet more cash-starved, yet more experimental, yet more soul-searching. Yet more famous alumni—painter Dorothea Rockburne emerged from this period as well—yet more piercing thought. But the lack of structure had its costs; dwindling enrollment meant emptier coffers, and finally, in 1956-7, the school’s closure. Professors and students spun off to more traditional universities, to new experiments in communal living, to Abstract Expressionist New York and the San Francisco of the Beats.

Black Mountain College’s troubles stemmed from staunch opposition to centralized hierarchical governance. The UNC system’s current issues lend credence to those fears. Early last year, after the NC Board of Governors reviewed 240 academic institutes and centers across the UNC system, they decided to close down three—the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, at UNC Chapel Hill; East Carolina University’s NC Center for Biodiversity; and … [more]
northcarolina  2016  sammyfeldblum  hierarchy  education  highered  highereducation  bmc  blackmountaincollege  josefalbers  johnandrewrice  charlesolson  democracy  art  arts  curriculum  openness  experience  experientialeducation  learning  howwelearn  howweteach  pedagogy  governance  politics  precarity  rollinscollege  authority  opencurriculum  living  lcproject  openstudioproject  louisadamic  martinduberman  precariousness  community  collectivism  responsibility  theodoredreier  marycatherinerichards  robertcreeley  history  horizontality 
september 2019 by robertogreco
The Prospect of an Ideal Liberal Arts College Curriculum by Shane J. Ralston – BMCS
"Reconstructing the [John] Dewey - [Robert Maynard] Hutchins Debate"

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"What happened at Black Mountain College was for the most part what Rorty conjectured would happen if students came to college prepared and faculty could fully exercise their academic freedom. “Faculty [at Black Mountain] were to select their own methods of instruction,” Katherine Reynolds (1988:124) explains, “which might include ‘recitations, lectures, tutorials, and seminars.’” So, pluralism in curriculum design is, and should be, an obstinate feature of any flourishing academic community. One of the first steps in achieving more collaboration between great books proponents and their critics in such a pluralist community, then, is for both sides to admit that there is no fixed ideal that should dictate the content of the ideal liberal arts curriculum. Indeed, we could go one step further and claim that there is no ideal liberal arts curriculum, if what we mean by ‘ideal’ is an ultimate destination, telos or final end. Second, the distinction between subject matter and method should not be treated functionally, not dualistically. To treat it dualistically, and to choose content over method, as Hutchins did, risks alienating those faculty members, such as Rice, who do not rigidly adhere to course syllabi, but make the classroom a space for free-ranging and open-ended discussion and dialogue. Dewey (1966:133) resisted what he called in his 1899 Lectures in the Philosophy of Education a “more or less hard and fast separation” between subject matter and method, seeing them instead as inextricably connected in any intelligently designed curriculum. In this way, Dewey’s twin emphasis on educational subject matter and method represents a bridge between those, such as Hutchins and Adler, who saw content as the preeminent concern of curriculum development, and those, such as Rice, who focused largely on method. Third, and lastly, we should heed Dewey, Rice and Rorty’s plea for tolerant pluralism in the design of college curricula, allowing faculty the freedom to develop teaching methods and content as they see fit. Having had two colleagues at different institutions who were great books proponents (indeed, both were former students of St. John’s College), I know from personal experience that such collaboration is possible, though it demands humility, diplomacy and hard work if both parties hope to craft and realize a shared vision."
blackmountaincollege  bmc  shaneralston  liberalarts  curriculum  highered  highereducation  education  johndewey  johnandrewrice  rollinscollege  jimgarrison  philosophy  pedagogy  democracy  katherinereynolds  greatbooks  robertmaynardhutchins 
september 2019 by robertogreco
26 | Black Mountain College — Do Not Touch
"We're going back to school and learning about an arts college in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. For 24 years the college attracted famous teachers and produced students who would go on to achieve their own fame. I have two guests speaking to me about Black Mountain - Kate Averett from the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and Professor Eva Diaz from Pratt Institute."
bmc  2018  blackmountaincollege  bauhaus  annialbers  johndewey  art  arts  education  highered  highereducation  alternative  experimental  unschooling  deschooling  democracy  horizontality  evadiaz  kateaverett  history  arthistory  pedagogy  lcproject  openstudioproject  form  exploration  liberalarts  roberrauschenberg  willemdekooning  abstractexpressionism  howwework  discipline  self  identity  johncage  mercecunningham  self-directedlearning  self-directed  learning  howwelearn  howweteach  teaching  vision  cognition  expressionism  expression  music  dance  buckminsterfuller  technique  chance  happenings  anarchism  ego  spontaneity  unknown  improvisation  radicalism  transilience  northcarolina  transience  hippies  communes  integration  jacoblawrence  almastonewilliams  outsiders  refugees  inclusion  inclusivity  openness  gender  rayjohnson  elainedekooining  karenkarnes  dorothearockburn  hazellarsenarcher  blackmountaincollegemuseum  susanweil  maryparkswashington  josefalbers  charlesolson  poetry  johnandrewrice 
october 2018 by robertogreco
Black Mountain College: "The Grass-Roots of Democracy" - Open Source with Christopher Lydon
"Our guest, the literary historian Louis Menand, explains that B.M.C. was a philosophical experiment intent on putting the progressive philosopher John Dewey‘s ideas to work in higher education. The college curriculum was unbelievably permissive — but it did ask that students undertake their own formation as citizens of the world by means of creative expression, and hard work, in a community of likeminded people.

The college may not have lived up to its utopian self-image — the scene was frequently riven by interpersonal conflict — but it did serve as a stage-set to some of modern culture’s most interesting personalities and partnerships."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  rutherickson  louismenand  teddreier  theodoredreier  sebastiansmee  taylordavis  williamdavis  2016  robertcreeley  jacoblawrence  josefalbers  robertrauschenberg  annialbers  davidtudor  franzkline  mercecunningham  johncage  charlesolson  buckminsterfuller  johndewey  democracy  art  music  film  poetry  cytwombly  bauhaus  experientiallearning  howwelearn  education  johnandrewrice  unschooling  deschooling  schools  schooling  learning  howelearn  howweteach  pedagogy  christopherlydon  abstractexpressionism  popart  jacksonpollock  arthistory  history  arts  purpose  lcproject  openstudioproject  leapbeforeyoulook  canon  discovery  conflict  artists  happenings  openness  rural  community  highered  highereducation  curriculum  willemdekooning  small  control  conversation  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  mitmedialab  medialab  chaos  utopia  dicklyons  artschools  davidbowie  experimentation  exploration  humanity  humanism  humility  politics 
october 2018 by robertogreco
Learn By Painting - The New Yorker
"What made Black Mountain different from other colleges was that the center of the curriculum was art-making. Students studied pretty much whatever they wanted, but everyone was supposed to take a class in some kind of artistic practice—painting, weaving, sculpture, pottery, poetry, architecture, design, dance, music, photography. The goal was not to produce painters, poets, and architects. It was to produce citizens.

Black Mountain was founded by a renegade classics professor named John Andrew Rice, who had been kicked out of Rollins College, in Florida. Rice believed that making something is a different learning experience from remembering something. A lot of education is reception. You listen to an expert explain a subject to you, and then you repeat back what you heard to show that you learned it. Teachers push students to engage actively with the material, but it’s easy to be passive, to absorb the information and check off the box.

Rice thought that this made for bad social habits. Democracy is about making choices, and people need to take ownership of their choices. We don’t want to vote the way someone else tells us to. We want to vote based on beliefs we have chosen for ourselves. Making art is making choices. Art-making is practice democracy.

Rice did not think of art-making as therapy or self-expression. He thought of it as mental training. As anyone who has tried to write a poem knows, the discipline in art-making is exercised from within rather than without. You quickly realize that it’s your own laziness, ignorance, and sloppiness, not somebody else’s bad advice, that are getting in your way. No one can write your poem for you. You have to figure out a way to write it yourself. You have to make a something where there was a nothing.

A lot of Rice’s ideas came from the educational philosophy of John Dewey (although the idea that true learning has to come from within goes back to Plato), and Rice was lucky to find an art teacher who had read Dewey and who thought the same way. This was Josef Albers. Albers had not been so lucky. He was an original member of the Bauhaus school, but when Hitler came to power, in 1933, the Bauhaus closed down rather than accept Nazi professors. Albers’s wife, Anni, was from a prominent Jewish family, and they were understandably anxious to get out of Germany. Rice heard about them from the architect Philip Johnson, and he sent a telegram to Albers inviting him and his wife to come teach at Black Mountain. The reply read: “I speak not one word English.” (Albers had read his Dewey in translation.) Rice told him to come anyway. Albers eventually did learn English, and he and Anni, an accomplished and creative weaver, established the mode of art instruction at Black Mountain. Everything would be hands-on, collaborative, materials-based, and experimental.

Bauhaus was all about abolishing distinctions between craft, or design, and fine art, and Black Mountain was one of the places where this aesthetic entered the world of American art. (Another was the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, where Andy Warhol went to college.) Albers’s most famous (although probably not his favorite) student at Black Mountain was Robert Rauschenberg, and Rauschenberg is the presiding spirit at the I.C.A. exhibition. Although goofier than most Black Mountain art—there is an earnestness about a lot of the work; this was schoolwork, after all—putting an automobile tire around a stuffed goat is the essence of Black Mountain practice.

Black Mountain College was a holistic learning environment. Teachers and students worked together; people who came to teach (and who stayed—not everyone found the work conditions to their liking) sat in on one another’s classes and ended up learning as much as the students. When a new building needed to be constructed, students and teachers built it themselves, just as, at the old Dewey School, at the University of Chicago, the children grew their own food and cooked their own meals.

It seems as though half the midcentury American avant-garde came through Black Mountain in one capacity or the other. The I.C.A. exhibition includes works by (besides Rauschenberg and the Alberses) Ruth Asawa, John Cage, John Chamberlain, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Shoji Hamada, Lou Harrison, Ray Johnson, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Ben Shahn, David Tudor, and Cy Twombly. Black Mountain produced art of almost every kind.

Did it also produce good citizens? That’s an educational outcome everyone embraces but that’s hard to measure. In the case of Black Mountain, the sample size is miniscule, and most students left before graduating. There is also the self-selection issue. People who choose to attend progressive colleges are already progressive-minded, just as people who want a liberal education are usually already liberal (meaning interested in knowledge for its own sake), and people who prefer vocational or pre-professional education are already headed down those roads. College choice tends to confirm prior effects of socialization. But why keep those things separate? Knowing and doing are two sides of the same activity, which is adapting to our environment. That was Dewey’s point.

People who teach in the traditional liberal-arts fields today are sometimes aghast at the avidity with which undergraduates flock to courses in tech fields, like computer science. Maybe those students see dollar signs in coding. Why shouldn’t they? Right now, tech is where value is being created, as they say. But maybe students are also excited to take courses in which knowing and making are part of the same learning process. Those tech courses are hands-on, collaborative, materials-based (well, virtual materials), and experimental—a digital Black Mountain curriculum. The other liberal-arts fields might take notice. Arts practice should be part of everyone’s education, not just in preschool."
blackmountaincollege  bmc  2015  louismenand  johndewey  democracy  practice  experience  education  tcsnmy  progressive  progressivism  art  arts  highered  highereducation  collectivism  learning  unschooling  deschooling  bauhaus  johnandrewrice  making  creativity  josefalbers  annialbers  craft  design  robertrauschenberg  collaboration  ruthasawa  johncage  mercecunningham  buckminsterfuller  willemdekooning  robertduncan  johnchamberlain  robertcreeley  shojihamada  louharrison  rayjohnson  franzkline  jacoblawrence  robertmotherwell  charlesolson  benshahn  davidtudor  cytwombly  kennethnoland  elainedekooning  liberalarts  technology 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Return to Black Mountain College - WSJ
"“Black Mountain is a myth, but it was mythic in its inception,” says Helen Molesworth, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, who is organizing the first major American museum show to examine the school’s legacy, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957, opening this month at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. “The people who made it had a lofty sense of what they were doing before it even started. They were trying to form a better world.” The exhibition will feature work by nearly 100 artists. Along with stars like the architect Walter Gropius and the Alberses, it includes figures like the sculptor Ruth Asawa, the collagist Ray Johnson and the funk potter Peter Voulkos, together with scores of photos and archival materials, as well as dance and music performances held within the galleries.

Other 20th-century art luminaries passed through the college too, including the abstract expressionists Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, Russian-born WPA muralist Ilya Bolotowsky and Jacob Lawrence, the African-American painter whose Great Migration pictures were the subject of a recent MoMA retrospective, all drawn largely by Josef Albers’s allure. From the start, “Albers had an international reputation, and so did the college,” says Alice Sebrell, program director of the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in nearby Asheville, which was founded in 1993 to honor the school. “He was very open to artists whose work was different from his own. The whole package was appealing to artists who were doing non-mainstream work.”

From today’s vantage point, the reality of Black Mountain College as a crucial nexus for artistic, intellectual and even political activity is coming into sharp focus. Artists, scholars, educators and curators are increasingly recognizing that its unique environment was essential to the flowering of midcentury American art and culture, a place where the avant-garde of Europe and the United States came together and created something new. The past year has seen another major show, Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment 1933–1957, at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, which explored the creative contributions made by German refugee artists and intellectuals who converged at the school during the Nazi era. A new book, The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College, was published last December.

“Today Black Mountain seems so avant la lettre, so proto-Beat, proto-hippie, so completely off the known of the region but also of the nation,” says Eva Díaz, the book’s author. In a contemporary art world riveted by the idea of experimentation, she adds, “Black Mountain is often invoked as a touchstone.”

The school’s interdisciplinary outlook is like catnip to curators and academics because it anticipated the current interest in performance art, craft and design. Artists are fascinated by it too: “There’s a growing need for us to be socially engaged, to want an interaction with a larger aspect of society,” says photographer and sculptor Sara VanDerBeek, whose father, the experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek, studied at the college from 1949 to 1951. “That’s in keeping with the things they were discussing and engaging in at Black Mountain.”"



"“The teachers who were at Black Mountain were there because they really believed in freedom and education,” says abstractionist Dorothea Rockburne, who heard of it as a teenager in Montreal and began saving money to attend, which she finally did, from 1950 to 1954. She took science with the physicist Goldowski, but her most profound connection was with the German mathematician Max Dehn, with whom she studied topology, linear algebra and Euclidean geometry.

Part of what made Black Mountain special was the mix of disciplines, the intensity and the fact that everyone was together so constantly in the remote location. “We were all foreigners, so to speak, in that setting,” says Theodore Dreier Jr. (the son of the co-founder), who studied music there before transferring to Harvard, later becoming a psychiatrist. “It enhanced that kind of participatory, creative openness.”

The college was never accredited, largely because the founders wanted to remain independent from outside influences. Its largest class was 100, and only 66 students ever graduated. But great teaching was always the byword. Although the constantly evolving curriculum always included classroom instruction, Rockburne recalls that most of Dehn’s teaching “took place on our morning walks to the waterfall five days a week. He would explain to me the mathematics of nature,” pointing out examples of probability theory and Fibonacci progression as they occurred in plants. “I always had the sense that my teachers were living for me.”

By 1941, just before the United States joined the war, the school had raised the money to buy its own lakeside campus. It moved after the faculty and students had spent a year and a half constructing a two-story, 202-foot-long, streamlined modernist compound known as the Studies Building. When its summer art and music sessions, initiated by Albers, began in 1944, a dizzying array of instructors arrived, including the art critic Clement Greenberg, the choreographer Agnes de Mille, the gamelan composer Lou Harrison and the photographer Harry Callahan—most long before they became well known."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  2015  carolkino  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  art  education  schools  unschooling  deschooling  democracy  freedom  autonomy  learning  history  robertrauschenberg  johncage  johnandrewrice  rollinscollege  highered  highereducation  stanvanderbeek  saravanderbeek  mercecunningham  jeromerobbins  josefalbers  bauhaus  communes  cytwombly  annialbers  buckminsterfuller  helenmolesworth  robertmotherwell  jacoblawrence  franzkline  ilyabolotowsky  alicesebrell  theodoredreier  jonathanwilliams  walking 
october 2015 by robertogreco
The Mythic School of the Mountain: Black Mountain College | Our State Magazine
"In early 1933, John Andrew Rice, an outspoken firebrand and educator, founded a revolutionary new college deep in the mountains of North Carolina’s Buncombe County, just a few miles from the village of Black Mountain. Black Mountain College not only became a legend in its own time, but also established itself during its brief existence as the boldest, most progressive educational experiment in American history.

Rice, a dissident professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, had been dismissed from his teaching post. He had been accused of many things, chief among them fomenting revolt among the Rollins faculty. Rice held that traditional lockstep academia, and its often anemic curricula, allowed little in the way of independent thought and engagement. Upon departing, he led a band of fellow academic dissidents — as well as a number of Rollins students loyal to him — away from Rollins and established Black Mountain College. Rice had nothing in the way of a plan, much less dollars or even a building. The college’s very first catalog stated that it had been founded “to provide a place where free use might be made of tested and proved methods of education and new methods tried in a purely experimental spirit … ”

The W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection, in the Belk Library at Appalachian State University, houses the John Andrew Rice Papers, a trove of lore and memorabilia. One extraordinary document — tattered, cracked, and with Rice’s own penned-in emendations — is a single page of aged onionskin, at its crest the heading, in all caps, THE PURPOSE OF THE COLLEGE. It begins: “The purpose of the college is to lead on to creative consciousness a carefully selected group of talented young men and young women who are eager to know, to will, and to do.” Across its very bottom edge, in Rice’s penmanship, sprawls “Inner freedom in judgment and action.”

That first semester, fall of 1933, Black Mountain College had 13 faculty members and 26 students. The physical plant materialized, like so many of Black Mountain’s milestones, through serendipity. One of Rice’s confederates, Bob Wunsch, a dramatist from Rollins and a North Carolina native — not incidentally the roommate of Thomas Wolfe for a time at the University of North Carolina — suggested the first site for the college. The Blue Ridge Assembly, a Christian conference and training center, established in 1906, was a cluster of blazing-white buildings, including the august antebellum structure Robert E. Lee Hall. It was utilized in the summer for religious retreats, but unused for the most part during the traditional academic year. Rice and Wunsch engineered a deal and were able to rent The Blue Ridge Assembly for a fantastic bargain. Nevertheless, there was the Depression to contend with. There was little money to speak of. Malcolm Forbes, of the famous Forbes family and a former Rollins professor himself, provided the majority of the underwriting.

Black Mountain College faculty, with liberal input from the students, ran the entire operation. No boards of regents, directors, or trustees. The college was not accredited. Of the roughly 1,200 students who attended during its history, few (approximately 60) ever graduated, and those who did received hand-designed, homemade diplomas. Yet its students, upon leaving Black Mountain, were coveted by the very best graduate schools in America and beyond. The school’s structure was its lack of structure. The pedagogical direction was whatever students and teachers agreed upon. No grades. Process claimed dominion over product. Many local Buncombe citizens regarded Black Mountain with suspicion and disdain.

In the beginning, faculty were paid on the basis of need. When there was enough money, they received small salaries, plus room and board. Much of the food that fed the residents was grown on the college farm. Self-sufficiency, living lean and close to the land in the true pioneering tradition of America, was very much a part of Black Mountain. The college taught that the exchange of creature comforts for freedom was a more than equitable barter. Black Mountain invented itself and in so doing established a paradigm for all educational communities ever after to mimic. It initiated itself by posing tough questions about arbitrary, traditional rules governing education and teaching, questions about the self and various external fetters imposed upon it.

Black Mountain was also a crucible of dangerously volatile social change. Long before the rest of America wrestled with sexual orientation and racial integration, Black Mountain was establishing a forum for discussion and acceptance, but always — and perhaps more important — dissent. During its inception, it became a sanctuary for Jewish intellectuals, many of whom were fleeing the scourge of Nazi Europe.

My intoxication with Black Mountain College began the summer of 1987, when Ronald H. Bayes, my Literary Godfather, laid in my hands Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community. I had just started teaching at what was then St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg — a little town every bit as obscure as the town of Black Mountain was in 1933 when the first faculty members of Black Mountain College arrived at the rail station on Sutton Avenue and were spirited off to their new home at the Blue Ridge Assembly in the very rural Swannanoa Valley.

Bayes, a longtime distinguished professor and writer-in-residence at St. Andrew’s — by my lights, a fringe Black Mountain poet himself — had been intimates with Black Mountain writers Charles Olson, Ed Dorn, Jonathan Williams, Joel Oppenheimer, and Fielding Dawson, and a very close friend of Robert Creeley until Creeley’s death. Through Bayes’s magical connections, many of those writers had been frequent visitors to the St. Andrew’s campus, and, in 1974, St. Andrew’s hosted the now mythic, actually unimaginable (so large are the names on this list), Black Mountain Festival, which featured the writers already mentioned as well as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, and M.C. Richards.

At the time I read Duberman’s book, I had merely heard of Black Mountain College, which I knew no longer existed. I conceived of it like any other college, like the ones I attended and taught at. As I read, however, I was astonished to learn, page by page, what experimental education and community looked like up close — perhaps what education and community had been meant to aspire to all along. What’s more, I was utterly mystified as to why — having been a North Carolinian and a college English professor for 10 years and pretty knowledgeable, or so I thought, in American literature — Black Mountain College had never crossed my radar.

Today, 27 years after I discovered Black Mountain, it remains among even the well-educated across America — not to mention the citizens of North Carolina — at best an anomaly, but more a well-kept secret. There is nothing to commemorate its considerable glory other than a terse epitaph etched into a silver historical marker on U.S. Highway 70 (State Street) at West College Street, traveling west out of the charming little town of Black Mountain: “BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE: Est. in 1933: Closed 1956. Experimental school with emphasis on fine arts & progressive education. Campus was 3 mi. NW.”"



:Yet, to this day, it remains the greatest experimental academic adventure ever launched on American soil. During its shimmering, stormy history, many of the nation’s greatest thinkers and artists were in residence or paid visits to Black Mountain: Anni Albers, Josef Albers, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Robert De Niro Sr., John Dewey, Aldous Huxley, Alfred Kazin, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Goodman, Walter Gropius, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Henry Miller, Charles Olson, Arthur Penn, Francine du Plessix-Gray, Mary Caroline Richards, Robert Rauschenburg, Ben Shahn, Thornton Wilder, and countless others.

However, to associate Black Mountain exclusively with this litany of the renowned remains one of the chief hazards of its legacy. What makes the phenomenon of Black Mountain stupendous is the fact that, apart from its glittering roster, there are any number of famous artists and writers, ones without names in neon, without international or even national reputations, who have made prominent names for themselves across every area of the arts. But not just in the arts. Black Mountain produced some of America’s most profound innovators in education, science, social work, architecture, urban planning, psychiatry, history, politics, on and on. To research a Black Mountain College alumnus is to stumble upon greatness. They became citizens of blazing social consciousness and engagement who put to daily practice what John Andrew Rice imagined for his new college’s students back in 1933: inner freedom in judgment and action. In The Black Mountain Book, Fielding Dawson declares: “Forget about the big names” — more a Zen injunction than a literal one. He goes on to say, in an interview I conducted with him, that “[Black Mountain] had a lot to do with a lot of talented individuals who were really interested in what they were doing. The mystic, the intuitive, the anarchist is much more the fact of Black Mountain …”

Black Mountain College started with pure intellectual curiosity and radical curricular reform. It rewrote the history of the self, an opus still unraveling as the endless labyrinth of influence that is Black Mountain branches off into tributary after tributary. Black Mountain College was a gorgeous, temperamental hybrid, gone before America even knew it existed. Nevertheless, as Charles Olson proclaimed in a letter to Martin Duberman: “ There’s no end to the story — her flag flies.’ ”"
blackmountaincollege  bmc  northcarolina  asheville  blackmountain  history  progressive  johnandrewrice  josephbathanti  art  bonaldbayes  martinduberman  segregation  integration  fieldingdawson  charlesolson  writing  poetry  tleverettsmith  ncwesleyan  lcproject  openstudioproject  freedom  unschooling  deschooling  learning  education  highered  highereducation 
july 2014 by robertogreco
NEH Project
Black Mountain College existed for a mere 24 years. In that short time this small experimental college in the Appalachian Mountains just outside of Asheville, North Carolina produced a legacy that makes it central to American culture in multiple ways. While often thought of as an art school, in actuality the arts were considered an important aspect of an overarching liberal arts education emphasizing the broader area of the humanities. From the centrally important teachers such as John Andrew Rice, Josef Albers and Charles Olson through other important figures such as Robert Creeley, Mary Caroline (M.C.) Richards, Buckminster Fuller, and John Cage, to the important students such as Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Francine du Plessix Gray, Arthur Penn, Dorothea Rockburne, Jonathan Williams, and Suzi Gablik, Black Mountain College influenced American culture through advances in educational practice, the visual and performing arts as well as literature. Not only was it an experiment in education, but it also was an experiment that was modeled by John Andrew Rice upon the work of the foremost philosopher of education at the time, John Dewey. Combined with the Dewey's influence was the cutting-edge modernist tradition of Europe’s most famous art and design school, the Bauhaus.

Black Mountain College: An Artistic and Educational Legacy will address the fascinating history of the college through presentations by experts in the field as well as experiential workshops and field trips all designed to deepen and enrich the study of this innovative college."

[See also the reading list: http://www.blackmountaincollege.org/programs/neh-project/12-programs/neh-project/79-reading-list and
the suggested readings: http://www.blackmountaincollege.org/programs/neh-project/12-programs/neh-project/78-suggested-readings]
bmc  blackmountaincollege  2011  readinglists  johnandrewrice  johndewey  josefalbers  charlesolson  robertcreeley  marycarolinerichards  arthurpenn  dorothearockburne  jonathanwilliams  suzigablik  francineduplessixgray  cytwompbly  robertrauschenberg  education  arteducation  liberalarts  pedagogy  bauhaus 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Maverick Colleges: Ten Noble Experiments in American Undergraduate Education (1993)
[Second edition (1996) of the book with some additional schools here in PDF: https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/experimental-study-group/es-291-learning-seminar-experiments-in-education-spring-2003/readings/MITES_291S03_maverick.pdf ]

[Wayback:
http://web.archive.org/web/20130730023648/http://www.mit.edu/~jrising/webres/maverick.txt
https://web.archive.org/web/19961105162647/http://www.gse.utah.edu/EdAdm/Galvin/Maverick.html ]

"This book is a product of a University of Utah graduate seminar conducted in the spring of 1991: "Notable Experiments in American Higher Education" (Educational Administration 728). The contributing authors are professor of educational administration L. Jackson Newell and seminar students, each of whom selected an innovative, or "experimental," college for research and reporting."

"Common Themes:

As seminar participants exchanged findings about the ten selected colleges, several prominent themes emerged that had not been predetermined by selection criteria but appeared to indicate common postures among experimental colleges. These include:

• Ideals spawning ideas. In most cases, the ten colleges appeared to start with the ideals of visionary founders. For some, the ideal concerned the citizens who would emerge from the learning experience …

• Emphasis on teaching; retreat from research. The vast majority of experimental colleges are liberal education colleges where the art of teaching and the development of students are values of high esteem. …

• Organization without specialization. Not unexpectedly, these experimental colleges also tended to turn away from the disciplinary organization of scholarship that had sprung from the German research university model. …

• Administrative innovations. Freedom from traditional higher education bureaucracy and hierarchy have been common pursuits of the colleges studied. …

Divergent Approaches:

Just as common themes instruct us about the aims and aspirations of various experimental colleges, so too do their divergent approaches. Two notable areas of difference among the colleges focus on who should attend and how their learning might best be organized during the college years."

[Bits from the section on Black Mountain College:]

"Its educational commitment--to democratic underpinnings for learning that comes from "human contact, through a fusion of mind and emotion" (Du Plessix-Gray 1952:10)-- was reflective of a larger liberal environment that managed a brief appearance before the 1950s ushered in fear of Communism and love of television."



"Rice and his colleagues had stronger convictions about how a college should operate than about how and what students might learn. Democracy would be paramount in the administration of the college, and structure would be loose. Students and faculty joined in marathon, long-winded decision-making meetings with decisions ranging from a faculty termination to a library acquisition.

Particularly prominent, and vital to the democratic underpinnings envisioned by Rice, was the absence of any outside governing body. Rice had determined that control exerted by boards of trustees and college presidents rendered faculty participation meaningless, limiting faculty to debate, "with pitiable passion, the questions of hours, credits, cuts. . . . They bring the full force of their manhood to bear on trivialities. They know within themselves that they can roam at will only among minutiae of no importance" (Adamic, 1938:624).

The faculty did establish a three-member "Board of Fellows," elected from among them and charged with running the business affairs of the College. Within a year, a student member was added to the Board."



"The 23-year history of Black Mountain College was one of few constants and much conflict. Three forceful leaders marked three distinct periods during the 23 years: the John Rice years, the Josef Albers decade, and the Charles Olson era.

During the first 5 years of the College, a solidarity of philosophy and community gradually took shape. It revolved largely around John Rice's outgoing personality (much intelligence and much laughter mark most reports from colleagues and students) and forceful opinions about education. He was determined, for example, that every student should have some experience in the arts.

This translated as at least an elementary course in music, dramatics and/or drawing, because:
There is something of the artist in everyone, and the development of this talent, however small, carrying with it a severe discipline of its own, results in the student's becoming more and more sensitive to order in the world and within himself than he can ever possibly become through intellectual effort alone. (Adamic 1938:626)

Although he cautioned against the possible tyranny of the community, Rice eventually decided that some group activity would,
…help the individual be complete, aware of his relation to others. Wood chopping, road-mending, rolling the tennis courts, serving tea in the afternoon, and other tasks around the place help rub off individualistic corners and give people training in assuming responsibility. (Ibid, 1938:627)



"Rice soon discovered what he would later call the "three Alberses"--the teacher, the social being and the Prussian. The Prussian Albers decried the seeming lack of real leadership at the College and the free-wheeling, agenda-less, community-wide meetings. Rice noted later, "You can't talk to a German about liberty. You just waste your breath. They don't know what the hell you mean" (Duberman 1972:69)."



"The war years ushered in a different kind of Black Mountain; one where students, and at least some faculty members, started lobbying for more structure in learning, but yet more freedom outside the classroom. Lectures and recitations were starting to occur within the classroom, while cut-off blue jeans and nude sun bathing appeared outside. Influential faculty member Eric Bentley insisted to his colleagues: "I can't teach history if they're not prepared to do some grinding, memorizing, getting to know facts and dates and so on…" (Duberman 1972:198). Needless to say, with Albers and many of the original faculty still on board, faculty meetings were decisive and volatile.

Overshadowing this dissent, however, was a new program that was to highlight at least the public notion of a historical "saga" for the College, the summer institutes. Like much at Black Mountain, the summer institutes started more by chance than choice."



"The summer institutes grew throughout the 1940s to include notable talents in art, architecture, music and literature. And it is probably these institutes and the renown of the individuals in attendance that contributed most to Black Mountain's reputation as an art school."



The excitement and publicity generated by the summer sessions, in addition to a general higher education population explosion spurred by the G.I. Bill, put the Black Mountain College of the late 1940s on its healthiest economic footing yet.

Still, Black Mountain managed to avoid financial stability. Student turnover negated some of the volume gains. Faculty salaries rose substantially, but grants and endowments did not. Stephen Forbes, for example, who had always been counted on to supply money to the College in tough times, refused a request in 1949 because he was disenchanted with the new emphasis on arts education at the expense of general education. The ability to manage what money it had also did not increase at Black Mountain, although Josef Albers proposed a reorganization that would include administrators and an outside board of overseers. In the wake of arguments and recriminations about the financial situation and how to solve it, a majority (by one vote) of the faculty called for the resignation of Ted Dreier, the last remaining faculty member from the founding group. In protest, four other faculty members resigned--including Josef and Anni Albers. By selling off some of the campus acreage, the remaining faculty managed to save the College and retain its original mindset of freedom from outside boards and administrators, while setting the stage for yet another era in its history [Charles Olson].



"What Albers lacked in administrative ability, he compensated for in tenacity and focus. What Rice lacked in administrative ability, he balanced with action and ideas. However, when Olson couldn't manage the administrative function, he simply retreated. His idea about turning the successful summer institutes into a similar series of year-long institutes fell on deaf faculty ears. So he gave up trying to strengthen the regular program."



"The vast majority of former Black Mountain students can point to clear instances of lasting influence on the rest of their lives. Mostly, this seems to have occurred through association: with one or two faculty members who made a difference, with a "community" of fellow individuals who were essential resources to one another, or with a new area of endeavor such as painting or writing or farming. Black Mountain, apparently, was a place where association was encouraged. Perhaps this occurred through the relatively small number of people shouldered into an isolated valley, perhaps by a common dedication to the unconventional, or perhaps to the existence of ideals about learning and teaching. At any rate, the encouragement of association with people and with ideas was not the norm in higher education then, nor is it now. Clearly, it is possible to graduate from most colleges and universities today with little, if any, significant association with faculty, students or ideas.

But at Black Mountain, as at other experimental colleges, association could hardly be avoided. Engagement with people and ideas was paramount; activity was rampant. It was social, and it was educational. As Eric Bentley would remark:

Where, as at Black Mountain, there is a teacher to every three students the advantage is evident. . .a means to … [more]
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may 2013 by robertogreco

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