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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
Black Mountain College Museum en Instagram: ““FBI people showed up all the time, and they looked like something out of a grade B movie [...] They always had trench coats on, and you…”
“FBI people showed up all the time, and they looked like something out of a grade B movie [...] They always had trench coats on, and you could spot them a mile away [...] And of course the students at Black Mountain put on an act for them. One of the favorite student tricks was to not have shoes on in the middle of the winter, and to crunch out a cigarette butt with their bare feet … It confirmed their worst opinions, and we did not answer any of their questions.” -Dorothea Rockburne (Interview with Connie Bostic, 2002.)

...

This spring, the fascinating story of BMC's FBI investigation is coming out of the shadows (along with other pivotal moments in political history, including WWII, The Great Depression, and Jim Crow) The Politics of Black Mountain College, curated by Connie Bostic, Jon Ellison, Jay Miller and Alice Sebrell opens February 1st.

...

Image: Dan Rice and Robert Creeley at Black Mountain College photographed by Jonathan Williams."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  fbi  education  history  politcs  conniebostic  jonellison  jaymiller  alicesebrell  jimcrow  greatdepression  ww2  wwii  dorothearockburne  jonathanwilliams  danrice  robertcreeley 
december 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
Mapping BMC
"Crossroads and Cosmopolitanism at Black Mountain College chronicles the stories of fifteen students and teachers. Select any artist to begin their story."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  robertcreeley  robertrauschenberg  ruthasawa  mercecunningham  johncage  jeancharlot  josefalbers  margueritewildenhain  rayjohnson  rolandhayes  trudeguermonprez  willemdekooning  charlesolson  annialbers  buckminsterfuller 
november 2015 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
Denise Levertov : The Poetry Foundation
"Because Levertov never received a formal education, her earliest literary influences can be traced to her home life in Ilford, England, a suburb of London. Levertov and her older sister, Olga, were educated by their Welsh mother, Beatrice Adelaide Spooner-Jones, until the age of thirteen. The girls further received sporadic religious training from their father, Paul Philip Levertoff, a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England and became an Anglican minister. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Carolyn Matalene explained that "the education [Levertov] did receive seems, like Robert Browning's, made to order. Her mother read aloud to the family the great works of nineteenth-century fiction, and she read poetry, especially the lyrics of Tennyson. . . . Her father, a prolific writer in Hebrew, Russian, German, and English, used to buy secondhand books by the lot to obtain particular volumes. Levertov grew up surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages." It has been said that many of Levertov's readers favor her lack of formal education because they see it as an impetus to verse that is consistently clear, precise, and accessible. According to Earnshaw, "Levertov seems never to have had to shake loose from an academic style of extreme ellipses and literary allusion, the self-conscious obscurity that the Provencal poets called 'closed.'"

Levertov had confidence in her poetic abilities from the beginning, and several well-respected literary figures believed in her talents as well. Gould recorded Levertov's "temerity" at the age of twelve when she sent several of her poems directly to T. S. Eliot: "She received a two-page typewritten letter from him, offering her 'excellent advice.' . . . His letter gave her renewed impetus for making poems and sending them out." Other early supporters included critic Herbert Read, editor Charles Wrey Gardiner, and author Kenneth Rexroth. When Levertov had her first poem published in Poetry Quarterly in 1940, Rexroth professed: "In no time at all Herbert Read, Tambimutti, Charles Wrey Gardiner, and incidentally myself, were all in excited correspondence about her. She was the baby of the new Romanticism. Her poetry had about it a wistful Schwarmerei unlike anything in English except perhaps Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach.' It could be compared to the earliest poems of Rilke or some of the more melancholy songs of Brahms.""



"Levertov's American poetic voice was, in one sense, indebted to the simple, concrete language and imagery, and also the immediacy, characteristic of Williams Carlos Williams's art. Accordingly, Ralph J. Mills Jr. remarked in his essay in Poets in Progress that Levertov's verse "is frequently a tour through the familiar and the mundane until their unfamiliarity and otherworldliness suddenly strike us. . . . The quotidian reality we ignore or try to escape, . . . Levertov revels in, carves and hammers into lyric poems of precise beauty." In turn, Midwest Quarterly reviewer Julian Gitzen explained that Levertov's "attention to physical details [permitted her] to develop a considerable range of poetic subject, for, like Williams, she [was] often inspired by the humble, the commonplace, or the small, and she [composed] remarkably perceptive poems about a single flower, a man walking two dogs in the rain, and even sunlight glittering on rubbish in a street."

In another sense, Levertov's verse exhibited the influence of the Black Mountain poets, such as Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley, whom Levertov met through her husband. Cid Corman was among the first to publish Levertov's poetry in the United States in Origin in the 1950s. Unlike her early formalized verse, Levertov now gave homage to the projectivist verse of the Black Mountain era, whereby the poet "projects" through content rather than through strict meter or form. Although Levertov was assuredly influenced by several renowned American writers of the time, Matalene believed Levertov's "development as a poet [had] certainly proceeded more according to her own themes, her own sense of place, and her own sensitivities to the music of poetry than to poetic manifestos." Indeed, Matalene explained that when Levertov became a New Directions author in 1959, this came to be because editor James Laughlin had detected in Levertov's work her own unique voice."
deniseleverton  poetry  writing  writers  autodidacts  unschooling  deschooling  blackmountaincollege  blackmountainpoets  robertcreeley  charlesolson  robertduncan  cidcorman  projectivism  bmc  rilke 
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
More thoughts on writing and making | Design Culture Lab
"Unstable. Shifty. Unreliable.

Yes please!

I love that people and our words are all those things. As I replied to Peter, and would say to Matt, I prefer the sense of potential that comes from this kind of material and making.

It’s less prescriptive. Less efficient. Less technological. Less machinic.

More space to become something, someone else."

"I don’t mean to romanticise words and writing. And I don’t mean to suggest they are divorced from technology or machines or even code.

By identifying what is included in our definitions of making or Making–and asking what is excluded–we might, as Ben Highmore writes in the introduction to The Everyday Life Reader, be able to “find new commonalities and breathe new life into old differences.”

And I’m pretty sure there’s lots more to be thought and said about what gets made, how, when and where it gets made, and by whom it gets made."

[Follow-up to: http://www.designculturelab.org/2012/02/26/hi-my-name-is-anne-i-make-stuff-with-words/ ]
materials  technology  craft  text  benhighmore  everydaylife  patrickness  robertcreeley  poetry  jwarton  peterrichardson  mattjones  makerculture  makers  making  writing  2012 
march 2012 by robertogreco

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