On Johannes Itten, teacher@Bauhous


 Colour is life; for a world without colours appears to us as dead.” — Johannes Itten

Johannes Itten – art education and painter, born 1888 in Süderen-Linden/Schweiz
1904-08 studies of education
1908 work as teacher
1910-12 mathematical technical studies in Bern
1913 academy Stuttgart
1916 first exhibition by himself at gallery Der Sturm
1916 opened his own art school in Vienna, Austria
1919-23 master at Bauhaus, head of metal, wall painting and glasspainting workshops

Johannes Itten wrote several books regarding theories of color. The most influential was The Art of Color. The book deals with contrast, saturation and hue. Itten bases his theory on science and techniques of the masters. He created color wheels, stars, triangles and spheres to support his points.

Itten started the Bauhaus foundations course with its emphasis on unusual uses of common materials. Students were presented with discarded materials (wire mesh, cardboard, newspapers, matchboxes, phonograph needles and razor blades) and instructed to basteln; to improvise something. Other assignments involved the study of materials. Wood, feathers, mosses, hides had to be looked at, touched and drawn until they were known by heart and could be from memory. The idea was to transcend realistic reproduction to achieve an interpretative design instead of a mere imitation.

It is said that this method was influenced by Friedrich Froebel’s pedagogy of “education through play”. Itten represented the central person of the early Bauhaus years. He influenced the first era of it. The foundations course established by him came out to be decisive for the teaching program of the school.

Johannes IttenThe Expressionist Johannes Itten taught a color theory at Bauhaus that is still used to introduce art students to color today. He developed a 12-color wheel based on three primary, three secondary and six tertiary colors: red, yellow, blue; green, orange, violet; and tertiary — red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet. Itten assigned specific emotions to colors, and labeled hues either “warm” or “cool.” He worked to create startling color contrasts, using saturation, light and dark values, complements — opposites on the color wheel — and juxtaposed warm and cool colors. Itten showed students how placing opposite colors next to each other caused viewers to see vibration or shadows. He theorized that warm colors seem to move forward because they are comforting and attractive to observers, and cool colors recede because they inspire feelings of melancholy or sadness. His color principles work equally well for artists and interior designers.

Itten established a structural approach to the study and use of color based primarily on the light-dark opposition. The cold-warm contrast is probably the most important. The red-yellow color range is warm and the blue-green rItten’s Color Contrasts

Johannes Itten was one of the first people to define and identify strategies for successful color combinations. Through his research he devised seven methodologies for coordinating colors utilizing the hue’s contrasting properties. These contrasts add other variations with respect to the intensity of the respective hues; i.e. contrasts may be obtained due to light, moderate, or dark value.Itten developed a general theory of contrast, the main theme of which was the “clair / obscure contrast”, as the basis for this course. This was treated in various assignments: first in the form of checker-board patterns, then in abstract and finally in realistic works. Classical pictures were also analysed with the same aim in mind. By dividing it up into squares, the student was induced to work through the entire area of the picture with awareness, and to make a new decision each time regarding the respective grey value.Itten initiated mandatory form and color education for Bauhaus students. He taught there until 1923, essentially on the concept of creation, focussing on form and color and in the process developing his theories on color and the color circle.

Itten’s fellow Bauhaus teachers were Gerhard Marcks, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, Oskar Schlemmer, Lothar Schreyer, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.


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Recommended Books

The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color

The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten Based on His Book the Art of Color

Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later, Revised Edition



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