Josef Albers teaching a drawing class, n.d. Photo by John Campbell.
The progressive liberal arts college was a utopian experiment: interdisciplinary, communal, non-hierarchical, and unlike anything else in the United States.
The teachers and students at Black Mountain College came to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains from around the United States and the world. Some stayed for years, others mere weeks. Their education was unlike anything else in the United States. They experimented with new ways of teaching and learning; they encouraged discussion and free inquiry; they felt that form in art had meaning; they were committed to the rigor of the studio and the laboratory; they practiced living and working together as a community; they shared the ideas and values of different cultures; they had faith in learning through experience and doing; they trusted in the new while remaining committed to ideas from the past; and they valued the idiosyncratic nature of the individual. But most of all, they believed in art, in its ability to expand one’s internal horizons, and in art as a way of living and being in the world. This utopian experiment came to an end in 1957, but not before it created the conditions for some of the 20th century’s most fertile ideas and most influential individual artists to emerge.