BEfore 1940

Art Education in the 1930s

Advancement occurs through education. Western art was catapulted toward the New by European art exhibitions and teachers who emigrated from Europe during the rise of Fascism and the Nazi regime, including Josef and Anni Albers, faculty from The Bauhaus in Germany, and Hans Hofmann, an abstract painter and teacher in Munich who settled in New York. Their common purpose was to develop modernist art education to allow for a creative and intellectual culture to counter the suppression of free thought that terrorized the West. With them came a bedrock of modernist techniques and theories that would shape abstraction in America and beyond. The Schools that had the greatest influence in the 30s, 40s and into the 50s was the renowned Black Mountain College and Greenwich Village and Provincetown studios of Hans Hofmann.

The Bauhaus, 1919-1933, until it was forced to close in the face of Nazi Germany.
Black Mountain College, A School Like No Other
Josef Albers, Concerning Art Instruction, Black Mountain College Bulletin, Series 1, No. 2, June 1934
Hans Hofmann: Teaching in Greenwich Village, NYC
Frank Stella on Hans Hofmann, Peabody Essex Museum, Dec. 2019
Hans Hofmann's Teaching

The Harlem Renaissance

“The Harlem section of Manhattan, which covers just three square miles, drew nearly 175,000 African Americans, giving the neighborhood the largest concentration of black people in the world,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture explains. “Harlem became a destination for African Americans of all backgrounds. From unskilled laborers to an educated middle-class, they shared common experiences of slavery, emancipation, and racial oppression, as well as a determination to forge a new identity as free people.” In order to help achieve this shared objective, artistic African Americans from all over the country flocked to Harlem, where their creativity was fostered and their work was groundbreaking. Kelly Richman-Abdou, My Modern Met, July, 2020

Kelly Richman-Abdou, How African American Art and Culture Blossomed During the Harlem Renaissance, My Modern Met, July 14, 2020
Duke Elllington, "Harlem", premiered Jan. 1951, Met Opera House

Social + Political Context

With the rise of nationalism around the world came a migration of individuals seeking asylum along with economic crises forced by countries facing climate shifts and market failures resulting in redefining moments including The Great Depression in America.

Marshall Curry, A Night at the Garden, 2017
"My father, who fled Nazi Germany as a 17 year old and lived in NYC, spoke frequently of this frightening event." Judi Hopfer Deglin
What is Degenerate Art? Dr. Brad Evans, Heni Talks (video)
"In the fall of 1935 a range of creative, educational, research, and service projects was organized to preserve the skills of professional artists in mural, easel, sculpture, and graphic art divisions, of commercial artists in the poster and Index of American Design divisions, and of the less experienced in art education and technical jobs."

Style Precursors + Influences

From 1900-1940, a fervent period of experimentation occurred fostered by movements of the 19th century, and enabled by new techniques, media and styles preceding World War 2. The pace, scrutiny, traumas and freedoms of these first decades were liberating like few times prior. And openings that occurred, would define a century in Western art.

Art Terms


Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907
Alfred Stieglitz, Spiritual America 1923
How Duchamp's Urinal Changed Art Forever
A woman in the men's room: when will the art world recognise the real artist behind Duchamp's Fountain?
Exploring the Surreal with Peter Capaldi
Cornell, Untitled, 1939
Cornell, Taglioni's Jewel Casket, 1940 mixed media with wood box, glass cubes

"Spanish Republican forces sent Guernica on an international tour to create awareness of the war and raise funds for Spanish refugees. It traveled the world for 19 years and then was loaned for safekeeping to The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Picasso refused to allow it to return to Spain until the country “enjoyed public liberties and democratic institutions,” which finally occurred in 1981." Khan Academy

What Makes Guernica Picasso’s Most Influential Painting?

"In December 1931, The Museum of Modern Art mounted a major exhibition of work by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. It was only the second retrospective at the Museum, and it was wildly popular, breaking attendance records in its five-week run." MoMA

Diego Rivera 1931-32 exhibition at MoMA
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit during the creation of Rivera's "Detroit Industry" murals at the DIA, Detroit Institute of Arts, March 2016
banner photo: Joseph Albers Teaching, Black Mountain College c. 1940