Excerpt from Essay on Albers’ Tenuous

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Josef Albers considers, “the discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect” to be the origin of art.[1] He found that that which is observed in the visual world is often distinctly different than what is perceived by the mind. In the same epigram, Albers also famously stated that the measurement of art is, “the ratio of effort to effect.” From this perspective, the most accomplished art expresses much through a very concise visual vocabulary. In his series Homage to the Square, which he contributed to from 1949 to his death in 1976, Albers sought to highlight the dichotomy between “pre-retinal optics and post-retinal psychological effects,” with the most economic means possible. [2] Each formal element in Tenuous, 1964, a piece from Josef Albers’ extensive Homage series, can be understood in the context of his two assertions. That is, by foregrounding the discrepancies of perception, Tenuous is a complex visual image through very limited means.


[1] Josef Albers, “The Origin of Art,” in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 131.

[2] Burton M. Wasserman, “Josef Albers: His America Years,” Art Education Vol. 19, 1966.

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