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Frederick Horowitz: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Apr 23, 2014

Elaine Wilson is an artist and a former colleague of the deceased at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Frederick Horowitz, an artist, art educator, writer, and passionate champion of the work and teaching philosophy of Josef Albers, died on September 12, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 75 years old.

Horowitz was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended Yale University, earning a BA in English in 1960 and a BFA in painting in 1962. His life was forever changed when he enrolled in Albers’s drawing class. Although Horowitz later received an MFA in painting at the University of Michigan in 1964, his contact with Albers at Yale was defining. In the book Josef Albers: To Open Eyes (New York: Phaidon, 2006), coauthored with Brenda Danilowitz, Horowitz recounts the comment Albers made about one of his drawings of the textural quality of a log of wood:

In his crit of one day’s results, Albers singled out a drawing in which repeated black strokes of a soft pencil had jabbed a hole in the newsprint. “Yah,” he exclaimed with delight, and only half ironically, “this boy is getting into it!”

The 12 x 18 inch newsprint pad in which Horowitz did many of the exercises for this class is preserved today, signaling the importance he placed on his experience in this course.

Horowitz spent thirty-five years teaching drawing, design, color, and art appreciation at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor. He was widely respected in southeast Michigan as a teacher with authority and integrity. He mentored countless students who went on to become artists, transferring to four-year art programs around the country. Many of his students were older individuals whose lives were deeply enriched by his courses.

At Washtenaw Horowitz taught the art-appreciation course and wrote More Than You See: A Guide to Art (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985) for use in it, while also widening the book’s scope for a broader audience. More Than You See departs from many textbooks for art appreciation and art history: instead of presenting artworks in a chronological order or grouping them by “ism,” it presents a series of questions about looking at a wide range of paintings and objects without necessarily providing the answers. These questions continually challenge readers to think for themselves.

One chapter, titled “Looking over the Artist’s Shoulder,” compares and contrasts an Italian Renaissance painting, Guercino’s Esther before Ahasuerus (1639) and the preparatory drawings for it, with a miniature painting from India and its preparatory drawing. Another chapter, “Reading Paintings,” examines the formal characteristics of several works of art. Horowitz was especially interested in process and in the artist’s choices. By including works from the museums and galleries close to his school, such as the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts, he tied the book to the experience of his students whom he regularly took to these institutions to see the real thing.

In 1992 Horowitz began thinking about writing a book on Albers’s teaching. Brenda Danilowitz, chief curator at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut, worked with him and coauthored the book. Horowitz interviewed numerous artists who had studied with Albers, asking them about the teacher’s presence in the classroom and studio and about the impact and import of the particular projects he assigned. Research at the archives of the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, Yale University, and the Albers Foundation yielded a rich trove of material, which Horowitz and Danilowitz eventually worked into Josef Albers: To Open Eyes. This groundbreaking book has already changed the teaching of numerous younger artists and art professors, reinvigorating their work in the studio classroom.

While writing To Open Eyes, Horowitz began two courses—on design and on color—at Washtenaw Community College, putting into practice the ideas he was acquiring from his research. His own experience taking the color class at Yale with Albers’s own student, Sewell “Si” Sillman, meant that he was well prepared.

As a teacher Horowitz was disciplined and demanding, a tough but kind critic and grader. He required a great deal from his students, but when he saw a need to mentor and foster the talent of particular individuals he went above and beyond his regular duties to help them. This approach led to developing personal relationships that would last well beyond their time at Washtenaw.

Horowitz’s mentoring did not stop with students. He routinely worked with the part-time faculty that he recruited to teach many sections of the studio-art and art-appreciation classes, discussing with them course assignments and curricula, student behavior, grading policy, and even their students’ artwork. He created an atmosphere of cooperation and collegiality within the college’s art area that made it a laboratory for good teaching, a unique place for the overworked and underpaid instructors to work in. He was honest and generous with everyone, while holding all to his own high standards.

After retiring from Washtenaw Community College in 2003, Horowitz continued to lecture around the country and give workshops on Albers and on color and design (including presentations at the Foundations in Art: Theory and Education conference in 1997 and 2003 and at Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center in Asheville, North Carolina.) Abroad he taught workshops at art schools in Mexico City and Jerusalem.

Horowitz’s recent research at the Albers Foundation included close examinations of several Homage to the Square paintings. He developed his thoughts into a manuscript, now awaiting publication. This text—unlike any other of which I know about this body of work—looks closely at how Albers’s color choices interact with each other in specific ways; it also describes poetically their effect after extended looking. Most people don’t spend the amount of time in front of these works to have the experience Horowitz recounts, but hopefully more of them will. In addition, Horowitz speaks about Albers’s color course in the new digital format of the artist’s influential book Interaction of Color (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. He was also part of a new online art-appreciation course being developed at Washtenaw Community College.

At a memorial celebration of Horowitz’s life at Washtenaw in late October 2013, family, friends, and colleagues remembered him as deeply humane, curious, warm, devoted to his family, funny, and generous with his time, intellect, and heart. He leaves behind a trail of people who loved him and a host of younger artists who, thanks to his inspiration, are devoted to teaching well.

Filed under: Obituaries