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The theories of Hans Hofmann and their influence on his west-coast Canadian students Lee, Roger


The topic of my thesis is an analysis of Hans Hofmann's theoretical writings on art and their possible influence on his West-Coast Canadian students. I have included a short biography of Hofmann in order that the reader may become aware of the events that led up to his theoretical development. Through all available published material on and by Hans Hofmann, I have endeavoured to analyze and to explain his theories which are often quoted but seldom understood. Hofmann's art was inspired by nature. This inspiration enabled him to create on the canvas the perceivable movements of "push and pull" and "expansion and contraction." These movements are caused by form and color on a bare canvas which creates the combined effect of two and three dimensionality. However, the two dimensionality of the picture plane is retained momentarily because visually it appears two dimensional but past experience of the observer creates the effect of three dimensionality. These movements of "push and pull" and "expansion and contraction," which are perpendicular to each other, are created by the simultaneous development of form and color. If these movements are able to reflect the artist's mind, sensibility, temperament and past experience, a symphonic painting, a category of the fine arts, or a work of art will have been created. The spirit which has been captured, emits the artist's life for the physical duration of the painting. Although these theories were taught by Hofmann at his schools, he did not expect his students to accept them without a second thought. He wanted his students to develop from them as he had developed from others. The effect of Hofmann's teachings on the contemporary theories of individual students was ascertained by means of a series of interviews with Hofmann's West-Coast Canadian students, Lionel Thomas, Takao Tanabe and Donald Jarvis. Lionel Thomas was greatly influenced by Hofmann's role as an educator. Both Hofmann and Thomas stimulated their students and helped to raise the artistic level of their individual environments. Takao Tanabe said he had rejected Hofmann's theories. If Hofmann was influential on Tanabe, the latter has constricted, denunciated or attempted to forget that influence. Jarvis contrasts both Thomas and Tanabe for he neither accepts or rejects Hofmann's teachings. Jarvis has, as Hofmann had fifty years earlier in Paris, developed from what he learnt from his teacher. Hofmann's influence has not ended, for Thomas, Tanabe and Jarvis are teachers and they, with art historians influenced by Hofmann, still propagate his theories.

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