The Debschitz School and Formalism’s Subject
Atelier for Teaching and Experimenting in Applied and Free Art, founded in Munich in 1902 by Hermann Obrist and Wilhelm von Debschitz, was arguably the most successful of numerous independent art schools established in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. The “Debschitz School,” as it came to be known, attracted primarily women who were not allowed to enroll in academies at the time. A technique of drawing that Obrist claimed to have learned while experiencing occult visions and that gave free rein to the movements of the body was central to the school’s curriculum, which consolidated all artistic activity under the rubric of “design” (Gestaltung), especially in the first-year basic design course (Elementarunterricht). This drawing technique had been instituted first in elementary and secondary schools as part of the educational reforms that accompanied Kulturkampf, the campaign undertaken by the Prussian government against Catholic minorities after Germany’s Unification. The chapter provides an account of how the new drawing pedagogy at the turn of the twentieth century was forged for a subject imagined as oversensitive and suggestible and thus in need of kinaesthetic knowing, on the one hand, and techniques to discipline its potential irrationality, on the other.
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