Remembering Jerry Hausman (1925-2021): Art Educator, Scholar, Intellect and Friend
When I first met Jerry Hausman in 2009 it felt like I had discovered an open door that I had been seeking for a long time. He was the living memory of the formation of the Abstract Expressionist and art education movements in New York City during the late 1940’s and early 50’s. He always expressed a sense of exhilaration about that time, and spoke about the feeling of possibility that was in the air as though it had happened only yesterday.
He had been in the middle of it all, with endless stories to tell. We would talk for hours, till our mouths were dry and we had to grab a glass of water just to keep going. He recounted the artists, writers, teachers, critics art educators, dealers, galleries, and personalities that were part of a rich and dynamic praxis he was swept up in. Jerry was a rare kind of personality, someone who was essential in building the rich networks that connected artists, educators, writers and intellectuals over a 70 year span. He had been the kind of essential person that held the art world together and made things happen, part of the glue that kept it together and made it work. As a professional artist and art criric this was something I had ceaselessly looked for but almost never found. One great exception was Jerry Hausman. Jerry was a critical innovator in the field of public school art education right after WWII, when John Dewey’s emphasis on “Art as Experience” was transforming the field in radical ways. He was a “walking history of art education in the United States,”1 as one of his friends put it. His career lasted more than six decades. In that time, he served as president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, head of the art department at Ohio State University, Vice President of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and as professor of art education at New York University After WWII, Jerry enrolled at the Pratt Institute to study commercial art. For a while he was a cartoonist doing inking for the Captain Marvel Comics. He began studying art education in New York City at Columbia University in 1947 while also attending the famous Art Students League where he had Hale Woodruff and Reginald Marsh as teachers. He also had William Baziotes as an important teacher and mentor. Jerry ended up teaching at NYU in 1948. “I fell in love with Washington Square… I was within three minutes walking distance of the Cedar Bar.” 2 There he experienced the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist art scene first hand. Hans Hofmann had his classes above a country music night club called the Village Barn at 35 E 8th Street. “His classes consisted of experienced serious painters and then old ladies with tennis shoes… We used to have artist’s panels. That was the beginning of The Club,“ 3 a social gathering hall that became famous for the artists, writers, and intellectuals who gathered to discuss modern art.
I was there at the beginning…the whole experience of going to school there was just so eye opening…my fellow students were Alfred Leslie, Larry Rivers, George Segal. It was an art education program that had in it the active participation of people who were in the middle of the art world. I went to the early meetings of “The Club.” In an evening you would have Alfred Barr or Leo Castelli, Harold Rosenberg or Clement Greenberg, [Adolph] Gottlieb or Ad Reinhardt. Ad Reinhardt later became one of my closest personal friends… Ad was incredibly bright. His insight and sensitivity comes out a lot in his writing. Ad was teaching at Brooklyn College… Rothko was a difficult person [to know]. Very quiet. People called him “the Rabbi”… Franz Kline was a ‘tough guy”… [Robert] Motherwell was always the most impressive because he was the most like an academic and was trained in philosophy…very articulate and spoke with eloquence, very eruidite. He was quite a hero to me because he was so smart… [Willem] de Kooning hardly ever spoke. He was a strong presence there.4
Jerry recalled the early dealers “Sam Kootz and Sidney Janis…both these guys manufactured shirts. They did not come out of the art world in the sense of [having] any formal training or history or criticism. They were in the art business.” 5 He would regularly go to the Cedar Tavern where he saw Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, de Kooning and beat writers like Allen Ginsberg. A friend of Jerry’s was in Hans Hofmann’s art class and invited him to come to his critiques.
We used to go to the Hofmann’s critiques on Friday evening above the Village Barn—the Hoffman School of Art. He was just a master in the fact that his classes were not a homogenous group. They [students] were not at the same level of training. He had beginners, some middle, and some very very experienced artists working there. What always impressed me about his critiques is he would arrange the work with a view towards a sequential lecture that he wanted to give…he was putting together his narrative of what art ought to be like. He would talk about “push-pull”…it was like going to a performance.6
Keith Brown, an art educator currently teaching at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, IL, was a student when he met Jerry in 2008. He recalls Jerry recounting an important studio visitation.
He remembers being in Jackson Pollock’s studio…seeing the drip paintings…he remembers not liking or understanding them. …then [later] coming to the realization that they were ground breaking, that art was breaking the rules, that action painting was legitimate and seeing the canvas as a space to act…he understood how radical it was.7
Jerry was close to Irving Sandler, author of the seminal text on Abstract Expressionism The Triumph of American Painting first published in 1970. “I was Irving Sandler’s doctoral advisor. I had known him since 1948 when he was a student at NYU and chronicaled The Club’s panel discussion.” 8 Jerry also had deep and lasting friendships with George Segal, Ad Reinhardt, and Alan Kaprow. “George Segal, a close friend of Jerry’s, would scavenge throwaway material from the Johnson & Johnson factory in New Brunswick New Jersey where he lived. This is where he got a lot of plaster gauze that he experimented with to make his figurative sculptures—wrapping the forms and figures and putting them in staged scenes with found objects.” 9 Jerry even ended up being a model for one of Segal’s plastering sessions. Reinhardt and Hofmann had a strong impact on Jerry’s teaching and philosophy.
When we talk about Hofmann or Reinhardt we are talking about pedagogy, their approach to teaching. A lot of my interests go back and address the task of teaching another audience…younger people, children…that’s where I started. I go back to the problem of what we are teaching children, how they see their world, how they identify what’s important for their picture, their expression…their concepts.” 10
Jerry frequently attended lectures by art scholar and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim at the New School for Social Research and got to know him very well.
I cannot say enough nice things about him…as you go through your life as a teacher you try to model yourself after people. He was always one of my models. I have never known a man who would prepare his lectures as carefully as he did and deliver them with such clarity. I used to go to Meyer Schapiro lectures also. Meyer was teaching at Columbia…this is an art historian who could speak about any creative art with such expertise.11
Jerry’s time in the New York art world was well summed up in a Harold Rosenberg quote he often repeated. “What goes on the canvas is not a picture but an event.” 12 This insight profoundly influenced Jerry’s approach to innovating the field of art education. “My education was not an organized curriculum, it was coming of age in a place where a lot of things were happening. I didn’t realize how much I was learning when I was doing it.” 13 In 1953 after getting his PhD in art education at NYU, Jerry was whisked off to Ohio State University where he became president of the art department. He was very effective in expanding the art program while building the art education department based on the innovative work of Viktor Lowenfeld. Before this time art education in public schools focused on art as eye-hand coordination drawing from life, and competence in craft. Lowenfeld’s approach was radically different. “The function of teaching of art was to help in the expression and realization of ideas… Children draw what they feel not what they see” 14 as opposed to art as imitation. The “Conference on Creativity” Jerry attended at Penn State in 1953 was groundbreaking in how it emphasized how “creative experience became an intergral part of a person’s…stream of living…where youth can come to grips with ideas and feelings they want to embody in an organic form.” 15 Art education was undergoing radical transformation. After establishing the department at Ohio State University, Jerry returned to NYU as a teacher in art education. By then he had already established himself as a fairly influential art educator in changing the way people were teaching art. He also worked at the John D. Rockefeller III fund giving grants to artists. He had a real “crusade about the money getting to the right people.” 16 Leah Hausman recalled how her father:
always found artists appealing and Charismatic… There was always a crazy group of guys [around him]…they all had the same mission. They were fighting the good fight together…he attracted good and interesting people right to the end. Dad was really into Alan Kaprow’s work in New York, happenings, artists coming together in a space…he talked about John Cage and Merce Cunningham.17
Jerry would go to their performances in grungy downtown warehouses. He was also actively interested in politics and took relish protesting Nixon at the march on Washington in 1969. He was deeply concerned about civil rights and the Vietnam War and remained politically active “right to the end.” After teaching at NYU he went on to become president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he invited Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Robert Wilson to lecture and perform at the Walker Art Center. Chicago artist Wesley Kimler attended MCAD in 1978–79 when Jerry was president. “During Jerry’s tenure there…MCAD was probably the best art college in America in large part due to Jerry.” 18 Kimler and Jerry had a close relationship. When Kilmer’s work at MCAD raised controversy “… he was fierce. He stood up for me. I will never forget it…he was a special man…a champion of mine and was throughout the course of his life afterwards.” 19 Jerry brought artists like Robert Irwin, Iranian artist Siah Armajani, and Robert Bauer, known for his intense psychological portraiture, to MCAD. “It was a very heady place. I was stunned watching conceptualism 101 being reinvented…Jerry was this huge influence and brought this level of sophistication to the Minneapolis art scene.“ 20 I got to know Jerry well in 2009 when he showed interest in the local effort to reestablish the New Art Examiner as an art publication. We ended up having endless rambling discussions about the problems of art and culture under the neoliberal economic system of the last 40 years.
I think from the actions of the art world and the culture at large…the biggest problem we are facing is the commodification of art…thinking of art as an object of commerce. There is so much [of that] in the museum world and in the gallery world. Witness now the new director of the LA County Museum of Art his background is as an art dealer…spectacle and aesthetic marketing are part of the culture at large…and that has become the big problem.21
He saw the same decline happening in public education. Keith Brown recalls his thoughts:
The crisis today [in art education] comes from…confusing evaluation and testing… there has been a very strong move to measure the effectiveness of education in terms of performance on tests…that has been a disaster because it leaves out vast areas of learning and puts emphasis upon the regurgitation of certain kinds of things. …Present day living seems to conspire to rob us of powers and capacities to respond imaginatively and creatively. Crisis and ambiguity are increasing pressures for simplification and premature closures…if you can’t test for it it’s not important…The subjective is elusive…it can’t be codified…we are dealing with codes within all areas of culture… In some ways the codification is tied to commodification.22
Jerry was always aware of the hazards of commodification in art and education. He would quote Ad Reinhardt’s thoughts on the future of art. “The next revolution will be the emancipation of the university academy of art from its marketplace.” 23Clearly things have gone the opposite direction since Ad spoke those wishful words, given how the mainstream art world is more market-oriented now than ever. Keith recalls “We had lots of conversations about the commodification of art—about capitalism and neoliberalism, how it hurts the art in general. He was very much against the commodification of art.” 24 Like me Keith saw the uniqueness, sincerety, and value of Jerry in an era when social fragmentation, alienation, and economic austerity were on the rise. Keith recalls:
He was so genuine. I don’t see that a lot in the art world…he was very real...a very authentic person. He was a gifted thinker and he did like to go deep…and so kind and so tender and loving. I have talked to lots of smart people and lots of PhD professors and never got that level of warmth that I would get from Jerry…he was a real connector of people…I learned that from him…he thought the world was interconnected and he really tried to make that so…Because he lived such a long life he could see things so clearly. Generous, passionate caring, he cared so much he would connect you with someone else. He knew everyone who was interesting.25
Jerry’s daughter Leah remarked on his lifelong commitment to integrity.
He was such a nice guy that it was easy to lose sight of the fact that he was fierce…Dad would take a stand. He was very principled…you always felt he was fighting the good fight, that he was 100% behind you for the right reasons, and not afraid to tell you when he thought you were in the wrong…Ebullient, positive, optimistric, a real people person…he brought people together.26
Jerry was an energetic participant during a critical period of American Modernist art history. He was an active agent who helped make important art movements and innovative art education become a reality. His dynamic personality and energetic intelligence transformed art departments and institutions while forging close bonds with creative people for over half a century. He lived a life of engagement and human connection that is almost impossible to find in the art world of today. I will never forget him telling me. “I want to use my memories to help people who are working now…I want to enrich others. I really do.” 27 Jerome Hausman was an art educator and writer who lived in Evanston. He had a BA from Cornell University (1946) and an MA / PhD from New York University (1953). Between his graduate programs, Hausman studied at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League of New York in1947. In his incredible career he served as Director of the School of Art at Ohio State University (1953–1968); Associate Professor, New York University (1968–1975); President of Minneapolis College of Art and Design (1975–1982); Vice President of Massachusetts College of Art and Design (1982–1983). In the mid-1980s to the 2000s he was visiting professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Hausman continued to review books, write papers, present at conferences, receive awards, and research the field of art education up until his recent passing in October of 2021 at the age of 96. Diane Thodos is an artist and art critic who lives in Evanston, IL. She is a Pollack Krasner Grant Recipient who exhibits internationally. Her work is in the collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the National Hellenic Museum, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the Block Museum at Northwestern University, and the Illinois Holocaust Museum among many others. For more information visit dianethodos.com. Footnotes All interviews were with Diane Thodos 1. Interview with Keith Brown Dec. 15 2021 2. Interview with Jerry Hausman Dec. 18 2009 3. Ibid 4. Ibid 5. Ibid 6. Ibid 7. Interview with Keith Brown Dec. 15 2021 8. Interview with Jerry Hausman Dec. 18 2009 9. Interview with Keith Brown Dec. 15 2021 10. Interview with Jerry Hausman Dec. 18 2009 11. Ibid 12. theartstory.org/critic/rosenberg-harold/ 13. Interview with Jerry Hausman Dec. 18 2009 14. Ibid 15. Interview with Keith Brown Dec. 15 2021 16. Ibid 17. Interview with Leah and Sandy Hausman, Nov 24.2021 18. Ibid 19. Ibid 20. Interview with Wesley Kimler Dec. 15 2021 21. Interview with Leah and Sandy Hausman, Nov 24.2021 22. Interview with Keith Brown Dec. 15 2021 23. Ibid 24. Ibid 25. Ibid 26. Interview with Jerry Hausman Dec. 18 2009