A seat of learning in modern art, industrial art and architecture
is restored to life in Dessau, Germany.
Staatliches Bauhaus, the institute for experiments and education of German architecture, industrial art and handicraft was founded in Weimar by the architect Walter Gropius in 1919. In the middle of the 1920s Bauhaus moved to Dessau into a radically modern edifice designed by Gropius. The new Bauhaus art institute was inaugurated on 4th December 1926. The building complex was made of steel and glass. It was considered an architectonic wonder.
The origins of Bauhaus were far from the earlier methods of education in industrial art, art proper and architecture. Its programme was based on the newest knowledge in pedagogy. The idealistic basis of Bauhaus was a socially orientated programme. An artist must be conscious of his social responsibility to the community. On the other hand the community has to accept the artist and support him.
But above all the intention with Bauhaus was to develop creative minds for architecture and industry and thus influence them so that they would be able to produce artistically, technically and practically balanced utensils. The institute included workshops for making models of type houses and all kinds of utensils, and departments of e.g. advertising art, stage planning, photography, and typography. The neoplastic and constructive movements of art did to a great extent steer the form lines of Bauhaus. Teachers were such masters of modern art as Kandinsky and Klee. The Bauhaus idealogy was spread by periodicals and a notable book series called Bauhausbücher.
Walter Gropius (1883-1969) came from the school of industrial art 'Grossherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstbewerbe' founded by Henry van de Velden in 1906. The influence of artists on the German industrial produce had remained rather modest and ? The forces had to be united.
At the beginning of October 1907 a hundred architects, designers, factory owners, and friends of art met in Munich. They together founded the 'Deutscher Werkbund'. Its aim was to improve the form and quality of utility wares.
Werkbund had partly got its influences from the English movement of Arts and Crafts. It was, however, more open to machine production; but at the same time it had almost a missionary character. The openness to the industrialized society still was one of the mainstays of Werkbund's success. Nevertheless, there was no real break-through before World War I.
Deutsches Werkbund arranged a large fair in Cologne in 1914. Instead of new ideas there were many variants of old solutions. Gropius saw the situation.
The Influence of the War
After World War I industrial art was not any longer an individualistic phenomenon. Goals for the activities were set collectively inside industrial art and at the same time there was an endeavor to give new arguments for the necessity of a change. Naturally, the opposing forces had also been strengthened by the upheavals caused by the first world war. On the other hand quite unpredicted forces were turned free. Thus the twenties were full of contrasts, both fruitful and destructive.
The move from abundance to poverty - especially in the subdued Germany struggling with great economical problems - created a new kind of consciousness. To begin with it appeared in the late expressionistic emotional manifestations and before long also in a formal asceticism. Bauhaus was a reaction to these social changes. Social starting points and new esthetic goals were not easy to combine with the new human being. The result was sometimes a puritanism that emphasized squareness.
On the other hand smooth, tensely stretched or softly flowing forms could be combined with brilliant, pure colours. After the mid 1920s a certain hygienic freshness also filled the furnished rooms, and all kinds of abundance had to step aside. No wonder, then, that the shining tubular steel was invented as furniture material.
The education of art proper and applied arts had to be reformed. You had to have the courage to tackle the problems of technicality and machination. And at the same time, as Henry van de Velde pointed out, 'In his inner the artist is a glowing individualist, a free spontaneous creator'.
On the basis of the
experiences gained at the Weimar Bauhaus, Gropius summed up his
central starting points in 1925:
To Gropius changing the form of a product also meant a new definition of the requirements presented to the designer: 'Bauhaus wishes to... educate a new type of worker for industry and handicrafts, so far missing, who simultaneously has the command over techniques as well as form... in the future, handicraft will show in a new function unit as a supporter of industrial experimental production. Speculative experimentation in laboratory workshops create models - types - for the production to realize'.
By the mid 1920s Gropius had defined more exactly the starting points of modern design and its doctrines. Thus the Bauhaus curriculum combined theoretic education (a primary course and composition theory) and practical ? training in the educational workshops. As teachers, Bauhaus Masters, Gropius engaged among others Lyonel Feininger, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Oscar Schlemmer, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.
The Preliminary Course Most Important
In the focus of the basic education that everybody had to attend was the Preliminary Course. It was the Swiss painter Johannes Itten that brought the idea and method of a preliminary course to Bauhaus. Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and German Josef Albers developed the preliminary course further. Only after having passed the Preliminary Course successfully, a student wasaccepted to professional studies in the workshops.
The basic education was also supported with some obligatory courses in which - for instance the ones held by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky - the emphasis was merely on pictorial questions. Model drawing was also included in the basic education. The Bauhaus method of preliminary courses was adopted by art and design schools all over the world.
Johannes Itten had the idea of preliminary courses with him from Vienna. He had developed it in his art school there. He let the students take into their hands wood, bast, glass, wire, plate, and coal - often?. The material characteristics of the stuffs were studied together. The materials that were considered suitable for it were formed into plastic figures, often works reminding of Dadaistic art, that was modern at the time. The characteristics of the different materials, their suitability or unsuitability for artistic use were discussed during the practical adaptation.
Works by old masters were analyzed. Their structure, composition, colour, and use of light became objects of study. The study of colour yielded particularly essential knowledge. Itten's colour theory was based on physics as well as psychology. It was the colour theory of a sensitive artist. Its most important aspects were the complementary and contrary effects. In these respects Itten has remained exemplary up to present times.
The Preliminary Course aimed at removing the limitations of professionalism. Having passed the Preliminary Course the students were ready to choose the main lines of their studies. They could choose the workshops they wanted. In this way, the best possible starting point for progress along the student's own capacities was given. At the same time a path was found to their own necessary specialization, development of their own skills, and adaptation of an innovative hold to their work. It was noted that removing the limitations of professionalism was not in conflict with the claims for specialization. The Bauhaus system allowed for a work practice built on varied social, technical, and methodical basic knowledge.
Specialization together with solid basic knowledge was not a risk when the students were employed by the production. They were able to follow the changes in technology and society in a flexible manner. Homogeneous professional roles started to dissolve in practice, or at least to change radically. At the same time it seemed necessary for the student to take personal responsible for his studies and the development ? of professional skill.
This new pedagogic approach did, of course, motivated both in vocational subjects and practical workshop work. The Bauhaus workshops were the birthplaces of new industrial designs. First of all an industrialization of the handicrafts was realized. The results also showed in the field of textile art. Thousands of experiments with textiles were performed. Many of them were adopted by the factories for production, and they were also eagerly copied. Likewise photography was taken more seriously into the curriculum at the end of the 1920s. Oskar Schlemmer lead the work of the exhibition department. He trained painters, technicians, actors, dancers, and directors. One of the main goals of Bauhaus was to renew architecture. The leaders of Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, were architects.
The Bauhaus Master Josef Albers taught in the Preliminary Courses 1923-1933. Before this he had been a pupil of Itten. To begin with he lead the work instruction, the special aim of which was to instruct in the use of tools. From 1928 onwards the responsibility of the complete two-term course was Albers's. Kandinsky's part of the preliminary education was a seminar on analytic drawing and colour. Kandinsky was one of the central personalities of Bauhaus.
Personal relations in Bauhaus were not as harmonious as they may seem half a century later. Itten left after strong disagreements. Moholy-Nagy quit in 1928, Klee in 1931. Some, for instance Kandinsky and Albers, stayed loyal until the closing of Bauhaus in 1933.
It was not easy to get general allowances for the new type of art education. A political pressure was felt from the beginning. In 1925 the Thüringer government withdrew its economic support from the education. Bauhaus found a new location in Dessau. The city gave Gropius building projects: a school, workshop and atelier building (1925-1926) has remained in history by the name 'Bauhaus Dessau'.
To the Bauhaus building
also belonged dwellings for the Masters. They were planned to be
models for a way of living along the style of the new machine
era. On the other hand they were built in a very casual manner.
These appropriate houses that have received much praise, could be
used as models for similar projects only in a limited sense -
their cost of building was very high. Oskar Schlemmer wrote
petrified to his wife:
In spite of the successes, Gropius left the Bauhaus leadership in 1928. His successor was the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer. He promoted the scientific development of the design training with vigour. However, Meyer failed as leader due to political disagreement inside Bauhaus. He was dismissed in 1930.
The German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was invited as director. He was compelled to cut down on the educational programme. Practical work was reduced. Bauhaus approached a type of 'vocational university'. It began to loose the splendid universality that had made it so excellent. Training of vocational subjects started to dominate the initial steps of education. As a matter of fact this tendency became stronger after that Mies van der Rohe had transformed the school into a private institute in Berlin in 1932.
The Nazi majority of Dessau suspended the seat of learning. Bauhaus was even as private institution so much hated by the National Socialist government that the police closed it up on 11th April, 1933.
Work Goes On
Bauhaus radiated its effects outside Germany already in the 1920s. The significance of Bauhaus was perhaps greatest in the United States. In Finland its direct influence between the wars does not seem to have been very great in the light of present day research. Not until after World War II the Finnish industrial art education has taken more impression of Bauhaus.
For the purpose of a critical evaluation of the Bauhaus ideology and its influences, an archive and museum were founded in Darmstadt in 1960. It was moved to the western zone of Berlin in 1971. An initiative was taken in 1986 for creating a new, independent Bauhaus-Dessau. The New Bauhaus has approached art and technology from the ecologic angle. The questions of environment and dwelling and problems connected with them have been taken up for development in cooperation with the inhabitants of Dessau. In the town surrounded by gravely polluted industrial areas the school to begin with is looking for new solutions of the environmental problems and redevelopment of the worn-down dwelling areas. This autumn the theatre is in turn, and next year design. Through the reunion of Germany Bauhaus is again beginning to open up windows towards the rest of Europe and to the New World.