Inarguably, one of the most influential causes behind the development of many upheavals in modern art was the Bauhaus art school. Founded and directed by Walter Gropius in Germany on April 1, 1919, Staatliches Bauhaus sought to reform art education, and in doing so, to create an entirely new type of society. The Industrial Revolution played a large role in the establishment of Bauhaus as well, a period in which machines fanned the intellectual flames of men such as John Ruskin and William Morris, who believed that something needed to be done in order to preserve appreciation for the time, labour, and care put into works by traditional craftsmen and artists.
Objects and furnishings once toiled over in the name of quality and prestige were now being produced at alarmingly quick rates. For those that believed mass production erased all aspects of individuality from a creation, factories represented the permanent decline of workmanship and ingenuity. Printmaker John Ruskin disregarded the use of machines brought about by the revolution as they did more than simply aid in the “muscular action of the human hand.” Textile designer, writer and artist William Morris had similar feelings of negativity, as he believed it “dishonest that machines created goods pretending to me homemade.” Various strategies were employed during the Industrial Revolution in order to “revive craftsmanship and reform design.” Examples can be seen in the work of the German architect Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) and in the ambitions of Henry Cole (1808-1882), the organiser of the “Great Exhibition.” Both advocated strongly for arts education, but Cole really wanted to prove that craft museums could serve a role important as schools in the cultural realm.
Influenced by such thinking, as well as by manufacturing groups such as AEG (General Electric Company) and Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation), the Bauhaus in time affected everything categorised as an art form, from architecture to typography.
During its lifespan, the school was relocated twice from its original spot in Weimar, Germany. In the early 1920s, a clash between local economic interests and the Bauhaus faction occurred. As a government-funded school, the Bauhaus was rendered an enemy of the general public, devouring taxes to keep afloat. Gropius then sought to find other sources of income for his institution. Unable to do so completely, Gropius was given notice by the Thuringian Ministry of Education that only six-month contracts were permitted to be offered to the Bauhaus’ teaching staff. Not long after, both Gropius and the “Council of Masters” publicly announced the imminent closing of the school. In order to ensure its survival, Gropius and the school’s faculty sought other locales able to take up the necessary responsibilities left by the city of Weimar.
They thereby accepted a “generous” offer from the city of Dessau, making it the new home of the Bauhaus. The move to Dessau witnessed a great improvement in the overall functionality of the school. An example of the improvements was the addition of departments such as the architectural one in 1927, directed by Hannes Meyer, as well as staff increases seen in the hiring of the “Young Masters” such as Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Hinnerk Scheper, and Joost Schmidt.
Bauhaus always conducted itself through the pursuit of the three following aims: 1) to rescue all the arts from the isolation in which each found itself and to train the craftsman, painters and sculptors of the future to embark on cooperative projects in which all their skills would be combined; 2) to elevate the status of crafts to that which the “fine arts’” then enjoyed; and 3) to establish “constant contact with the leaders of the crafts and industries of the country.”
This diagram, which Gropius published in 1922, illustrated the structure of the school curriculum. Training started with the six-month preliminary course. The two middle rings represent the three-year period of workshop training together with form theory. “Bau” (Building) – was the final stage of education – which at this point was not yet offered. Herbert Bayer (1900-1985), recognised as one of the longest surviving students of the Bauhaus, was a well-known graphic designer. However, thanks to versatility gained through the school programs, he was also highly capable of building furniture. Similar to Bayer is Marianne Brandt (1893-1983), a German painter and sculptor best known internationally for her creation of thousands of designs for adjustable metal lamps. And these two examples are but a small percentage of the multitude of multi-skilled practitioners who attended the Bauhaus. Other especially famous names include Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky.
Under the direction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe the Bauhaus developed, from 1930 onwards, into a technical school of architecture with subsidiary art and workshop departments. Most unfortunately, the capture of political control in Germany by the Nazi party forced the permanent closure of Bauhaus early in April of 1933.
Although physically shut down in their native land, the intellectual concerns fuelling the Bauhaus refused to die. The “New Bauhaus” was founded in Chicago in 1937 by Moholy-Nagy, a former professor who studied law before taking up teaching duties at the original school in the 1920s. Moholy-Nagy had a significant impact on the instruction and philosophy at the Bauhaus right from the start of his teaching, and was even appointed Gropius’ “prime minister.”
Fortunately, the building in Dessau was restored fifty years later in 1976, a way of paying homage to the sway Bauhaus ideals had over art curriculums and ideas about craft across the globe. Well-known schools of the fine arts, art history, and art theory from London to Tokyo to every learning centre throughout the world owe gratitude to the Bauhaus for providing them with the foundations on which each piece they construct has been directly influenced by the school’s focus on excellence, cross overs, and cooperation over the course of its short, stop-and-go history.
Sources: Frank Whitford, Bauhaus, London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 2006// Ben Davis, “The Bauhaus in History“, Artnet.com