Not being well-versed in art (or architecture) I once thought that Bauhaus referred to a style. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to learn that there was an actual Bauhaus School of Design. To be fair, Bauhaus did come to mean a specific style in the arts, and there was, indeed, a definite Bauhaus movement. It all began, of course, with the school, founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius. The school was operational from 1919 through 1933. You’ll find an excellent essay about the Bauhaus movement as part of the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From Wikipedia – Bauhaus
“It was grounded in the idea of creating a Gesamtkunstwerk (comprehensive artwork) in which all the arts would eventually be brought together. The Bauhaus style later become one of the most influential currents in modern design, modernist architecture and art, design, and architectural education. The Bauhaus movement had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.”
I don’t think we can fully understand or appreciate Bauhaus thinking without first putting it into its historical context. The school — which would, in time, have three separate locations — was first founded in the city of Weimar about six months after the end of World War I. Germany was in ruins, and Bauhaus (meaning school of building) was a way by which the nation and its people could rebuild. The school encouraged artists and designers to use their talents to help put a broken society back together.
Basic shapes — circle, triangle, square — promoted a “back to basics” approach in all areas of art and design. Although the school was short-lived, its influence is still seen through the art world. A few of the “basic Bauhaus principles” include:
- There should be no distinction between artists and craftsmen.
- Form follows function.
- Gesamtkunstwerk or “the complete work of art”.
- True materials.
- Emphasis on technology.
- Smart use of resources.
- Simplicity and effectiveness.
- Constant development.
The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building! To embellish buildings was once the noblest function of the fine arts; they were the indispensable components of great architecture. Today the arts exist in isolation, from which they can be rescued only through the conscious, cooperative effort of all craftsmen. Architects, painters, and sculptors must recognize anew and learn to grasp the composite character of a building both as an entity and in its separate parts. Only then will their work be imbued with the architectonic spirit which it has lost as “salon art.” The old schools of art were unable to produce this unity; how could they, since art cannot be taught. They must be merged once more with the workshop. The mere drawing and painting world of the pattern designer and the applied artist must become a world that builds again. When young people who take a joy in artistic creation once more begin their life’s work by learning a trade, then the unproductive “artist” will no longer be condemned to deficient artistry, for their skill will now be preserved for the crafts, in which they will be able to achieve excellence. Architects, sculptors, painters, we all must return to the crafts! For art is not a “profession.” There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare moments of inspiration, transcending the consciousness of his will, the grace of heaven may cause his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in a craft is essential to every artist. Therein lies the prime source of creative imagination. Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist! Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.
You can find the complete “Manifesto” and “Program” here.
I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Bauhaus style. Simplicity is good… but give me a bit of embellishment, too. I like old buildings with frills and fancy work. I like ornate crafts. I like old houses with Victorian “gingerbread” and all sorts of fancy needlework. I guess, all in all, I like to think of art as exactly that — art — and not necessarily a tool by which we create the world around us. While I find the Bauhaus ideas and philosophy interesting to study, I can’t fully embrace it.
All the same, learning about Gropius and his attempts to help rebuild a society through “arts and crafts” has been interesting, indeed.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s “Art Quiz” feature.