Wedged between two World Wars and riddled with political interference, the Bauhaus school of arts and crafts was a ground breaking institute that merged the boundaries between craftsmen and artists. It was established in Weimar, Germany by Walter Groupius, who had a vision to teach a syllabus that unified these practices. At the time this was controversial as the design of things such as household objects was not considered to be art, but it lead to the creation of many everyday items that had an artistic element. I find this particularly inspiring as he validated art by allowing it have a practical role within society.
Original Bauhaus seal, designed by Karl-Peter Rohl
The colleges first few years did not prove to be financially viable, this lead Groupius to push the focus onto designing for mass production and so the college assumed the slogan ‘Art into Industry.’
In 1925 the college was moved to the far more industrious town of Dessua where Groupius built a new building which became highly influential,, leading the way for modern architecture. With it’s steel frame construction and glass curtain wall it was sleek and modern as well as being specifically designed to maximise space, incorporating the workshops alongside the teachers and students quarters.
The Bauhaus school 1925-
Hannes Meyer had been at the Bauhaus school only 9 months before Groupius recommended that he succeeded his role of director in 1928. Meyer took the opportunity to restructure many aspects of the Bauhaus and address what he felt to be important issues. In his previous role of head a architecture at the school he had been frustrated at the lack of practical opportunity for his students ‘For 3/4 of a year now we have done nothing but theory in our building department and have had to sit and watch while Groupius’ private practice is permanently busy.’ And so once in charge he divided the architecture department into two sections, architectural theory and practical building, extending the course to 9 semesters. What was once the smallest department at Bauhaus was now a main focus of the school. Along with this were changes such as an altered syllabus, compulsory classes, increased hours for Bauhaus Masters Klee and Kandinsky and the expansion of the preliminary course. One of the his most successful alterations to the school was his reorganisation of the workshops, increasing revenues of both the students and the school. On the other hand he also decided that the bar should be lowered for the standard of the students allowed to enrol which soon led to overfilled workshops. This was a decision that was revoked shortly after with a press release announcing that they were now limiting workshops to just 150 students.
Caricature of Hannes Meyer by Adolf Hofmeister
With several Bauhaus Masters resigning Mayer was in the process of planning further reform and the appointment of new masters but due to his dismissal from the school on 1 August 1930, due to worry over his left wing political views, his plans were not realised. Subsequently he was replaced by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a fellow architect, who reinforced the architectural focus of the school and imposed further changes to the Bauhaus curriculum. But as political unrest grew Mies thought it wise to relocate to Berlin, where the now much smaller Bauhaus school would reside.
Bauhaus classrooms were set up more like a medieval trades system, instead of teachers and pupils there were masters and apprentices and a lot of the classes were student lead.
The first year would introduce the apprentices to an overview of the Bauhaus way of study, this entailed learning about colour theory as well as working with different materials and exploring their properties. This method has proven to be successful as a similar foundation year can still be found within art education today, particularly in America where many Bauhaus Artists emigrated.
Upon completion of the foundation year they would go on to study specific subjects such as woodwork, pottery and textiles. The Bauhaus institute was open to people of all social backgrounds as well as women, however they primarily studied textiles.
Groupious appointed several lead professionals to teach the students some of whom were Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Joseph Albers and Vasily Kandinsky, although as the school progressed many former students, or apprentices, went on to become masters.
Johannes Itten was possibly one of the most influential Bauhaus masters and was responsible for the creation of the ‘Vorkus’ or preliminary course that was taught to all Bauhaus students. Although he had originally trained as an elementary school teacher he had later found a passion in painting and was influenced greatly by Adolf Hoelzel whom he had studied under. After being introduced through Groupius’s wife Itten was invited to conduct one of the first talks at the Bauhaus school and shortly after, on October 1st 1919, he became a Bauhaus Master. His teachings were “the backbone of Bauhaus education” often beginning with breathing and gymnastic exercises to allow the students to relax.
He had several focus’s when teaching one of which was examining contrasting elements as well as exploring various materials, getting to know their properties fully in order to better understand their potential. He had a particular interest in geometric shapes, which are of course a primary element of Bauhaus art, giving them their own characteristics
Modern Bauhaus Influences
Bauhaus was clearly an influential movement, but how much has it impacted today’s world of Art and Design? As I mentioned earlier an element of Bauhaus’s syllabus remains within many Art and Design courses but looking beyond that there are influences within industries such as fashion, jewellery and architecture to name a few.