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How to Recognize the Influence of Bauhaus Style?

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May 23, 2016
Alias of Ksenija Pantelić

The Bauhaus school was the most influential art school of the 20th century, one whose approach to teaching, and understanding art’s relationship to society and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and the United States long after it closed. The Bauhaus style of looking at art and seeking new developments is seen to lay in the 19th century and in the anxieties about the soullessness of manufacturing and its products, and in fears about arts’ loss of purpose in society. The Bauhaus, a German word meaning ‘ house of building ‘, founded in 1919 in Weimer, Germany, by the architect Walter Gropius, aimed to merge the two schools of Fine Arts and Applied Arts in perfect harmony, and to reconcile the art and craft while producing the new aesthetics that we now know as design. Even though the Bauhaus abandoned much of the old academic tradition of fine art education, it emphasized intellectual and theoretical pursuits, seeing the medieval crafts guild as an important method of teaching as well. Viewing the school first and foremost as an artistic community, it was bound by the idea of creating a total work of art, Gesamtkunstwerk, blurring the hierarchy of Fine Arts and Arts and Crafts Movement.

bauhaus style mies dessau rohe architecture gropius movement 1919 use german architecture new architecture gropius walter mies
Curiculum Wheel of the Bauhaus School. Image via cramertolboe.com

The Key Ideas behind the Bauhaus Style

Seeing the creativity and manufacturing as drifting apart, the Bauhaus aimed to unite them once again and to re-burst the design for everyday life. Bringing together fine art and craft in the shared goal of problem-solving for a modern industrial society, it effectively leveled the old hierarchy of the arts, placing crafts on par with fine arts such as sculpture and painting. Focusing the teaching of the different subjects as interlocking with each other, the Bauhaus style, reflected the ideas of the influential English designer, William Morris, who argued that art should meet the needs of society and that there should be no distinction between form and function.

“ The ultimate aim of all artistic activity is building! … Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all get back to craft! … The artist is a heightened manifestation of the craftsman. … Let us form … a new guild of craftsmen without the class divisions that set out to raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! … Let us together create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting.”Walter Gropius

The original and the influential curriculum was central to the school’s operation, and it was described by Gropius in the manner of a wheel diagram. The outer rings described the preliminary courses focused on the practical formal analysis, in particular on the contrasting properties of forms, color, and materials. The middle rings represent the research on the problems related to form, emphasizing the practical and technical workshops. These programs offered the best-known element of the Bauhaus style, and that is functionality through the simplified, geometrical forms, minimal embellishment, that let the new designs be reproduced with ease. At the center of the curriculum were classes that specialized in the practicality through technological reproduction, with the aim on craft and workmanship that was lost in technological manufacturing.

bauhaus style mies dessau rohe architecture gropius movement 1919 use german architecture new architecture gropius walter mies weimar
Left: Poster Art, Focus on Typography Design, Bauhaus School / Right: Art Work from unknown Bauhaus artist. Images via wikipedia.org

The Less is More Philosophy

The key idea that lay behind the need to produce the total work of art, was not only to eliminate the hierarchy of the two fields in art, but is seen in the method of teaching where the students learn a way of design that can be applied to many fields such as graphics, textiles, products. What was in focus was also the production of everyday objects and design works that would be handcrafted yet would resemble a mass-produced merchandise. The simple, rational, minimalistic, geometrical, and functional approach to aesthetics, formed a tremendously modern approach to design and art. The insistence on using only primary colors, red, blue and yellow alongside with the use of simple geometrical shapes, led to a distinct ideology of what the Bauhaus designs should resemble. The everyday objects, furniture, even buildings, needed to follow the less is more philosophy, due to the need of producing functionality above all, that would follow the modern ideas of looking at art and technology. The experimental spirits of major art figures, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Georg Muche, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, just to name a few, represented the teaching stuff that helped to develop the Bauhaus style. Each of the artists mentioned was crucial in the understanding and the development of the modern ideas concerning aesthetics, color theory, the fusion of technology and science with arts, and helped to shape the aesthetic ideas of the school as well.

bauhaus style mies dessau rohe architecture gropius movement 1919 use german architecture new architecture gropius walter mies weimar
Left: Bauhaus Furniture Design / Right: Bauhaus Desing. Images via pinterest.com

The Traces of the Bauhaus Style Today

At the end of the 19th century, there was still agreement about the need to overcome the traditional eclecticism of styles in order to produce a new modern style. With their plain and simple products, that followed the motto of “the needs of the people instead of the need for luxury”; Bauhaus production was a design revolution. Not only did the Bauhaus style influence the approach and focus on the simplicity and functionality, it was also the prototype of the art school, as we know it today. The founder of the school, Walter Gropius, envisioned the totality of all the artistic media, including fine art, industrial design, graphic design, typography, interior design, and architecture, and this interdisciplinary approach to art making and art education is something that we all witness as happening today. Although the visual elements of the school, such as stark geometrical shapes, simplicity, elegance of design, and the use of primary colors, especially red color, are the easiest to spot influences of the Bauhaus style that we can acknowledge today in geometric abstract art, pattern making, poster art and graphic design examples as well the conceptual approach to aesthetics is one of the major influences we see today. The major intellectual ideas of the school, such as the focus on simplicity and refusal of the ornamentation, playfulness and the investigation of color, geometrical objects, abstraction, and minimalism, were all major ideas of the 20th-century modern art, whose echo is very much present in the various examples of contemporary art.

Editors’ Tip: Bauhaus Source Book: Bauhaus Style and Its Worldwide Influence

The book looks at the innovative teaching methods and the legacy of this most influential art school of the 20th century that not only left the worldwide visual heritage but also has made a mark on art education throughout the world. Tracing the wide-ranging influence of the world around us, the book examines the history of the school and the major artists that made up the teaching staff. Placed and analyzed with the backdrop of the major events in human history, such as the rise of Hitler, that caused many of the artists important for the understanding of the Bauhaus Style to immigrate to the USA, the reader is given a comprehensive guide to the development of the Bauhaus style and its importance on the global scale.All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image in slider: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – Composition Z VIII, 1924, detail. Image via wikiart.org; Aerial view of the Bauhaus Building. Image via Wikipedia.org; Example of Bauhaus Furniture Design. Image via Wikipedia.org; Examples of Original Bauhaus Poster Design. Image via pinterest.com