Hans Wingler’s magnificent book The Bauhaus begins with two illustrated flyleaves. Both are nearly blank. On the left, just slightly off center and near the bottom, is a sketchy drawing by Paul Klee in facsimile. It illustrates the “Idea and Structure” of the Bauhaus, the pioneering school of design founded by Gropius in 1919. In the middle with a circle around them are the words Bau und Bühne—Building and Theater. Round this circle is a seven-pointed star with each of the crafts or media taught in the various workshops. Circumscribing this star is another circle in which is placed the famous Foundation Course or “Vorkurs” which was the Bauhaus’s distinctive contribution to art pedagogy. An elaborate, perhaps a little overformalized, symbol. At the bottom however (which we had not noticed as we read the Bauhaus program) a small pedestal is drawn. From here a dotted axis goes through the circles to two small pennants placed on top. Klee’s device turns a diagram (to be read like a map) into an illusionistic rendering of a globe. The Bauhaus becomes more than a curriculum of study but at once a work of art and a world in itself.
The other flyleaf is even whiter. Near the bottom margin is a text or motto by Mies van der Rohe: “THE BAUHAUS WAS AN IDEA.”
The Bauhaus was not an institution with a clear program; it was an idea, and Gropius formulated this idea with great precision. The fact that it was an idea, I think, is the cause of this enormous influence the Bauhaus had on every progressive school around the globe. You cannot do that with organization, you cannot do that with propaganda, only an idea spreads so far.
The two flysheets, whose casualness and modesty are of course a typographic luxury of considerable refinement, illustrate in a nutshell the difficulties facing anyone who wants to understand the Bauhaus as it is today, a self-perpetuating legend with an “organization” and “propaganda” apparatus unparalleled in art education. One is overwhelmed by the sheer style of the 50th anniversary exhibition1 where the reality of the disparate and fragile relationship between students and teachers disappears behind the façade of an immaculate presentation. The present volume of documents is a vast anthology from the Darmstadt archive, with everything from the Foundation Manifesto down almost to the petty cash record all woven together into a sophisticated and unbroken visual graphic layout—a veritable “gesamtkunstwerk” of the book.
All these manifestations are typically “Bauhaus”: Klee’s shifting focus between symbol and illusion, Mies van der Rohe’s metaphysical claims behind the resounding phrase, and everywhere the widest possible stylistic integration of diverse material. Nowhere is the power of this rhetorical technique better displayed in action than in the books they themselves published, the series of Bauhausbücher. The blank page was considered as an artistic arena in its own right and not simply as a tabula rasa for a stream of (intellectual) ideas. The present English translations have been set up to simulate as closely as possible the devastating effect of the layout of the originals. Huge black headings break across the copy to emphasize points, sweeping (often unsupported) assertions are carried along by breathlessly urgent paragraphing, ideas are developed by montage rather than by inference.
Moholy-Nagy goes furthest with a dazzling assembly of every kind of layout trick and photographic device. He has been cited as the true father of Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that the “medium is the message.” This may be so—what is certain is that the effects are not benign. This confusion of “medium” and “message,” “matter” and “manner,” makes good advertising display and persuasive polemic but it is not well-adapted to detached study. The Bauhaus may have been an “IDEA” but at the present moment it is extraordinarily difficult to deduce just what this idea was.
The present set of books takes us nearer to finding out about the Bauhaus than ever before. Wingler’s book contains the essential corpus of photographic records and documents. Read the “Bauhaus books” (and Roter’s useful introduction to the paintings done at the Bauhaus) in conjunction with Wingler’s volume and you have most of the material needed for your own appraisal. (Other texts by Gropius, Klee, Kandinsky, and Moholy-Nagy are already in print.) But really you have to catch the Bauhaus off its guard to sense its unique atmosphere or get its general intellectual drift.
Last year (as it turned out, sadly, the last before he died) Walter Gropius recorded some unrehearsed, relaxed reminiscences of the Bauhaus. Although it lasted only fourteen years, and had to move three times before finally being closed by the Nazis, it had revolutionized the teaching of art and design everywhere. In men like Kandinsky, Klee, Itten, Moholy-Nagy, Schlemmer, Albers, Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Gropius recruited a staff of international distinction. At Dessau he built for the school a building that was itself epoch-making and of world renown. Many of the school’s products, prototypes for industry, new typography, and advertising designs became the commonplaces of offices, factories, and homes the world over. They have symbolized since the 1930s a fantasy of modern living that is clean and new. Absence of all external ornament and reference, sleek surfaces of novel synthetic materials on elementary geometric shapes, and a fluid sense of space contrived by interlocking volumes have become the stock in trade even of vernacular building. A pop version of Bauhaus design, “Art-Deco,” or, more descriptively, “juke-box Bauhaus” was perhaps the only truly popular modern style of the century and sprang up overnight in roadside restaurants and suburban movie houses.
But it was not for any of these reasons that Gropius’s “off-the-record” memories were so interesting. For he had managed in the Bauhaus a conspicuous success in the most difficult field of all—the subtle and prickly human relationships involved in teaching and learning art. True, our problems are not those of the Bauhaus and its cultural setting—in part they arise from its very success. Yet any new insight into the school and its methods must be sought amid the current confusion in art education. “After all Gropius did do it once!” Visions of a new “Bauhaus” haunt most people in today’s art schools. What was its secret? Was it a magic moment, a fortuitous collision of people and events never to be repeated? Or was it something of universal meaning, something that we can read as a lesson for today’s problems? Gropius did not doubt that it was the latter. It was a philosophy of life that could, indeed must, be repeated, although of course the details would vary according to circumstances.
Looking back, he distinguished three important factors that prompted the particular Bauhaus structure. First, that art was a cooperative enterprise. The fine arts could have real meaning only as part of a total work of art—the building. On his staff artists and architects worked together and the social relationships were what he called, in his moving Anglo-German, a “team-family.” Secondly, it was his conviction that copying any existing style was destructive to the individual talent.
Imitation was taboo and [the teacher] brought [the student] really down to earth and developed him out of his own qualities. We recognized that every human being is complete and different from the other one so the aim of the whole system which we used was that getting an education which is as individualistic as possible, getting out of that single individual which is given him by nature, but always with a conscience that he cannot do it alone.
Thirdly, Gropius believed that a scientific approach to design was necessary.
We tried to develop so to speak a science of design, all objective things out of the physiological and psychological life of man which are objectively true for you and me and everyone else. These we tried to collect and bring together and make articulate, and that was what we taught the students.2
For Gropius these three central themes were not incompatible but mutually dependent. He evolved the structure of the Bauhaus to implement these notions as directly as possible without regard to previous practice.
Gropius’s manifesto on the foundation of the Bauhaus was a hymn to the building as a total work of art involving artist and craftsman with no barrier between them.
The ultimate aim of all arts is the complete building. To embellish buildings was the noblest function of the fine arts, they were the indispensable components of great architecture…. Together let us desire, conceive and create the 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 the future.
The rhapsodic tone of the document3 indicates that Gropius had in mind for his Bauhaus something deeper than what we might call “an interdisciplinary course designed to avoid the dangers of too early overspecialization.” What he envisaged seems at times no less than an end to the estrangement of the human spirit. Social involvement in this is explicit too. The manifesto is similar to passages in a pamphlet published in November 1918 under the name of the chairman, Bruno Taut, by the “Arbeitsrat für Kunst,” an avant-garde (i.e., expressionist) group of architects which included Gropius, whose political sympathies are clearly expressed in the name “workers council” or “soviet” for Art.
Gropius translated his vision of the “Cathedral of the Future” into practice with a radically new teaching scheme for the Bauhaus. Architectural instruction itself was postponed until later. A team of painters was recruited largely from the younger generation of expressionists associated with the Blaue Reiter Group. Instruction was on the “learning-by-doing” principle in craft workshops. These were directed at first by two masters—a master of “form,” i.e., a painter, and a master of craft, or technician. Later, from the first generation of students, Gropius found individuals with sufficiently broad training to combine both functions. Although this early Bauhaus was dominated by painters, there was no diploma course in painting itself, no Fine Art Department separate from (and superior to) the rest. Architecture as a separate course only commenced in 1927 with the appointment of Hannes Meyer.
An immediate result of this arrangement was the generation of impressive new forms for craft products. The very ignorance of the painters of the refinements of, say, furniture production contributed to a return to very simple formal principles. Early Bauhaus products resulting from this alliance—direct carvings of simple geometric patterns in wood, frank presentations of texture and weave in fabrics, have a strong “folk art” appearance which is charming but not particularly revolutionary in its implications.
Even at this stage there were difficulties. The painters could and did contribute to design of metal work, stained glass, textiles, and so on. Their usefulness diminished where building proper was concerned, whether of the individual building or, beyond that, of planning. Only Muche really managed to do both and then in a schizophrenic way, his paintings differing entirely from his experimental house—the constructional problems for which were handled by Gropius’s own office. Gradually, however, as a result not only of intense pressure from the socially committed among the students and staff, but also of the influence of a powerful polemicist like Van Doesburg, who had moved to Weimar and opened a kind of unofficial theoretical annex, the Bauhaus moved away from arts and crafts, and toward the particular blend of technology and primary geometrical form that characterized Van Doesburg’s Neoplasticism.
While it is certain that Gropius himself had little to learn aesthetically from Van Doesburg and the De Stijl movement (his early achievements, such as the Fagus factory at Alfeld, are evidence of this) it is nevertheless true that Van Doesburg’s presence in Weimar had a catalytic effect in bringing about this realignment. Change was rapid. Gropius adopted for his 1923 exhibition of Bauhaus work the slogan “Art and Technology—a new unity.” This polarized an already difficult situation. Itten resigned after a disagreement with Gropius over his mysticism and was replaced by Moholy-Nagy, who rapidly became a dominant figure in the “new” Bauhaus. His powerful vision of a new type of visual space, transparent networks of steel and glass, combined with the newly awakened interest in the ideal geometry of planes and lines to form the symbols that are now recognized as characteristically Bauhaus: the smooth surfaces and open steel lattice of Breuer’s armchairs, the pristine geometry of the spherical glass light fittings, above all the Gropius building for the school itself in Dessau with its great all-glass curtain wall.
Gropius always denied any interest in or even awareness of a Bauhaus style. Although this is in part related to his search for a design theory more deeply rooted than in the imperatives of custom or fashion (which I shall discuss in a moment) it also reflects a genuine and abiding respect for individual intuition and a desire to keep the situation open for genuine creative works, even if these lacked the structural economy or “truth to materials” that was the ultimate justification of design. In an early (pre-Bauhaus) pamphlet Gropius wrote:
To have the gift of imagination is more important than all technology which always adapts itself to man’s creative will.
He remained constant to these priorities. At no time was a crude “functionalism” part of the Gropius concept of the Bauhaus despite its apparent obsession with the rationale of mass production—prefabrication, modular systems, and so on. This is why the painters, many of whom were out of sympathy with the art-technology synthesis, continued to cooperate in the joint enterprise of the “building.” Regrettably Gropius’s proudly Utopian “crystal symbol of the future” has not materialized, although some “Bauhaus” artifacts are among the great artistic consolations of the future that we have. Social transformation on the scale envisaged requires more than art schools.
But I believe there is a more specific reason for the difficulties that have arisen in teaching art and design on the Bauhaus model. This is that Gropius’s second two positions are incompatible. The individual quality of intuition in art and the public quality of science, even a “science of design,” don’t form a stable combination. For a while it did appear that such a graft was possible, but a closer look shows that even within the Bauhaus itself rejection symptoms had appeared. At the end it was a very different school from that which Gropius had founded and it would perhaps have broken apart at some point anyway. In reality art and design are concerned with values while science is concerned with facts. A fusion of the two depends upon an implicit or explicit metaphysics, and much of the theoretical activity of the teachers at the Bauhaus can be seen as an attempt to provide just such a metaphysics.
Pedagogical theory was an important by-product of the teaching of many of the major artists at work in the Bauhaus. Either as “Masters of Form” or in preparing lectures for the Foundation Course, they developed and subsequently published theories. These works were strikingly different in form and content from the Academy lectures of the nineteenth century, which usually contain much discursive moral exhortation and art history. It seems likely that the need to produce actual day-to-day class material was an important factor in the new type of arrangement and layout that characterized the publications and art work of the Bauhaus. Several major Bauhaus theoreticians adopted similar schemes of working from what they termed “simple” elements to “complex” ones, an arrangement more to do with the logic of the classroom than with that of painting. Kandinsky’s “Point-line to Plane,” Klee’s “The Thinking Eye,” and Moholy-Nagy’s “The New Vision” all used similar formats in order to give some credibility to material that is often aphoristic and subjective. Presented with the assurance and power of Bauhaus rhetoric their theories have often been seen as in some strict sense “scientific.”
Perhaps in reaction to such claims some art historians have rather smugly dwelt on the odd fact that many, possibly a majority of Gropius’s staff were of a mystical turn of mind. The Bauhaus was in fact anything but scientific. Most flamboyantly “mystical” was of course Johannes Itten, an adherent of the Mazdaznan “philosophy.” Klee and Kandinsky were theosophists. Lothar Schreyer was a follower of Jacob Böhme, while Schlemmer ran a course on “Man” which included “physiognomy, astrology, phrenology, graphology. The natural science part begins with the mysteries of the world, ether and plasma and deals with the theory of cells and seeds, birth and growth, life and death.”
It is easy to smile at all this, the rigors of the Mazdaznan health diets, the breathing exercises, the connection with Madame Blavatsky. Yet to leave it there seems to me to misunderstand the role of the “mystics” in the Bauhaus. So far from being in striking (and amusing) contrast to the “scientific” investigation of art, the mysticism seems to be an attempt to create a quasi-scientific framework for Bauhaus practice. Both Art and Nature were supposed to work according to underlying “laws,” which the “mystics” believed discernible by a certain mode of systematic inquiry. Why should this “isomorphism” between art and nature have been such an urgent pursuit at the time of the Bauhaus? How was it established? Can we regard it as adequate, or even credible today?
The need for some structure common to both art and nature arises from the historical situation of Gropius’s day and is bound up with his fight against imitation and eclecticism. When a tradition is strong it can confidently present its standards as “rules”—either explicit or enshrined in certain masters or masterworks held up as models (the antique, Raphael, Cézanne). To make a “good” design or painting the student should use this color combination or that composition. Once a tradition disintegrates, a welter of conflicting sets of rules compete for the students’ attention. In the case of the Bauhaus, a succession of stylistic revolutions, which included Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, early Dada, and the first abstractions in a couple of decades, hardly provided the context for a new call to order. Nor was the Germany immediately after the catastrophe of the Great War the place to do it.
Anyone who wishes during such a period to stabilize the situation according to his standards has one obvious strategy: to shift the ground of the debate from “norms” to “facts,” from “rules” to “laws.” This move usually works since many of those who wouldn’t dream of obeying human “rules” will submit with alacrity to divine or natural laws. And these laws often turn out to be amazingly similar to the old rules. Bauhaus teaching was (thankfully) no exception, and much traditionally respectable, even “academic” teaching about proportion and color took place. Its sanction, however, was not that it had been done by Raphael or Rubens but that it was held to be “scientific”—more specifically, embedded in human perceptual mechanisms. The “mysticism” of the Bauhaus at once justified the intuition which enabled these “laws” (of art and of nature alike) to be apprehended by the non-scientist and gave the schema by which they were to be understood.
This is clearly seen in some students’ notes on Klee’s teaching published by Wingler:
Klee taught us to see the composition and structure of vegetable and animal life (c.f., Schlemmer’s course). Not only did he teach us to perceive it visually but in his theory of forms he gave us the principle of creativity. He showed us the all-encompassing synthesis which embraces all organic and inorganic life. The very phenomena we were used to seeing in biology and sociology suddenly became relevant once more in formal design. Everything, zoology, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, literature and typography helped us to understand literally how we, with every bit of our existence and all of our activities are part of humanity and the cosmic rhythm….
Klee was clearly teaching something more than “nature study”—rather a complete intuitive cosmology. Much the same is true for Itten, Kandinsky, Schlemmer, and (in a special sense) Moholy-Nagy.
What is the nature of their quasi-scientific enquiry? One particular feature common to all this metaphysical argumentation is a conceptual structure based on “polarity” and “analogy”4 : Consider for example Itten’s theorizing:
The foundation of my design teaching was the general theory of contrast. Light and dark, material texture studies, form and colour theory, rhythm and expressive forms were discussed in their contrasting effects. Such contrasts are large-small, broad-narrow, thick-thin, black-white, much-little, straight-bent, pointed-blunt, horizontal-vertical, diagonal-circular, high-low, plane-line, plane-volume, line-volume, smooth-rough, still-moving, light-heavy, transparent-opaque, steady-intermittent, fluid-solid, sweet-sour, strong-weak, loud-soft, plus the seven color contrasts.5
Itten’s voluminous list of polar opposites is worth quoting in full since it reveals the advantages and disadvantages of this type of enumeration. Some of his categories are attributes of things, others are properties of collections of things, or relations between things, others again have to do with spatial frames of reference. This type of categorization, moreover, groups together generically different entities by virtue of a structural similarity (i.e., opposition) of particular species. It can easily seem as if there is some pervasive undisclosed property or analogy common to individual pairs of opposites. For the scientist this procedure is inadmissible since it collects together causally unrelated material, though the artist can often find stimulating metaphors in the fortuitous conjunctions which arise. For Itten, however, this table is more than a mere convenience, for he says that
As the life and beauty of our earth unfolds in the regions between the North Pole and South Pole, so gradations between the poles of contrast contain the life and beauty of the worlds of contrast.
What lies behind this is not merely a set of technical tips on color or spatial organization but a projection by Itten onto art of the ethos of Mazdaznan theology—a struggle between the forces of light led by Ahura Mazda and darkness led by Angra Mainyu.
Klee’s pedagogical writings also abound in antinomic pairs. “The Thinking Eye” begins with the “Primordial contrasts” cosmos-chaos each with its appropriate symbolic and color contrast. His second section is headed “A concept is not thinkable without its opposite. Duality is treated as unity.” From then on his book is a kaleidoscope of antinomic categorization: idea-material, good-evil, active-passive, static-dynamic, inner-outer, inorganic-organic, and so on. Klee sees these opposites as locked in a struggle which at once generates the “forces” and “tensions” in a work of art and in the natural world the drives of movement and creation. In beautiful schematic diagram-pictures he describes the action of a water-driven hammer and the muscle-bone system of the human leg by the same schemata: active-medial-passive.
Kandinsky offers many structurally similar arguments: arrows pointing in different directions connote “calm-hot,” “calm-cold,” “discordant” or “harmonious.”6 But this fusion of art and “science” (as in the earlier case of Leonardo) could not last simply because the problems of science are not those which are accessible to the naked eye. Leonardo could project the physical notions of Aristotle onto the visible surface of running water (as Gombrich has shown) and do so without self-consciousness. With twentieth-century science breathing down their necks the Bauhaus masters were able to do so only occasionally and in a fragmentary manner. Klee in particular, whose diagram-picture of the water hammer is in a way so similar to Leonardo, draws in a consciously whimsical line, and his paintings are shot through with irony.
When Moholy-Nagy took over the Foundation Course from Itten he gave it a new twist. He maintained the basic conceptual scheme of Itten, Klee, and Kandinsky but interpreted it in a way that was much more concrete. In place of the intuition of the “inner” nature of materials he emphasized practical difference of manufacture and use. He combined an interest in technology with a conviction that its use could be made consonant with man’s “biological needs” which were for him fundamental. His concept of biology was more sophisticated than his predecessors’. Kandinsky’s famous psychological experiment consisted in asking his students to decide the appropriate color: red, blue, or yellow for the three “elements” triangle, circle, square. Once some agreement was found that was enough for Kandinsky. His intuitive “analogy” was scientifically vindicated.
Not so Moholy-Nagy. In “The New Vision” for example, he criticizes the naïve use of parallels between colors and feelings derived from Goethe which plays such an important part in Kandinsky’s and Klee’s artistic “biology.” Moholy-Nagy himself never really carried out any real biological investigations (or for that matter used any of the already voluminous professional literature of the life-sciences). But a scientific pose can’t be adopted indefinitely without forcing one to answer the questions it raises. The next stage—getting in the experts, the real psychologists and biologists—is the decisive one, which undermines the whole “art-science” edifice.
This crucial move was made by Hannes Meyer. He proceeded to put teeth into Moholy-Nagy’s (to him) vague assertions of biological needs. After a violent assault on the arbitrary pseudo-psychology of Kandinsky, he described his reorganization of the Bauhaus as follows:
It became my aim to place design on a scientific basis and the educational structure of the Institute underwent important changes. The industrial consultant joined the structural engineer…. I tried to counteract the pseudo-scientific activity by strengthening the guest lecture series. I engaged personalities like O. Neurath, K. von Meyer-burg, Dr. Dunker, Dr. H. Riedel, Dr. R. Carnap, Dr. W. Dubislav, Dr. E. Feigl, Dr. L. Schinke, Count Dürckheim, etc., etc.
The impact of this intellectual galaxy at that moment in Bauhaus history can only be guessed at. (Wingler publishes some notes taken by Dearstyne on a Gestalt psychology lecture by Dürckheim. Covering the same ground as “From Point and Line to Plane” in a few neutral paragraphs, they have an utterly different effect from the one produced by Kandinsky.7 ) Distinguished scientists are usually very polite guests and I would imagine these men departed with indulgent politeness (as in Einstein’s famous encounter with LeCorbusier). Research on this aspect of the Bauhaus would, however, be of great interest.
Finally, faced by the real thing, hard science, the community of metaphor which embraced the early Bauhaus teachers and students and which saw an unbroken continuity between say the theory of sculptural proportions and the “laws of biomechanics” collapsed. To the modern scientist, otherwise sympathetic to modern art, such theories are an embarrassment. Hannes Meyer was abruptly sacked, ostensibly for his Marxist activities. Whatever the true story, his innovations cut at such fundamental levels of Bauhaus belief that an explosion of some sort was inevitable. Moreover, many of his changes were carried on by Mies van der Rohe who was far from being a Marxist.
The painters were gradually phased out (only Kandinsky and Albers remained to the end). The architecture students explored not the “mysteries of the world” but architecture. It is surely more fruitful to see this process as a natural one rather than to blame it on political animus from whatever side. Modern architecture had come of age, in the newly matured International Style to which the Bauhaus itself has contributed so much. It could begin to operate again as an autonomous discipline at once more self-contained and more self-confident, expounding its own masterpieces as new paradigms. Bauhaus students of 1930-32 were learning—as Wingler’s illustrations show8—almost mimetically from Mies van der Rohe’s own recent works, the Tugendhat house and the Barcelona Pavilion.
Nor should we regard this as abnormal. On the contrary. It is only an exaggerated fixation on the radical “back-to-fundamentals” position of the early Bauhaus which has obscured the fact that for decades modern design has been concerned with working out the formal axioms inherent in its early masterworks. Inability to admit this has led to an air of unreality in teaching where considerable artifice is often needed to elicit the approved “discoveries.” More important it has left the study of these formal axioms themselves grossly neglected.
One of Mies van der Rohe’s most quoted aphorisms is “God is in the details.” Yet one searches in vain through Bauhaus pedagogical literature for any help at this detailed level. There are no tips on how to get from the bare bones of the familiar exercises with colored squares or close-packed geometrical solids to the subtle masterworks of Albers or Mies themselves. But it was always clear that they themselves (like Gropius) regarded these theories as only a beginning. Those who wish to press forward with a “science of design” must surely first realize that the field of inquiry is art and design itself and not the natural world of the physicist or psychologist, however interesting their discoveries might be.
Artists who do find inspiration in modern science and technology (the widespread development of kinetic and cybernetic art is a direct legacy of the Moholy-Nagy experiments with light and motion at the Bauhaus) should of course find, or found, schools with the appropriate scientific ingredients in their cultural climate. I have tried to show, however, that the theoretical base which supported the Bauhaus “science of design” is at the present moment neither adequate nor necessary to teaching design. As a central educational idea the science-art fusion has lost its vitality.
In doing so it has left the Bauhaus teaching as a coherent body stranded without any source of regeneration. Without a sanction which is in the end metaphysical and which was clearly provided to the Bauhaus “mystics” in some of the most vital teaching we know, the exercises became academic like those they succeeded. Whether some new structural metaphors can ever again be discerned as common to science and art at any level serious enough to engage major artists and scientists as teachers is a matter of conjecture. The sad experience of “Op Art” shows how difficult any lasting alliance between science and art will be. What Gropius has left us is a haunting memory of what life in art could have been had the world been constituted differently.
What then is the final legacy of the Bauhaus itself to us? Bauhaus “style” has passed into history—so much so that we can enjoy replicas of Breuer’s chairs as a “period” revival. Even the bowdlerized Bauhaus of “Art-Deco” is attracting the collector, and a geometrical glass hotel-ashtray of the Thirties can become a sought-after “antique.” Our detachment from any but purely esthetic affections for Bauhaus style is clearly marked by our ability to combine in one setting their austerities of chrome and glass with, say, art-nouveau or even the extravagances of psychedelic imagery. But is this legacy not enough? Why continue pressing dubious metaphysical claims? Surely this universal dissemination of a formal vocabulary is a fit memorial to the drive and vigor of the Bauhaus as an institution (and even in a way, to its polemical techniques). Without it the forms of modern abstract art could well have remained just one more “ism”—pieces for the connoisseur, without effect on the everyday environment.
January 1, 1970
The exhibition opened its US tour in Chicago in August. ↩
“Walter Gropius in conversation with George Baird,” The Listener, October 1969. ↩
Printed in Wingler, The Bauhaus, p. 21. ↩
For an account of the development of this type of pre-scientific argumentation in Greek thought see Polarity and Analogy, G. E. R. Lloyd, Cambridge University Press, 1966. ↩
G. Itten, Design Form—the Basic course at the Bauhaus, Reinhold, 1964. ↩
Sixten Ringbom (J. Warburg & Courtauld Institute 29 (1966), 386-418) has traced the connections between the theories of Kandinsky and Klee and earlier occult sources in Theosophy and with the alchemical side of Goethe’s thought. A system of argumentation involving polarity (with light-darkness as the central metaphorical contrast) is a dominant feature of this earlier tradition dating back to Neoplatonism. ↩
Interestingly Dearstyne was later the English translator of “Point and Line to Plane.” ↩
Wingler, The Bauhaus, p. 540. ↩