The Bauhaus School, which was founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, was an avant-garde art school in post WW1 Germany.  This school radically changed the way that art was taught, and created a bridge between fine and applied arts that allowed for its students to make a living creating useful art..   The Bauhaus was dedicated to creating a sense of community between the different sectors of the arts, allowing all mediums (sculpture, painting, textiles, architecture, theater, etc.) to work together in harmony and create greater works of art through their collective efforts.  Whilst the Bauhaus did focus on its artistic community, it also focused on the art student as an individual, and allowed students adequate room for experimentation and self-discovery over the traditionally rigid practice of the techniques used by old masters. Following the devastation of WW1 in Germany, Gropius thought that it was this sense of community and a return to a more democratic art or, as he referred to it in his Bauhaus manual, a “return to craft work” that was necessary in rebuilding Germany and restoring pride in the country.

The work of the Bauhaus represented a few major themes that were nearly universal amongst all of the artists involved.  The works were quite thoroughly modern, and had a high focus on materials, glorifying them and rejecting the idea of “precious” art. They sought to break down the barrier between the craftsman and the artists by creating art that was useful, and making everyday objects with enough attention to aesthetics that they could be considered art.  For example, nearly all of the Bauhaus School itself was filled with furniture, textiles (curtains, rugs, etc) made by its own students, and these “ordinary” items were all elevated to the status of “art.”  An example of their art is the Bauhaus Program Cover designed by Feininger.  It brought together many Bauhaus elements: simplicity of color, use of lines and angles, and a focus on simple shapes, which is shown in the use of triangles.  The Bauhaus was a community that also combined many types of art and interlaced them with one another.

This departure from an entirely fine arts focus can be attributed to Germany’s need to rebuild after the devastation of the war.  The Bauhaus centered their focus on building an artistic community that recalled Germany’s high time in art, the Gothic era.  The Bauhaus identifies with this art historical reference in its combining many different types of works to create a total work of art, like that of a Gothic cathedral that incorporates sculpture, painting, architecture, and many other types of art.  It was this image, the Gothic cathedral, which Gropius chose to occupy the front cover of his very first Bauhaus program, and which symbolized his goals in creating the school. The Bauhaus was a community that also combined many types of art and interlaced them with one another. Like the Russian Productivists, the Bauhaus school entertained a nearly complete rejection of traditional art.   Yet, unlike the Productivists, who sought to make useful and modern art to benefit their new communist society, the Germans sought to use these methods to remind their culture a lost sense of community, and one that they ultimately felt led to societal breakdown and World War I.

Post WWI Germany was a chaotic place in the 1920s. The school was built in Weimar, which was small and offered little in forms of industry. It soon became the country’s new capital and was subject to the battles associated with rebuilding a government after a huge loss in a major war.  There was opposition to the creation of an art school and the lack of available resources in Weimar almost halted the founding of the Bauhaus. High inflation in Europe made it difficult to get supplies.[1]

Women were not always considered for top positions  in the Bauhaus. They were usually only taking classes in Woodwork, bookbinding, pottery workshops, and weaving workshops. The Bauhaus never planned to allow women to take a leadership role in a workshop.  However, Anni Albers seems to be the one significant artist that is known for her weave working. Her work is sometimes put above the work of the first woman instructor, Gunta Stolzl.

The theories of color and form taught by Kandinsky contributed greatly to the artwork at the Bauhaus.  Kandinsky accepted a teaching position at the Bauhaus in 1922. He was considered a pure painter and also directed the mural workshop until 1925. His most noticeable accomplishment while teaching at the Bauhaus was his class of “Free Painting”, it was a reintroduction of a traditional painting class but in abstract art.  He was one of the few teachers who remained at the Bauhaus for most of its existence.

Although Laszlo Moholy-Nagy only spent five years teaching at the Bauhaus his personality is most closely bound up with the Bauhaus ideas. He was head of the metal shop, painting master, and also took over the “study of materials” courses. He eventually went on to become the head of the Bauhaus in Chicago.

The Bauhaus School was finally closed in 1933. Political tensions had reached Dessau and the school could no longer hold its own against a changing Germany. It briefly moved to Berlin, but the professors voted to close it when it was clear that there was no way for it to remain open.

[1] Frank Whitford, Bauhaus. (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1984), 42-46

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