Continental Drift. The Bauhaus’ legacy


The nice people at Grafik Magazine recently asked me to assemble a critique of a major new show by Germany’s three Bauhaus institutions, at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The show is a big deal because this is the first time that these three institutions have worked together. Having been located in an erstwhile divided country, it’s taken this long since the fall of the wall for the right occasion to come along, but somehow they’ve managed to find the justification for it, something to do with a ninetieth anniversary I think.

The Bauhaus is also something of big deal itself, having been directly responsible in a large way for modernism, and in a less direct way for much of the poorly considered architecture that sprung up in the fifties and sixties, which is how most people now remember modernism. But to focus on that is to miss the point that many of the preceding century’s problems needed addressing, not least increasing urbanisation, as well as a major rethink of our relationship to industrial processes and industrialisation itself.

But perhaps least considered is the Bauhaus’ impact on the education of artists, designers, architects and other creative professionals. The modern system owes its existence in its entirety to the the Bauhaus’ vorkurz, a new method of study instigated with the Bauhaus’ first students with the intention of creating rounded, well informed and multi-faceted creative professionals. Before this, training happened in one particular discipline by an experienced practitioner, emphasised precedent and the maintenance of tradition. By throwing away this system, the Bauhaus laid the foundations for contemporary art and design practice as an individualistic pursuit, in the western hemisphere at least. The Bauhaus encouraged questioning every aspect of artistic endeavour, from what constitutes a valid subject to appropriate media to whether the art should be made at all. It was instructive for me to learn about the Persian traditions of calligraphy and miniature painting when I was in Iran and India last year. These traditions persist because they still emphasise precedent, where the most important value is in being able to replicate the work of past masters. This insight may go some way to explaining the differences in how we value authorship and original thought, because in part we can thank the Bauhaus for teaching us to examine every principle, every creative motive and weigh it against the problem we’re currently tackling, rather than simply creating a process whereby one solution fits all. This is what creative thinking really means.

My review of ModellBauhaus: A conceptual model at Martin-Gropius-Bau will be in Grafik’s September issue. If you’re in Berlin, you can see the exhibition until October 4. More information here.

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One Response to “Continental Drift. The Bauhaus’ legacy”

  1. dawn says:

    great, I am in Berlin in September so will make sure I visit the exhibition

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