The Bauhaus: The Intersection of Arts and Politics

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Casie Stone is a practicing associate architect in Oakland, CA, originally from Virginia Beach, VA. She holds a Bachelors of Architecture from Virginia Tech: College of Architecture and Urban Studies, where she graduated in 2008. When she isn’t working as a designer, she can be found reading, writing, and studying culture and politics, with the hope of having a hand in the creation of a better world.

The Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture (Bauhaus) was opened in Weimar, Germany in 1919 shortly after World War I (WWI) ended. Following the defeat of WWI, Germany was forced to adapt to the changing governing structures of Western Europe, and found themselves faced with the question of building a new republic while political and cultural forces -- at times at odds and at times in tandem --  were stretching the ideas of citizens on the type of republic they wanted for themselves. At the beginning moments of this interwar period, there was a belief that the end of war had driven out the past. In this new era of forging societal models and mass struggle, the Bauhaus was one of the spaces where new cultural ideas of Weimar, Germany could brew. In the same way the Bauhaus was born as a result of political influences, it’s location and vision would ebb and flow with the ever-changing political tides. After the opening in 1919 in Weimar, the Bauhaus operated for 7 years before it was forced to relocate to Dessau in 1925. In 1932 the Bauhaus moved to Berlin for its final years when it closed its doors in 1933.

In Germany, the loss of WWI had been devastating to their economy and to economies across Europe. Germany now owed sizable reparations to France and Great Britain. There were mass general strikes in Belgium, Sweden, Holland, Russia, France, Italy, Spain, and Ireland between 1893 and 1919. The half-realized German Revolution of 1918 that overthrew the Kaiser failed to meet the revolutionary hope of workers; however, this revolution was birthed by the Workers Council movement which served as an immense inspiration for  German artists. Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, became the head of the architect-led Working Council on the Arts in 1919 which issued an “Appeal to the Artists of All Countries.”

Immersed in the shifting ideas of the early 1920’s and in their short time of efflorescence, the Bauhaus set out to reimagine art schools. As Leah Dickerman wrote in Bauhaus Fundamentals, “the Bauhaus brought together a diverse group of international artists, designers and architects in a kind of cultural think tank for the times.” Walter Gropius, and the founding members of the Bauhaus, set out to change the way artists and architects were trained. They hoped that in doing so, art and architecture would better their society as a whole. They centered their arts education on the principles developed by the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, or Worker’s Council for Art. A guiding principle was that art and people must form a unity. By aserting that art shall no longer be the employment of the few, but the life and happiness of the masses, the Bauhaus was a diversion from traditional academic cannon.

The school’s experimental philosophy of learning drew on both the traditional model of craft schools as well as the novel ideas of early 20th-century progressive education movements (including the work of Friedrich Froebel, who had created the concept of kindergarten). Johannes Itten, the third faculty member brought on to build the Bauhaus, developed the school’s introductory course, melding his two professional backgrounds: painting and early childhood education. The school emphasized the importance of student's intuition, replacing individual critic with group discussions. The students would progress through cycles of instruction, exploratory individual learning, and collaborative competition. Many other founding faculty members of the school were renowned expressionist painters, who brought subjective perceptions to their work, emphasizing the emotions over meaning.  The Bauhaus aimed to mature the education of the arts, seeking new means for artist and architects to contribute to Weimar society. However their vision was cut short when the school was shut down in 1933 amidst political turbulence of budding Nazi Germany, as the school was believed to be a center of communist thought.

Looking back with nearly 100 years of distance, the Bauhaus’ political landscape feels relevant to contemporary questions about the shape of our own future. We are - at present -  living through new realignments in global organizing bodies, the rise of popular left wing parties like Sryiza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and with emerging economic powers such as China and Brazil pushing for their own capital needs within the World Trade Organization.

The 2016 America election cycle has revealed divides in both of the two main political parties, the depths of which we have yet to see. And at the same time, the United States is being gripped by growing protest movements: fighting for living wages and against losing homes and neighborhoods to gentrification, and still having to insert into the conversation, that yes, Black Lives do Matter. In France, the social movement Nuit debout stands in opposition to proposed labor reforms while holding nightly popular assemblies at public squares where people can gather to discuss their concerns and collaborate toward solutions to modern societal questions.

We are continually in need of public creative spaces, where cultural resources and the masses can innovate political transformation. As the Bauhaus was birthed in political turmoil which failed the working class and given the increasing political turbulence of current times, working people - and artists - need to band together and form their own “Bauhaus.”

Looking back with nearly 100 years of distance, the Bauhaus’ political landscape feels relevant to contemporary questions about the shape of our own future. We are - at present -  living through new realignments in global organizing bodies, the rise of popular left wing parties like Sryiza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and with emerging economic powers such as China and Brazil pushing for their own capital needs within the World Trade Organization.

The 2016 America election cycle has revealed divides in both of the two main political parties, the depths of which we have yet to see. And at the same time, the United States is being gripped by growing protest movements: fighting for living wages and against losing homes and neighborhoods to gentrification, and still having to insert into the conversation, that yes, Black Lives do Matter. In France, the social movement Nuit debout stands in opposition to proposed labor reforms while holding nightly popular assemblies at public squares where people can gather to discuss their concerns and collaborate toward solutions to modern societal questions.

We are continually in need of public creative spaces, where cultural resources and the masses can innovate political transformation. As the Bauhaus was birthed in political turmoil which failed the working class and given the increasing political turbulence of current times, working people - and artists - need to band together and form their own “Bauhaus.”

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