The symposium in New Delhi at the India International Centre, organized in collaboration with the Max Mueller Bhavan, looked specifically at the history of art school education in South Asia in relation to the Bauhaus legacy. Prior to becoming the curators of bauhaus imaginista, Marion von Osten and I both worked extensively in art education: what emerged during the research period of the project was a series of examples of art and design institutions from different parts of the world. Some developed along the lines of Bauhaus teaching methods—thanks to the presence of émigré figures— some borrowed vicariously from Bauhaus sources, while others developed in parallel or agonistically to the Bauhaus model.
Bauhaus teaching includes the preliminary course, the theory of color and form course, workshop-based learning, collaborations with industry, and the inclusion of eminent “fine artists” within the design training process. Introduced by Johannes Itten in October 1919, the preliminary course can be viewed as the backbone of Bauhaus teaching. It was used to shake off academic ideas and preconceptions, to facilitate the holistic development of the individual, and as a conduit through which every student necessarily passed before being fully accepted at the school. Along with required study in color and form, the preliminary course, which involved experimental exercises without predetermined end results, so to speak, established a range of skills later applied in the workshops.
While Itten’s concept included self-development and liberating the individual’s creative forces, Lázló Moholy-Nagy believed that industrialized and mediatized societies displaced immediate experience. Thus he introduced the systematic exploration of the optical and haptic senses through textural analysis and spatial studies. Josef Albers is credited with giving the preliminary course its most comprehensive form through a focus on the study of materials. The preliminary course, and in particular the idea of a foundational training in visual and material qualities, has gone on to become the most enduring elements of the Bauhaus pedagogical legacy.
Bauhaus pedagogy wasn’t a unified phenomenon. Like the identity of the school itself, its methods were contested and adapted over the course of its various phases. Its curriculum cannot be simply lifted out of its original institutional context.
Our project has been principally about the dissemination and refraction of Bauhaus ideas post 1933. But this dissemination process began during the time of the historical Bauhaus, with masters and graduates alike going on to teach at similarly oriented institutions, such as the arts and crafts school in Halle, the Frankfurt Kunstschule and the Itten Schule in Berlin. Elements of the preliminary course also became a feature of German art education after the Second World War. The most notable example of such an attempt to continue the Bauhaus program is, of course, HfG Ulm—conceived originally out of an anti-fascist impetus, initially as a political education, then oriented towards design through the increased involvement of Max Bill who became its first director. Bill wished to call the school Bauhaus Ulm, an idea overturned by co-founder Otl Aicher, among others, who argued that so little was left of the material, political and cultural context of the Bauhaus that it was irrelevant to so name the new school.
The legacy of the Bauhaus was both continued and contested at Ulm, with its second director, Argentinian designer Tomas Maldonado (who taught at Ulm from 1954 to 1966), writing that “although the geometric teapots ‘Bauhaus 24’ are considered museum objects today,” some think the pedagogical ideas of the Bauhaus are still current. He viewed the school’s curriculum as a historical phenomenon to be critically examined in order to see if it was still relevant today. There was also debate within the faculty, particularly with regard to the relationship between art and design. Unlike Bill, Aicher wished to leave painting and sculpture out of the curriculum and disagreed that design should be subordinated to an ideal aesthetic emanating from the fine arts—implicit in the presence of artists at the Bauhaus in the position of masters of form.
The importance of schools of art and design for bauhaus imaginista has oriented the research undertaken in India—something reflected in the make-up of the symposium in New Delhi.