The Bauhaus Manifesto

Conversation with Magdalena Droste

Lyonel Feininger, Kathedrale [Cathedral], 1919,
Cover of the manifesto and programme of the Bauhaus,
April 1919, Woodblock print, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin,
Photo: Atelier Schneider, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018.

Published in April of 1919, a tract for his new school penned by Walter Gropius expresses the basic tenets of this new school and its unique goal of bringing architects, artisans and artists together to create a new working and training community united by the primacy of architecture and a return to notions of craftsmanship as its guiding ethos. Gropius stressed the vigor of this appeal by dubbing the pamphlet a “manifesto” a decision reminiscent of avant-garde art groups such as the Dadaists and Futurists; making the Bauhaus manifesto the first (but not last) architectural manifesto.

Conversation with Magdalena Droste (German).

The manifesto is about DIN A4 in size, but a little slimmer. On its cover is a picture of a cathedral, which stands for the Gothic builder’s shed. From the point of view of the romantic misapprehension of the Gothic period that prevailed at the time, in order to build such a collective, work the craftsmen met in such a hut and there formed an egalitarian labor association.

If you examine this illustration closely, you will see that around the cathedral spire three stars are formed by rays of light. Today we know that they represent the three most important arts: painting, architecture and sculpture. The meaning of these stars, according to the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius’s vision, is that the arts come together in the cathedral, creating a common building that is in itself a great work of art.

After opening the pamphlet, the manifesto text immediately begins with a declaration of principles, introduced by a frequently quoted sentence printed in blocked script: “The ultimate goal of all art is the building.” Here architecture is placed in the foreground and declared the most important goal, and this is also reflected in the word “Bauhaus” (a blend of the verb “to build” and the noun, “house”). Many, including myself, are of the opinion that the invention of this wonderfully powerful word is one of Gropius’s most important creative achievements— today the term “Bauhaus” is no longer translated into any other language but leads a life of its own.

The second important sentence refers to the illustration: “Architects, sculptors, painters—we must all turn to the crafts. … The artist is an exalted artisan.” So, here we find new relations, a new humility towards craftsmanship, towards doing. When prospective students finally arrived at the manifesto’s programmatic section, they found the goals of the Bauhaus formulated a second time: the unified work of art, the great building. Then follows the organizational principles of the Bauhaus, including commissions for students, joint planning, new experiments in exhibitions or the fostering of friendly exchanges with like-minded institutions, as well as theatre performances, lectures, poetry, music, costume festivals, assembling in cheerful ceremonies … in other words, what we would today call “culture.”

Only on the last page does one finally arrive at the curriculum, divided into “architecture,” “painting” and “sculpture.” And in the end comes the subject of craft training, with an enumeration of the different workshops. There weren’t actually any workshops for sculpting, stonemasonry or stucco plasterers, but wood sculpting, ceramics and plaster casting are mentioned and these did not yet exist either. Carpenters, decorative painters, weavers … in reality there were only female weavers.

For these workshops, the craftsmanship as well as the theoretical training is described in more detail: construction drawing, lettering, the science of materials, the theory of colors … even bookkeeping was taught here. And in the end, three grades are named and elaborated in a hierarchical structure consisting of apprentice, journeyman and young master—the latter could actually become masters.

After the First World War, the most important goal was, of course, to attract new pupils. That is why the Bauhaus manifesto was enclosed with many magazines or mailed out upon request. Today, we know that it really did attract many young people to the Bauhaus who said: “That’s where we must go!” These included Josef Albers, for example, and also Gunta Stölzl.

The Bauhaus also undertook a tremendous media campaign and modernized the then current means of media communication. From the very beginning the school constantly produced magazines, leaflets, exhibitions and catalogues, as well as holding lectures in order to promote the new cause. This media offensive of the Bauhaus was incredibly important.

Prior to the Bauhaus there had been manifestos, but up until then they had only been written by visual artists—for example, by the Expressionists, the Brücke Group. Ideas contained in many of these extant manifestos were integrated by Walter Gropius into the Bauhaus literature. The most important of his ideas, however, did not date very far back, but originated in the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers Council for Art), founded in 1918, where Gropius’s architectural colleagues had formulated very similar ideas. For example, the Bauhaus manifesto contains the following notion: There is no boundary between arts and crafts and sculpture or painting. Everything is one: building. This was not originally formulated by Gropius but by Bruno Taut. So, Gropius took up many of the ideas that had been developed and discussed in the Arbeitsrat für Kunst a few months earlier and formulated them again in a new, fresh, attractive way.

Today, in my opinion, we can no longer imagine what the abdication and exile of the Kaiser signified. It meant the collapse of an entire system. As a result, the Russian and German revolutions broke out and Germany was transformed into a republic. Today we can no longer imagine the force of these tremendous upheavals. These drastic changes made people in Germany aware that things could no longer go on as they were, that new spaces for thought and design had to be opened up. With his manifesto Gropius penetrated these spaces.

This awareness was also reflected in the choice of teachers to staff the Bauhaus, who were representatives of some of the most radical artistic currents of the time. But if one is to reject one’s own history, from whence the foundations of design at that time originated—the building typologies and decorative forms—what is then the source of design? Thus, the early Bauhauslers were faced with the enormous task of providing a new theoretical basis for design, one which no longer lay in the past. As a result, a consensus gradually emerged that these could be the primary colors, that these could be the basic forms, that this could be a natural shape, as in the work of Paul Klee, that man could be the focus of attention, as in Oskar Schlemmer’s theatrical work.

Each of the masters developed his own approach according to this anti-historical basis. Johannes Itten had, of course, read Wassily Kandinsky’s books from 1912 during his time in Stuttgart and Vienna, and from his reading he extracted the concept of the basic forms. He brought these ideas, together with what he had learned from Adolf Hölzel concerning the elementarization of artistic means, and from these sources developed the first preliminary course, or basic teachings.

Of course, Josef Albers integrated many of the things he had learned and observed while studying with Itten into his own course. But he added a new element, a kind of “economy”: students must not produce any waste—there must be no waste—so their work must be thought and designed economically. No longer were students asked to discover themselves but, rather, to solve a task pragmatically: for example, to work on a piece of paper lying flat so that it can stand by itself, or bend a straight piece of wire in such a way that it achieves stability, becoming a small construction.

In my opinion Hannes Meyer remains underestimated for his politics, as well as his decision to hire Walter Peterhans, a very important aspect of his new appointment policy. Peterhans was very interested in achieving very precise control over the photographic development process, the precision of recording details, and taught accordingly. These things did not at all interest László Moholy-Nagy, who showed no interest in photo developing. But precision and predictability were also characteristics of Hannes Meyer and this connected him to Peterhans. In addition, a new aesthetic quality came into the Bauhaus because of Hannes Meyer cultivating a very deliberate approach to photography.

The Bauhaus curriculum changed all the time and is not easy to follow from one semester to the next. A secondary school diploma was not necessary—one could have a craft or even artistic background. The pool of prospective students was not homogeneous but possessed different educational paths. And everyone was looking for something new—in other words for what Gropius had to offer at the Bauhaus.

With the coming of the Weimar Republic, women finally had academic freedom and could attend any school of their choosing. Thus, many women came to the Bauhaus, and were indeed welcomed explicitly by Gropius in his opening speech, where he stated that there would be no difference between the “beautiful and the strong sex; absolute equality, but also absolutely equal duties. No consideration for ladies. In our work all are craftsmen.” There followed a whole series of approaches and arguments regarding the large number of women in the student body. On the one hand they were rejected, on the other hand the Bauhaus women themselves founded a women’s class. Many also found the work in the textile workshop very important and crucial.

In 1919, there were no other possibilities than to start first with the handicrafts, because at that time German industry was on its knees. The factories were destroyed and everything had to be rebuilt—so one could really only begin with handicrafts. The pupils should be qualified for building by first working with a craft in a workshop, with the aim of later executing larger projects together. Walter Gropius always wanted to build in an exemplary fashion and to create models that others could measure themselves against. That’s the only function of a school: it can’t constantly erect buildings—after all, this has always been the conflict between production and teaching. And it was precisely this conflict that for many years was very fruitful and influential at the Bauhaus.

●Latest Articles
Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus-Manifest

Das Bauhaus wandte sich von Anfang an vom Nationalismus ab und dem Kosmopolitismus und Internationalismus zu, eine Orientierung, die es schließlich mit dem emporkommenden Nationalsozialismus in Widerspruch brachte. Die Schule korrespondierte auch mit zeitgenössischen Bildungsinitiativen in anderen Teilen der Welt, darunter die Kala Bhavan (Kunstschule) in Santiniketan, Indien. Das Bauhaus wirkte durch seine Schriften und Studierenden auch auf andere Schulen in Japan. → more

“The Art!—That’s one Thing! When it’s there” — On the History of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst in the Early Weimar Republic

Even though the progressive artists of the interwar period ultimately failed in their plan to realize the new, egalitarian society they had envisioned, their influence was lasting. The international avant-garde produced some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, some members of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers council for art) occupied important positions at the Bauhaus—above all, its founding director Walter Gropius. → more

Towards a Tangible Pedagogy — Dimensions of Tactility at the Bauhaus

In the epistemic context of a fundamental skepticism towards the existing knowledge system, the Bauhaus school was in pursuit of “unlearning”: dismissing conventional learning and promoting pre- linguistic, intuitive approaches- which also led to adoptions of non-academic modes of perception and included an interest in pre-modern knowledge systems. → more

Shifting, Rotating, Mirroring 
 — Lena Bergner’s Minutes of Paul Klee’s Classes

Lena Bergner developed carpet patterns applying specific methods learned from Paul Klee discernible in her finished work. The results, however, are quite unique. This is precisely what Klee sought to achieve with his classes at the Bauhaus: to point to paths of design so that the formal language is not arbitrary, without, however, prescribing predetermined outcomes. → more

Bauhaus Weimar International — Visions and Projects 1919–1925

Although the Bauhaus opened its door in 1919, it took more than three years for Gropius to fully organize the school’s faculty, since with the departure of several of the old art school’s professors, such as Max Thedy, Richard Engelmann and Walther Klemm, open positions had to be regularly filled. But Gropius’s first appointments indicated the course set toward an international avant-garde school, a school of invention. → more

Gertrud Grunow’s Theory of Harmonization — A Connection between European Reform Pedagogy and Asian Meditation?

In this essay Linn Burchert sheds some light on the darkness obscuring Grunow’s practice by presenting the background and details of Grunow’s teaching, concluding by examining the striking parallels between her harmonization teaching and meditative and yogic practices, which had already been introduced at the Bauhaus in Johannes Itten’s preliminary course. → more

Three Preliminary Courses: Itten, Moholy-Nagy, Albers

It was the special qualities of the Swiss artist Johannes Itten, whose career as a primary and secondary school teacher was characterized by adherence to the principles of reform pedagogy, to have introduced a stabilizing structural element into the still unstable early years of the Bauhaus: the preliminary course which—in addition to the dual concept of teaching artistic and manual skills and thinking—was to remain a core part of Bauhaus pedagogy, despite considerable historical changes and some critical objections, until the closure of the school in 1933. → more

●Artist Text
Open Your Eyes — Breathing New Life Into Bauhaus Papercuts

My artistic practice working primarily with abstract folded paper objects led me to Josef Albers and his similar obsession with paper as an instructional medium. Initially looking for pleated paper forms and to learn more about the history of these techniques, I have since been swept up in the maelstrom of Albers' pedagogical mindset. It’s difficult to look at one area of his thinking and not get pulled into many other directions, finding yourself challenged at every turn. → more

A Mystic Milieu — Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at Bauhaus Weimar

Mazdaznan had a significant although often misunderstood impact on the life and work of Johannes Itten, a key figure in the development of the Weimar Bauhaus. A devout practitioner of Mazdaznan, he was responsible for introducing it to students of the Bauhaus in the early 1920s. This essay explores the intimate relationship between Itten, Mazdaznan and the Bauhaus and, in so doing, also underscores how in its infancy the Bauhaus was very different from its later incarnation as a school associated primarily with technical innovation. → more

Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at the Bauhaus

Having experimented with Mazdaznan’s teachings on nutrition, breathing and character while studying at the Stuttgart Academy of Art (1913–16), Johannes Itten used these findings for the first time as a “teaching and educational system” while directing his Viennese painting school (1916–19). By 1918/19 at the latest (still before his move to the Bauhaus), Itten had also learned about Mazdaznan’s racial model. But how did the racialist worldview of the Swiss Bauhaus “master” affect Bauhaus practice? → more

●Artist Text
The Egyptian Postures

In the late nineteenth century the self-styled Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish founded Mazdaznan, a quasi-religious movement of vegetarian diet and body consciousness, which flourished across the USA and Europe until the 1940's. The Egyptian Postures is a guide to the most advanced Mazdaznan exercises that Johannes Itten taught his students at the Bauhaus. This edition of Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish’s original instructions has been newly edited and illustrated by Ian Whittlesea with images of actor Ery Nzaramba demonstrating the postures. → more

The Bauhaus, the Nazis and German Post War Nation Building Processes

On 4 May 1968 the exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus was opened at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart. Designed by Herbert Bayer and conceived amongst others by Hans Maria Wingler and Ludwig Grote, the exhibition was shown in eight museums worldwide until 1971. To this day, it is considered one of the most influential post-war exhibitions on the Bauhaus and was of great significance in the course of the nation building process for the still-young Federal Republic. Fifty years later the Württembergischer Kunstverein undertook a critical rereading of the historical exhibition, which created a long-term image and brand of Bauhaus that has been and still needs to be called in question: not least in such a year of jubilation. → more

●Artist Text
The Legacies of the Bauhaus — For the Present and the Future

“My method of bringing new life to archival images is to look at what happens at the margins rather than the center of a picture. I am also obsessed with making links, based on the belief that everything is connected. And also with what I call ‘narrative environments,’ mediating spaces facilitating new forms of engagement.” Luca Frei is a commissioned artist for bauhaus imaginista: Corresponding With. He talks about his approach to his installation for the exhibition at MoMAK in Kyoto. → more

Naked Functionalism and the Anti-Aesthetic — The Activities of Renshichirō Kawakita in the 1930s

Kawakita called the educational activities that developed around the central axis of the School of New Architecture and Design “kōsei education.” The term “compositional/structural education” is often taken nowadays to refer to a preparatory course in composition derived from the Bauhaus—plastic arts training in which plastic elements such as color, form and materials are treated abstractly.  → more

The Bauhaus and the Tea Ceremony

The impact of the Bauhaus teaching methods reached far beyond Germany. Conversely, throughout its existence, a Japanese sensibility permeated the Bauhaus, springing from the Japonisme of individual professors, until its closure in 1933. This article analyzes the reciprocal impact of German and Japanese design education in the interbellum period in order to shed new light on the tightly knit network of associations then connecting Japan and Europe. → more

Johannes Itten’s Interest in Japanese Ink Painting — Shounan Mizukoshi and Yumeji Takehisa’s Japanese ink painting classes at the Itten-Schule

It’s widely known that Johannes Itten had an interest in Asian philosophy and art. He had a series of fruitful encounters with Japanese artists while leading his Itten-Schule art institute in Berlin (1926–34). In this article Yoshimasa Kaneko presents his research of these exchanges: In 1931 Nanga painter Shounan Mizukoshi taught Japanese ink painting in Nanga style at the Itten-Schule; in 1932 Jiyu Gakuen students Mitsuko Yamamuro and Kazuko Imai (Married name: Sasagawa) studied there; and finally, in 1933 the painter and poet Yumeji Takehisa also taught Japanese ink painting (including Nanga style) at Itten’s invitation. → more

“The Attack on the Bauhaus” — A Collage that Became a Symbol of the Closure of the Bauhaus

For the Yamawaki couple, their studies at the Dessau Bauhaus ended with the closure of the Dessau site. Iwao’s luggage for his return home also included his collage Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus. It was first published in the architecture magazine Kokusai kenchiku in December 1932. Iwao let the collage speak for itself, publishing it without comment. → more

●Artist Work
The O Horizon — A Film Produced for bauhaus imaginista

The Otolith Group have been commissioned to produce The O Horizon for bauhaus imaginista, a new film containing studies of Kala Bhavana as well as the wider environments of Santiniketan and Sriniketan. Through rare footage of art, craft, music and dance, it explores the material production of the school and its community as well as the metaphysical inclinations that guided Tagore’s approach to institution building. → more

A Virtual Cosmopolis — Bauhaus and Kala Bhavan

The Bauhaus is renowned for its contribution to modernist architecture and design. Less known but equally significant is its pioneering role in opening up a transcultural network that created the conditions for global conversations on art and design as early as the 1920s. → more

Reclaiming the National — Against Nationalism

The question of how one resists populist nationalism is both obvious and fiendishly difficult. This sounds like a paradoxical proposition, and, indeed, it is. I am inspired by an early critique of nationalism which bears an uncanny resonance in today’s world: a critique that was made in 1916 by the Bengal poet and visionary, Rabindranath Tagore, during a lecture tour in Japan, in the midst of the First World War. → more

Sriniketan and Beyond — Arts and Design Pedagogy in the Rural Sphere

In this article Natasha Ginwala examines how certain Bauhaus ideas flowed into Tagore’s pedagogic experiment and rural reconstruction program at Sriniketan (created in 1921–22), as well as the engagement with design Dashrath Patel, the founding secretary of the National Institute of Design (NID) and its leading pedagogue, pursued in the rural sphere. → more

Santiniketan — Rules of Metaphor and Other Pedagogic Tools

This essay was occasioned by the Delhi exhibition of the Hangzhou chapter of bauhaus imaginista and the accompanying seminar in December 2018. The overarching brief of the seminar was to discuss the pedagogic aspects of schools in various parts of the world that are relatable to the practices of Bauhaus. Specifically, the essay attempts to capture the foundational moments of Kala Bhavana, the art school in Santiniketan that, incidentally, also steps into its centenary year in 2019. → more

●Text Compilation
News from Santiniketan — A Text Compilation of Educational Texts from Santiniketan

Unlike the Bauhaus, Kala Bhavana had no written manifesto or curriculum. However, a corpus of writing developed around the school, largely produced by the school’s artists and teachers. The academic Partha Mitter, whose own writing has explored the interplay between the struggle against colonialism, modernism, and the cultural avant-garde in India, has selected a group of texts on education in Santiniketan. → more

Bauhaus Calcutta

ln December 1922, ‘The Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the lndian Society of Oriental Art’ was held at Samavaya Bhavan, number seventeen Park Street. Paintings by artists from the ‘Bengal school’—all of them members of the lndian Society of Oriental Arts—were exhibited. Most of these artists painted in a manner, which would have been recognisable as that school’s invention, a particularly lndian signature style, with mythology as preferred subject. Hung on the other side of the hall was a large selection of works from the Bauhaus.  → more

●Video and Introduction
Ritwik’s Ramkinker — A Film in the Process

Ritwik Ghatak’s film Ramkinker Baij: A Personality Study on the sculptor from Santiniketan is like a spurt, a sudden expression of ebullient enthusiasm from a friend, who is said to have shared artistic affinities with him. Incidentally, it also registers, through a conversational method, the process of discovering the artist, who was embedded, organic, yet global and most advanced for his time. → more

●Artist Work
Anna Boghiguian — A Play to Play

The works from Anna Boghiguian shown here are from an installation commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) titled A Play to Play as part of the exhibition Tagore’s Universal Allegories in 2013. These works incorporate elements associated with Tagore, from the artist’s frequent visits to Santiniketan. → more

+ Add this text to your collection!