Three Preliminary Courses: Itten, Moholy-Nagy, Albers

Matter exercise from Itten’s preliminary course by Max Bronstein.
Photo: Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (14347 F).

The Bauhaus did not fall from the sky but marked the crystallization point of a long historical development. In addition to the Europe-wide arts and crafts reform movement of the second half of the nineteenth century, the ideas of the so-called art school reform of the early twentieth century and the figures of liberal reform pedagogy of the time should be mentioned. The latter also found their way into Bauhaus pedagogy in various forms and emphases.

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. When he arrived in the autumn of 1919, his first task was developing the preliminary course (also known, variously, as preliminary teaching, preliminary instruction and basic teaching), 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.

The Bauhaus Statutes of 1921 state:

“For the time being, each applicant is accepted for rehearsal for only one semester. During this six-month trial period ... the obligatory preliminary instruction must be attended, which consists of elementary formal instruction in conjunction with material studies. ... Final admission will depend on the attendance of this lesson and on the quality of the candidate’s free papers produced during this trial period.”1

The preliminary course, the propaedeutic Bauhaus instruction (initially one, later two semesters), thus took on the character of an initiation rite (one had to have gone through it in order to be accepted into the Bauhaus community), also functioning as a selection instrument. At the same time, it became the pedagogical basis of the school. Its function was not only to cleanse from students the residual slag of prior formal conventions and traditional, academically established aesthetic ideas and practices, but also to impart elementary basic design principles on which subsequent Bauhaus teaching in the workshops was to be based.

Johannes Itten

Itten assumed an open pedagogical approach:

“From the very beginning, my teaching was not geared to a particularly fixed external goal. The human being itself as a developable being to be built up seemed to me to be the task of my pedagogical efforts. Sense development, increase of the thinking ability and the mental experience, loosening and Durchbildung (educating) of the physical organs and functions ...”2

Already in these sentences a comprehensive, holistic educational concept is manifested in complete clarity, going beyond the mere professional instruction of an artist or designer. It is a decisive rejection of one-sided specialization and a claim to enable and promote instead the growth of creative generalists/universalists. Consequently, the preliminary course was not intended to teach basic drawing skills in the traditional sense (acquired in conventional artistic training at the academies in three stages, by first copying drawings, then drawing from plaster casts, before proceeding to live models), but rather, to develop the human being as a physical, mental and spiritual entity—i.e., in an overarching educating of the aesthetic senses; a holistic education.

This included Itten’s teaching regularly beginning with certain gymnastic exercises suggested by his Stuttgart academy teacher Adolf Hölzel, the aim of which was “to give the body the ability to express itself, the ability to experience, to awaken itself. First (the student) must experience.”3 This was followed by so-called harmonization exercises and rhythmic form exercises, which Paul Klee described very vividly in 1921, albeit not without an ironic undertone, as follows:

“After he (Itten) has paced around the room several times, he heads for an easel on which there is a drawing board with a sheet of greaseproof paper. He grabs a charcoal, as if charging with energy his body gathers, and then suddenly he marks the sheet twice in a row. You see the shape of two energetic strokes, vertical and parallel on the top sheet, the students are asked to imitate his movement. ... Then he commands that they do it rhythmically, then he lets the same Exercitium be practiced standing. It seems to be a kind of body massage to train the machine to function emotionally.”4

The aim of this exercise was for the pupils to loosen up, relax and liberate themselves from the constraints of an academic manner and to experience movement and rhythm as an existential primal principle, as well as a basic principle of artistic organization. Itten was thus in agreement with the protagonists of the rhythm movement of that era—critics of civilization, natural philosophers, dance, music and sports pedagogues—who regarded natural rhythm as the only authentic principle of life.

The actual teaching program consisted of a sequence of different exercises, beginning with elementary two-dimensional studies and ending with complex plastic-spatial composition experiments. These exercises were integrated into Itten’s general theory of contrast, which—in addition to the overarching principle of movement—provided a theoretical framework for his entire teaching.

Exercises on light-dark contrast, which, in view of the primordial polarity of light and darkness, Itten regarded as the elementary contrast par excellence, occupied a particularly prominent place in his classroom. Usually they worked with charcoal, a sensitive material capable of modulation and well suited for representing light and darkness. Since the students at first often found it difficult to portray chiaroscuro nuances in a sufficiently differentiated manner, Itten had them make tone scales, covering the range from the lightest grey to the deepest black in even gradations. Such exercises were extended by adding “ribbons of light-dark chords,”5 whether in the same area size or with differently proportioned fields, tasks which then culminated in studies in which “areas of different size and tonal values” were to be distributed “evenly” in a composition that was usually constructed strictly at right angles.

For Itten, a holistic education program included not only training the sense of sight, but also the sense of touch. For this purpose, material studies were carried out which represent an interesting example of the penetration of avant-garde notions of design, common in Cubism and Dadaism at that time, into the teaching canon of a modern art school, documenting the anti-academic spirit of the Bauhaus, which was fully open to innovation.

These exercises were followed by the study of nature, about which Itten writes:

“Beginners have to make very precise, photographically accurate drawings, even colored ones, based on nature in order to train sharp, exact observation skills. I only want to train the eye, plus hand and memory, learning by heart what one has seen.”6

In fact, in the preliminary course, the exercise was used to draw factual representations that accurately depicted the material character of the objects.

Should the study of nature put the students in a position to fix what they perceived in drawings as precisely as possible and to gain “an exact idea of the tonal values and the characteristic forms,” then the intention of life drawing exercises from human models was the opposite. It was not a question here of anatomically reproducing external reality as accurately as possible, but of finding the characteristic “form of expression” or grasping the “inner movement” of the model. This was an additional indication of Itten’s break with academic traditions and, thus, his modernity:

“Today I want to teach the rhythmic drawing of nudes. The students have to draw an entire nude in circular movements while I count—drawing to the right and left, depending on the movement of the nude. Then, because the nude as a formal character also has straight lines, draw the same thing in straight lines. It is important that there is a uniform hand movement, that everything is in motion.”7

An interesting detail in these classes, because at that time it was extremely progressive, is the fact that nude drawing was partly accompanied by music in order to increase the feeling for the rhythmic expression of the moving model.

The analyses of old masters inspired by Hölzel in Stuttgart were also of great importance in Itten’s teaching. Itten was not interested in the philological approach to the work of art, nor in its artistic-scientific interpretation, but, rather, in gaining a direct access to the “essence” of the work through practical visual comprehension—not only in tracking down hidden compositional principles, but also in “empathizing” with the works. Oskar Schlemmer writes about this:

“Itten gives ‘analysis’ in Weimar. Shows light pictures, according to which the pupils should draw this or that essential; usually the movement, main line, curve. He refers them to a Gothic figure. Then he shows the crying Magdalena from the Grünewald Altar; the pupils try to solve the essential from the very complicated. Itten sees the experiments and thunders: ‘If you had an artistic feeling, you would not have to draw in front of this sublime representation of weeping, which would be the weeping of the world, but sit there and melt into wine. Say it and slam the door shut!’”8

Matter exercise from Itten’s preliminary course, Moses Mirkin, 1920 (reconstruction 1967), photo © Rainer K. Wick.

In Itten’s preliminary course, the study of the basic “form characters”—square, triangle and circle—and their relationship to the primary colors red, blue and yellow also took up a great deal of class time. “Starting from zero” is one of the proverbial maxims of Bauhaus pedagogy. After students had “experienced” the basic forms motorically through body movements (relaxed swinging or tensed angularity), the creative possibilities of square, triangle and circle had to be worked through in a systematic series of exercises and composition studies: compositions in square, triangle or circle character, combinations of two or three characters, form divisions in square, triangle and circle character—exercises which then led to intensive proportion studies and three-dimensional form studies. It should be emphasized that for Itten these stereometric compositions were not “utopian” architectural models, after the fashion of the progressive architects in the circle of the Berlin Work Council for Art and the November Group. Furthermore, they were not meant to be purposeful preparatory exercises within the framework of the training of future architects, but in the sense of the theoretical and practical orientation of the preliminary course, as outlined above, they were intended to serve the acquisition of the most general insights into fundamental relationships between the body and space.

The same applies to the often bizarre-looking materials montages made from found objects found in dumps or scrap yards, which bear an affinity with the Dadaist movement, and in some cases show an extremely playful character. Free of any extra-aesthetic claims to exploitation, such playful exercises offered the students the opportunity to freely realize their own creative potential and thus experience their anthropological potentiality, completely in keeping with Friedrich Schiller’s dictum that man is “only human where he plays.”

After fundamental differences of opinion between Walter Gropius and Itten about the future course of the school—Gropius was looking for a socially motivated “new unity” of art and technology while Itten primarily thought of developing and strengthening artistic individuality within the framework of an “artistic” education—Itten left the Bauhaus, which he had decisively influenced in its founding phase, in the spring of 1923.

László Moholy-Nagy

Itten’s successor as head of the preliminary course was the Hungarian universal artist László Moholy-Nagy. With his emphatically rational design pedagogy concept, Moholy-Nagy became the decisive executor of the Bauhaus change of course that Gropius began instituting between 1922 and 1923—in the sense of creating a stronger orientation within the school towards technology and industry. With his artistic will Moholy-Nagy countered the expressionist exuberance, social utopian proclamations and medieval yearning for salvation which characterized the founding phase of the school. Carried off by his affirmation—indeed enthusiasm for—technology and his formal commitment to constructivism, Moholy-Nagy not only aimed at a renewal of product culture “with contemporary means,” but also included the hope of being able to positively change the individual person and society as a whole. In this hoped-for transformation, art was an “indirect means of education” intended to play a decisive role as a vehicle of sensory and cognitive differentiation.

In spite of his positive attitude to the modern, machine-determined and highly organized world, Moholy-Nagy subjected the educational system of his time to a decisive critique. Thus, he complained that the education of the “sectors of human development” under the dictates of the social division of labor and professional specialization had progressed in such a way “that the human being atrophied. ... The sectoral human being must again be founded in the central, organically growing human being in the community: strong, open, happy, as he was in his childhood. Without this organic security, the richest differentiations of the subject studies are ... mere quantitative acquisition, without increasing the intensity of life, without enlarging the circle of life. ... The future needs the whole man.”9

This ideal of the “whole man” was by no means original. Historically, it can be traced back to ancient Greece and coincided with the maxims of numerous progressive art educators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Itten. In his educational reflections, Moholy-Nagy proceeded from the following anthropological premise:

“Every human being is gifted. Every healthy person has a deep ability to unfold the creative energies founded in his human being. ... Originally, everyone is gifted to receive and develop sensory experiences.”10

At the Bauhaus, Moholy-Nagy envisioned the prerequisite for the realization of a pedagogical concept as being based on an open concept of giftedness—i.e., on the thesis of a fundamental possibility for each individual’s creative development (as given by the Bauhaus), in that this first German “Hochschule für Gestaltung” (the nickname of the academy in Dessau) “does not place the ‘subject’ at the beginning of his teaching, but man in his natural readiness to grasp the whole of life.”11

Consequently, after Moholy-Nagy arrived, the student’s first year at the Bauhaus had to serve above all “the development and maturation of meaning, feeling and thoughts, especially among those young people who had an infertile accumulation of lexical knowledge behind them as a result of the usual childhood education.” And even the specialized training in one of the Bauhaus workshops was to keep the “total man” in view as the overall goal; the man “who, from his biological center, can with instinctive certainty again take an instinctive stand against all the things of life; who allows himself be taken by surprise by industry, rapidity, and the externalities of an often misunderstood ‘machine culture’ as little as the man of antiquity had the fortitude to assert himself against the forces of nature.”12

Against the background of the realization that in highly developed industrial societies primary experiences are increasingly supplemented, superimposed or even replaced by secondary experiences, Moholy-Nagy demanded that the Bauhaus education, which aimed at the creative universalist and not at the mere functioning specialist, that he or she must “fall back on the most primitive sources of experience” in order to arrive at the “whole of life.” In the context of this development of “primitive sources of experience,” Moholy-Nagy attached particular importance to the “experience of the material” through “primitive tactile exercises.” For him, the “School of Seeing” (Max Burchartz) was the training of the sense of touch, the “experiential comprehension of the material, as it was never achieved by the knowledge of books in the usual school business and in traditional lessons.”13 These tactile exercises continued what his predecessor had carried out in the preliminary course, and yet his approach differed in one important point from that of Itten. While Itten’s materials, which were to be experienced by touch, were freely “composed,” so that these material montages often had an extremely picturesque effect, Moholy’s material investigations were characterized by strict systematics, methodical consistency and, in part, a quasi-scientific approach—for example, where subjective feelings were “objectified” by so-called tactile diagrams. A case in point: in order to train haptic skills Moholy-Nagy constructed tactile boards, wheels or tapes on which materials were arranged according to certain defined criteria, usually in the form of simultaneously tangible two-line “scales,”—e.g., from smooth to rough or pointed to blunt.

Moholy-Nagy’s efforts to terminologically distinguish the concrete manifestations of different materials and to define them more precisely corresponded to his aforementioned tendencies towards systematization and the rational penetration of sensual elementary experiences. His aim was to achieve the clearest possible linguistic regulation of the term’s structure (internal structure), texture (epidermis natural) and texture (epidermis artificial). These, he felt, were used inconsistently in colloquial language. For “pedagogical purposes,” Moholy-Nagy devised exercises with different materials and tools. For example, students processed paper or cardboard in such a way that these smooth materials were given relief surfaces.

In addition to the exercises for haptic and optical sensory training, these three-dimensional construction exercises represented a second focus of Moholy-Nagy’s “general element theory.” While those three-dimensional material assemblages composed of found objects created under Itten were often characterized by bizarre charm and humorous punch lines, the construction exercises devised by Moholy-Nagy were aimed at systematically investigating problems of body and space and finding constructive solutions; meaning that these exercises, which used wood, sheet metal, glass, wire and cords as their raw materials, “primarily served to educate visual sensation and thinking in relation to construction, static and dynamic moments, balance and space” and were therefore “of elementary importance for later practice in all areas of design.”14

The reduction of mass played a central role in this. In fact, the reduction of volume was a topic of particular interest at the Bauhaus. One need only recall the tendency towards transparent architecture by Gropius (the glass curtain of the workshop wing of the Dessau Bauhaus building is particularly striking) or the reductive tubular steel furniture by Marcel Breuer. Accordingly, Moholy-Nagy had constructions made of wood, metal, glass and plastic worked out in the preliminary course, which, with drastically reduced material expenditure, sought to avoid everything block-like, which in many cases had been driven to complete transparency or merely indicated the physical as a line structure. These exercises on spatial experience, which would be inconceivable without the influence of the “spatial constructions” of Russian constructivists (Stenberg brothers, Rodchenko) and, of course, without Moholy-Nagy’s own experimental design practice, reflected the Bauhaus’s perceptible effort since the mid-1929s to achieve a radical economization of means. Moholy-Nagy writes:

“Yesterday’s artist took little care, for example, of calculating the exact weight of his work. A few kilograms or even a hundredweight was not the point with an older sculpture. The Bauhaus also learned to pay attention to this component, and every gram saved—while maintaining the same effect—often meant a small victory for the inventor.”15

In this context, his teaching focused extensively on equilibrium studies, where the aim was to keep the simple, unstable, and often fragile constructions, which were composed of the simplest elements, optically and realistically in balance, whether these constructions were resting on one or more support points, or whether they hung, seemingly suspended, on barely visible wires in space and created the illusion of weightlessness.

Such “design studies” were explicitly aimed at education. Their task was to provide the students with insights into elementary design categories such as dimension and proportion, statics and dynamics, tension and contrast by means of their own experimental activities (the “learning by doing” principle), and to give them a basic understanding of the properties and characteristic behavior of different materials (weight, elasticity, load-bearing capacity, etc.). Moholy-Nagy firmly rejected any formulaic application of “aesthetic rules” such as those provided by the teachings on proportion. He expressly emphasized that “formulas could never be the basis of creation.” And he came to the conclusion: “Creativity needs intuition on the one hand, conscious analysis ... on the other.”16

Josef Albers

In 1928 Moholy-Nagy left the Bauhaus. His successor was Josef Albers, who had initially been trained as a school teacher and art teacher in the spirit of reform pedagogy. Following a year at the Royal Bavarian Academy of Fine Art, in 1919 Albers enrolled at the Bauhaus (studying with Johannes Itten, among others) and from 1923 taught together with Moholy-Nagy in the preliminary course, before taking over the sole direction of this propaedeutic teaching between 1928 and 1933.

As an art pedagogue and pre-course teacher, Albers proceeded from a fundamental critique of the traditional school and the infertile process of circular reproduction of historical teaching content that prevailed there. According to his conviction, the school has

“… lost its original direction, it is a teaching institute and revolves around a center, its highest figure, the professor. He passes on the so-called established: knowledge, methods, rules, thus thinks historically. ... Today one wants knowledge and wants to have scientific subjects for it. Where one lectures, writes up and writes off, reads and writes down, has breakfast everywhere, does not get full. The highest pupils are called auditors, they produce one book out of many, then they are called doctors and order listeners again: the teaching circles. Passing on without increasing value today means pushing. That’s why today the school breeds pusher instead of creator. Instead of letting them design it commands them to take notes. ... It produces administrators, no designers. ... Today’s young people notice the wrong direction: that ... historical knowledge inhibits production. And that listening to teachings without being allowed to forget means eating without subsequent defecation, and that the substitute for it—vomiting in the exam—is unhealthy. ... Much history leaves little work to be done. The reversal: little history— much work, concerns us.”17

Albers propagated an educational concept that can be summed up in the concise formula “learning by experience.” The aim of his pedagogy was an education that focused on the creative. He countered the transmission of knowledge and skills based on tradition by saying that it “leads to a loss of creative freedom” and inhibited invention. In order to stimulate the creativity of the students, he rigorously restricted the usual use of tools or the application of known techniques in his Werklicher Formunterricht (manual form teaching), in order to stimulate “independent thinking and the development of an individual style”18 and to counter a relapse into traditional action. Part of his pedagogical strategy, part of his inductive teaching method, was to prohibit everything that could no longer be invented:

“Example: outside (in handicrafts and industry) paper is employed mostly lying flat and glued, whereby one side of the paper loses its expression, and the edge is almost never used. This is the reason why we use paper standing, uneven, mobile sculpture, both sides, with an emphasis on the edge. ... Instead of gluing it, we bind it, stick it into things, sew it, rivet it, i.e. fasten it in other ways and test its performance under tension and pressure.
Thus we intentionally handle materials differently from the outside world, (and that is) not to imitate, but rather to seek on our own and to learn how to find independently—constructive thinking”19

In Albers’ teaching concept—which could be somewhat irritating—two working concepts emerge that sound very similar and yet in principle refer to different facts—namely matter exercises and material exercises.

The matter exercises show that Albers took up the approaches of his pre-course teacher Itten, but also of his colleague Moholy-Nagy. The subject of these exercises was the investigation of the outer appearance of things—the surface qualities, the epidermis—with the aim of developing a “material feeling” that would be as differentiated as possible. This was done by “arranging materials side by side” and by “searching for relationships,” as he called it:

“In the way that red complements green, and is simultaneously its contrast and balance, materials such as brick and burlap, glass and stearin, wire mesh and wood ‘stand’ in the same relationship.”20

A significant example of this is the “Matter and Focus Study” by Bauhaus student Ursula Schneider, which is structured according to the following pairs of contrasts: “Translucent—translucent, flat—linear, flat—curved, standing—hanging, colored—achromatic, light—heavy, shiny—matt, elastic –stiff, resilient—oscillating. Smallest state. In wire mesh, cellophane and rubber.”21

It is above all the choice of material that distinguishes such a study of matter from similar exercises taken from the teaching of Itten. Whereas the latter used materials that bore the sign of transience (such as waste materials), to create imaginative assemblages, the works Albers’ students produced were decidedly sober, matter-of-fact and “modern” in their industrial smoothness and technical language. More than these matter studies it was the material exercises that were Albers’ original and unmistakable contribution to pedagogy at the Bauhaus. These were mostly folding exercises using paper and cardboard but also then novel materials such as cellophane. It was not about the sensual experience of the material surfaces, but about testing the inherent properties of the materials, such as stability, load-bearing capacity, strength, resilience and others—i.e., researching the “inner energies” of the materials employed.

Balance exercise from Moholy-Nagy’s preliminary course, c. 1924 (reconstruction 1967), photo: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.

Material exercise from Albers’ preliminary course, Werner Zimmermann, 1927 (rekonstruction 2009), photo © Rainer K. Wick.

Material exercise from Albers’ preliminary course, Takehiko Mizutani, 1927, photo © Rainer K. Wick.

In these exercises, two criteria were of central importance, namely material economics and labor economics. According to Albers, material economics means optimal material use “without loss or waste.” Education in material economy was for Albers education in rational, planned action: “There must not be anything unused left in any form, otherwise the calculation is incorrect; because chance has played along. He is unconsidered and therefore irresponsible; also spiritless, because he comes from habit.” Material economy implies discipline, and “cleanliness and exactness as the greatest disciplinary factors” are, according to Albers, also indispensable to aesthetic education (which by no means collided with the goal of promoting creativity for him, but was never acceptable for one of his most important later students in the USA, namely Robert Rauschenberg). Economy in the use of materials “leads to an emphasis on lightness”—a goal that with his tubular steel chairs Marcel Breuer, as mentioned previously, achieved in the field of product design. The principle of material economy becomes aesthetically relevant through “the activation of negativa (of remainders, intermediate, and negative values). ... If one gives equal consideration and weight to positive and negative values, then there is no ‘remainder.’ Then we no longer draw distinctions between ‘carrying’ and ‘being carried’; we no longer admit divisions between ‘serving’ and ‘being served,’ between ‘decoration’ and ‘that which is decorated.’ Every element must simultaneously help and be helped by the whole, support and be supported. In this way, base and frame disappear—and thus also the monument, which employs an excess of substructure to support a dearth of superstructure.”22

In Albers’ “educational methodology,” material economics and labor economics are directly intertwined. Through the class division of labor, economics is practiced by restricting the worker to a single work process and radically limiting the use of tools. A vivid example of a material-economical behavior with a simultaneous labor-economical procedure is a plastic material study made out of sheet metal by Bauhaus student Alphons Frieling, which Albers commented upon as follows: “Emphasis on material-economics (without any cuts excised from the rectangle, strongest strength test, highest possible height), on labor-economics (one tool: sheet metal scissors ... one working process: only shearing, without any bending).”23 The restriction to simple material and the demand on students’ to strictly cleave to material and labor economic procedures could be interpreted as extreme pedagogical rigor, which may perhaps seem incompatible with the goal of unfolding creativity. In fact, the works created within the Albers preliminary course demonstrate a diversity that proves the opposite: namely, that for creative people, despite external restrictions (which here, of course, were pedagogically motivated primarily—although the economic difficulties of the time cannot be overlooked), the number of possible solutions is almost limitless. For Albers, who out of conviction offered no model solutions and who was careful not to intervene “correctively” in the works of his pupils (this too was a reform pedagogy ideal Albers shared with Johannes Itten, who was born in the same year as his former student), there was basically no best solution in any of his material exercises. Rather, he accepted a variety of solutions, with the proviso that the criteria set by him had been adhered to:

“The relationship between expenditure and effect is the measure of success. Beyond their sum, one element plus one element must yield at least one interesting relationship.”24

Already in November 1933, a few months after the Nazis forced the closure of the Bauhaus, Albers was able to begin a second, extremely successful career as an art teacher in the United States. There, first at Black Mountain College and later at Yale, he shaped generations of adolescent artists in the spirit of the Bauhaus; there, in a modified form, he continued his preliminary Bauhaus course and, above all, expanded it with his legendary color course, which is not the subject of this sketch for propaedeutic instruction at the Bauhaus.

More detailed information on the subject of Bauhaus pedagogy can be found in: Rainer K. Wick: Bauhaus-Pädagogik, DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne 1982; Bauhaus. Kunstschule der Moderne, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000; Bauhaus. Kunst und Pädagogik, Athena Verlag, Oberhausen 2009.

  • 1 Statutes of the State Bauhaus Weimar, January 1921, in: Volker Wahl (ed.): Das Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar. Dokumente zur Geschichte des Instituts 1919–1926, Böhlau Verlag, Cologne-Weimar-Vienna 2009, p. 117.
  • 2 Johannes Itten: “Pädagogische Fragmente einer Formenlehre” (1930), in: Willy Rotzler (ed.): Johannes Itten. Werk und Schriften (Second Edition), Orel Fuslli Verlag, Zürich 1978, p. 232.
  • 3 Johannes Itten: “Tagebuch X, 2.3.1918,” in: Eva Badura-Triska (ed.): Johannes Itten. Tagebücher. Stuttgart 1913–1916, Wien 1916–1919, Vol. 2, Löcker Verlag, Wien 1990, p. 387.
  • 4 Felix Klee (ed.): Paul Klee. Briefe an die Familie 1893–1940 Vol. 2, DuMont Verlag, Cologne 1979, p. 970.
  • 5 Rainer K. Wick: Teaching at the Bauhaus, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Berlin 2001, p. 195.
  • 6 Itten: Tagebuch IX, September 1918, p. 334.
  • 7 Itten: Tagebuch XII, März/April 1919, p. 418.
  • 8 Oskar Schlemmer: “letter to Otto Meyer, 16.5.1921,” in: Tut Schlemmer (ed.): The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer, Northwestern University Press, Chicago, 1990.
  • 9 László Moholy-Nagy: Von Material zu Architektur (bauhausbücher 14), Albert Langen Verlag, Munich 1929, p. 11.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 13.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 17.
  • 12 Ibid., p. 19.
  • 13 Ibid.
  • 14 Hans M. Wingler: Das Bauhaus. Weimar, Dessau, Berlin (Third Edition), Rasch Verlag, Bramsche 1975, p. 287.
  • 15 Moholy-Nagy, Von Material zu Architektur, p. 134.
  • 16 Ibid., p. 71.
  • 17 Josef Albers, “Historisch oder jetzig,” in: Junge Menschen (Bauhaus-Sondernummer), No. 8, 1924, p. 171.
  • 18 Josef Albers, “Teaching Form through Practice,” translated by Frederick Amrine, Frederick Horowitz, and Nathan Horowitz, 2005, Published originally as Josef Albers, “Werklicher Formunterricht,” in: bauhaus, No. 2/3, 1928, p. 3.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 4.
  • 20 Ibid., p. 6.
  • 21 Josef Albers, “Werklicher Formunterricht,” in: bauhaus, No. 2/3, 1928, image caption, translated by the editors.
  • 22 Albers, “Teaching Form through Practice,” p. 5.
  • 23 Albers, “Werklicher Formunterricht,” image caption, translated by the editors, p. 3.
  • 24 Albers, “Teaching Form through Practice,” p. 4.
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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

●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

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