Chesieres, February 12, 1954.
Honorable Mr. Max Bill.
I answer your letters with increasing joy and interest. You are much more pleasant than your reputation. Whether Mr. Gropius has sold, given, entrusted or commissioned you, the name “Bauhaus” remains the same: a simple business question. You have only received this name artistically and morally if you develop the same inspiring effect as the old Bauhaus. Let’s hope that you succeed.
The importance of artistic doctrines lies in your ability to inspire creative activity. I hope more than anything that you will succeed. For if the “Bauhaus” is not the name of an inspiration, then it is the name of a doctrine, which (without inspiration) is death.
I’m telling you here, you’ve misunderstood a lot of things so far. Whether these misunderstandings are dangerous for you is meaningless, because an architect always finds something to do. But it is of the utmost importance for the entire artistic and formal development in Germany, Scandinavia, and also in Switzerland—yes, in the whole of Europe—that you are aware of your responsibility. But it doesn’t seem that way.
You say that I misinterpreted Klee (without specifying how). I don’t think you see routine and imitative virtuosity as artistic goals. Don’t you know that an artist cannot misinterpret another artist? My creative possibilities and successes as an artist show whether I have interpreted something wrongly or correctly; i.e. whether I have appropriated or copied something.
Much of Klee’s and Kandinsky’s work, and that of the old “Bauhaus,” is historical and without relevance, as was the case with Dadaism. Let’s keep it historical. Much has developed since then. It would also be easy to extract nice reactionary views on art from the documents of Cezanne and van Gogh. What we can use belongs to us, and “adorns us with these plumes”—that means developing culture.
I am very pleased that you can see that I am “presumptuous, rude and arrogant,” But I can tell you that I will be completely ruthless if I fight for a conception in art that I find of the highest truth, topicality and historical significance.
I don’t think that it makes sense to admit “all tendencies in art” in the new “Bauhaus.” (But it makes sense that the artists and professors teaching in applied arts are respected by the other scientific disciplines. It has always been shown that in an epoch only one tendency can develop. Today it is neither Dadaism nor Surrealism, Abstractivism, Concretism or Realism, but something still unknown. This development cannot be changed. But one can support it or counteract it and dissolve it into nothing. Where does the new “Bauhaus” stand in this development: for or against? It seems to me that it is our artistic duty to realize historical creative possibilities to the absolute limit.
The possibilities of the interwar period were, first of all, of an analytic character: today synthesis is our highest performance possibility. But it must be the synthesis of extreme artistic possibilities in all directions to have any meaning. Against this highest synthesis work all those who want to climb over the fence where it is lowest. That is what you are trying to do when you build the new “Bauhaus” sectorially. Your synthesis can at most become of secondary importance, probably it will be only—negative. Just like Dadaism and Surrealism, Kandinsky’s so-called “Concretism” died with him and became historical.
I want to give everything so that you can understand what a great task you have taken on and what opportunities you have. If there is only one possibility to solve it, and if you let it rot, you will have to carry a lot on your conscience, because this possibility will not come back for our generation: to be allowed to continue working on a tradition that has already been created.
If you continue with your exclusive arrogance, everything will be lost, and the artists who have the same creative inspiration as the old “Bauhaus” can start all over again. You have not succeeded in winning the sympathy of the creative and living artists in Germany for your project. Apparently you are not looking for them, either. But without this sympathy you won’t catch the artists of international art life. What will then become the new “Bauhaus”?—what you can already see in Germany: “Just a school for architecture and industrial design,” as they have already been built everywhere. To be honest, Mr. Max Bill, there is probably a school like this in Zurich where you could become director and leave the new “Bauhaus” free for other purposes if you don’t have greater ambitions.
You write that you only want to “build positively and constructively.” Do you know what that means? This means that you only want to parasitize the creative struggle of the freer artists, because just as there is no light without dark, there is no positive without a tension with the negative. One must destroy in order to be able to build, and in order to systematically take up this double task, the only possibility remains: to create the new “Bauhaus” as a cultural and artistic focal point of Europe—yes, of the whole world, which is so terribly lacking today: Somewhere where the arts and creative forces have a critical and congenial center. If it is so—if the task is so great—then there is no other possibility than to unite all the forces in order to realize it, or to disregard it altogether. There are no intermediate stages. You might as well demand that one only needs bright colors in Ulm instead of promoting that one should only “build up positively.” Does this mean that you want to support Adenauer’s Catholic restoration? It is the only thing you can achieve with your purist Calvinism.
I offered you a cooperation. You will be disappointed if you think that it would be enough to offer the artists a cooperation to attract them quickly. There are as many prejudices against the architects among the visual artists as there are in the opposite direction. I have fought against it for more than 10 years, and today I am perhaps the only one who can see a sense in making this connection. I know, however, that one day it will be urgent for everyone to see it.
You may not understand why I give so much importance to this discussion with you. Because of my illness I was excluded from the European art discussion for some years, and now I see that the artists often isolate themselves from each other, fight each other just because they don’t understand each other. What they lack is a center where they can experiment with common views. Such a center could contribute for at least 20 years to the development of art in Europe. So do you want to cooperate with us? That doesn’t mean accepting our viewpoint—on the contrary—but opening the new “Bauhaus” as the focal point of all new artistic ideas. It would be a historical event in the artistic world, perhaps much greater than the results of the first Bauhaus.
I feel it is my duty to discuss with you until it is quite clear whether you want to accept this possibility or whether you want to take full responsibility for another development. I am neither a Dadaist, nor a Surrealist, nor a Constructivist, nor anything else. I am only an artist. But if I don’t see Dadaism as art but only as aesthetics, then it is, in my opinion, the most highly developed experimental method of art and, as such, of constant validity, as are constructive methods. The question is how to create a dynamic synthesis of the most effective artistic methods, and that means, first of all, to free oneself from sectarianism.