Bauhaus: Redefining Modern Art and Design in Weimar Germany 

The Bauhaus art movement can be seen as defining not just a generation, but an entire century of modern art and design, influential since its formation and still pre-eminent today. Bauhaus style, of which has defining political roots, stemmed from the German art school of the same name, created in 1925 as a reactionary force amidst the stifling contemporary Weimar landscape. The school is known for having produced some of the most notable modern artists of the century, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. However, what is most notable is the way in which Bauhaus has impacted modern society. It was a revolutionary idea, one of which transformed modern art and design into commercial success, and its ethos created the philosophy that the purpose of art should be to serve the people around it. 

The Bauhaus school designed by Walter Gropius. (Credit: The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Dessau)

Contemporary traditional art schools were elitist and conservative. Founder of the Bauhaus school, Prussian architect Walter Gropius, wanted to create something entirely challenging this consensus. Rather than teaching how to sketch nudes or paint with oils, the school focused on the practicality of design and how it can translate across society, aiming to unite all branches of art in one location. In essence, it completely abandoned the education of traditional fine arts, and thus creating a major political statement for the era. 

Looking at the movement from a twenty-first century perspective, the word Bauhaus may simply conjure up a certain style of modern architecture and design, one of geometry and abstract nature. For contemporaries, however, connotations were far deeper. The Bauhaus represented an entirely new way of thinking, its ideas controversial and laying the foundations for practical modern design in a way the world had never seen before. The signature style was far harsher than anything that defined the contemporary art world and society. Reactionary to art of the time, Bauhaus artists removed emotion and historicity from art, reducing it to visually simplistic geometrics and primary colours. The political intentions in these decisions of style and design, however, were irrefutable, with the school’s continuation becoming increasingly under threat during the interwar period under the increasing power of the country’s national socialist party. 

The font chosen to represent the Bauhaus was a bold political act in itself, using curved letters in contrast to the harsh Fraktur branding of the Nazi Party. These modern typographers of the twenties were aiming to make their style of graphic design revolutionary and international, and lead to a form of universal socialism, of which ironically ended up becoming international capitalism.

Herbert Bayer, BAUHAUS, 1968 (Credit: Omnibus Gallery)

The school itself was extremely short lived, making its long-lasting legacy all the more pre-eminent. Originally opening in Weimar in 1925, it was then forced to close its doors due to political motivations and relocate to Dessau in 1932. It made one further relocation to Berlin in the final few months of existence before it could no longer continue in Weimar society, due to increased pressure from the Nazi Party for the school’s closure and the demise of this style of ‘revolutionary’ design. However, following the end of the Second World War, the legacy and influence of the Bauhaus’ design only continues to spread globally alongside capitalism and democracy. 

There is no doubt that Gropius’ rejection of tradition and Weimar consensus in the school’s creation led to a movement defined by a philosophy of how art should be in place to serve people rather than the designs themselves. However, the overwhelming influence of Bauhaus on modern design must be attributed to the political pressure of the time, as it was only this that led to the creation of such reactionary design, the subsequent emigration of these designers and the spread of their ideas globally. Therefore, Bauhaus was not born as a single style, but an insurgent idea, and a necessity of modernity, creating the aesthetic for what essentially became the foundations of modernist style.

Miriam Shelley, Summer Writer

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