Bauhaus? For many in the general public, it just might be another strange word. Maybe the music fans can tell you about an influential British band from the Eighties that carried the same name.
But for people in the visual art world, architecture, graphics, interior, and other design it is much more than that. According to The Art Story, the “Bauhaus was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20th century.” But, actually, almost all authorities on the subject, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or graphic experts will agree.
By their definition (The Art Story, above), the Bauhaus movement’s approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and in the United States long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933. The key influences on the Bauhaus were by 19th and early-20th-century artistic directions. Particularly, the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as Art Nouveau and its many international incarnations, including the Jugendstil and Vienna Secession. All of these movements sought to level the distinction between the fine and applied arts, and to reunite creativity and manufacturing.
Bauhaus—literally translated to “construction house”—originated as a German school of the arts in the early 20th century. Founded by Walter Gropius, the school eventually morphed into its own modern art movement characterized by its unique approach to architecture and design. Today, Bauhaus is renowned for both its unique aesthetic that inventively combines the fine arts with arts and crafts as well as its enduring influence on modern and contemporary art. (MyModernMet, above)
The origins of the Bauhaus movement
The origins of the Bauhaus lie in the late 19th century, in anxieties about the soullessness of modern manufacturing, and fears about art’s loss of social relevance. The Bauhaus aimed to reunite fine art and functional design, creating practical objects with the soul of artworks. (The Art Story)
Actually, Bauhaus key was the fusion of what was until then fine art (painting and sculpture) with the practical crafts like architecture and interior design. It made all of them part of the general concept of art. With the Bauhaus movement, fin art and functional craft became equal.
“The stress on experiment and problem-solving which characterized the Bauhaus’s approach to teaching has proved to be enormously influential on contemporary art education. It has led to the rethinking of the “fine arts” as the “visual arts”, and to a reconceptualization of the artistic process as more akin to a research science than to a humanities subject such as literature or history.”(TAS, above)
Briefly, “in 1919, German architect Walter Gropius established Staatliches Bauhaus, a school dedicated to uniting all branches of the arts under one roof. The school acted as a hub for Europe’s most experimental creatives, with well-known artists like Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee offering their expertise as instructors.” (My Modern Met)
So, what are the main stylistic characteristics of Bauhaus? The experts agree that it would be “ little ornamentation and a focus on balanced forms and abstract shapes.”
Today, Bauhaus often has the credit as the catalyst for modern architecture and furniture and as an important influence on mid-20th century painting and sculpture. (above)
The three key phases of the Bauhaus movement
As MyModernMet (above) explains, Bauhaus as an educational institution existed in three cities—Weimar (1919 to 1925), Dessau (1925 to 1932), and Berlin (1932 to 1933).
Weimar, aka State Bauhaus in Weimar, was key for Gropius’ groundwork for Bauhaus to come; it’s where he established ideals that would be considered visionary for the time. Art, according to his manifesto and the program, should serve a social role and there should no longer be a division of craft-based disciplines.
At Weimar, the “stage workshop” was an important part of the education. Its directors were Lothar Schreyer from 1921 to 1923 and then by Oskar Schlemmer from 1923 to 1925. It brought together visual and performing arts and stressed an interdisciplinary approach.
Dessau was the hotspot in the heyday of Bauhaus. It arose after the politically motivated close of Weimar. During this time, it set forth on the path of designing new industrial products for mass consumption. (Most of the products and designs that are well known today came from Dessau.) It was also here where Gropius planned and built the famous Bauhaus Building. This iteration of Bauhaus was dissolved on September 30, 1932.
Berlin was the last phase of Bauhaus. Due to mounting pressures from the Nazis and cutbacks in funding, there was limited work done during this time. The move to Berlin happened after the closure of Dessau, and Bauhaus masters and students reconvened in October 1932 out of an abandoned telephone factory. By April 11, 1933, however, the premises were searched and closed by the police and SA.
The teaching staff dissolved the Bauhaus in July 1933. But even after facing permanent closure, the influence and aesthetic of the school persisted, culminating in the Bauhaus movement.
The main stylistic characteristics
In art, this emphasis on function is apparent in the balanced compositions of abstract paintings by Bauhaus artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Undoubtedly inspired by architecture, the paintings typically pair flat planes with overlapping shapes to suggest dimensionality.
In addition to paintings, artists often produced abstract sculptures, avant-garde collages, and modernist posters featuring bold typography and blocks of color.
Architecture in this style is characterized by harmoniously balanced geometric shapes and an emphasis on function.
Bauhaus interiors are renowned for their simplicity and openness. Minimally adorned with iconic furniture—including the Wassily Chair, a model named after Kandinsky—and uncomplicated accents, they perfectly echo their exteriors.
As MMM also notes, today, Bauhaus gets the credit as the catalyst for modern architecture and furniture and as an important influence on mid-20th century painting and sculpture. Some buildings—including Bauhaus Dessau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site—have been turned into tourist destinations and house museums. Many major modern art museums incorporate the works of art into their permanent displays and popular exhibitions.
Bauhaus design principles
Zekagraphic (above) names “form follows function” as the main motto of the Bauhaus movement. This means “designing elegant design layouts using geometric shapes but maintaining the focus on the function of all the elements. Functionality doesn’t need to be boring.”
Here are the other Bauhaus design principles:
- Use of Minimalism. The Bauhaus artists preferred the use of linear and geometrical shapes and completely avoiding curvilinear or floral shapes.
- Simplicity and Effectiveness. Bauhaus artist celebrates pure forms, clean designs and the main characteristic of their works was function, they were looking for the organic design and the nature of the objects by avoiding the use of additional ornamenting elements that they think were unnecessary.
- Emphasis on New Materials and New Techniques. The focus was on looking for new materials, techniques, and a new attitude towards design work which was being ever in constant evolution. Regarding graphic design, the Bauhaus movement’s focus was on the use of negative space avoiding extra elements.
- The designer was part of the full design process. The designer was present on the complete art process including the concept idea, the design, and the making of it.
- Focus on Technology. The Bauhaus artists were constantly looking for new technologies and techniques and they adapt them to develop products for mass production.
- Constant development. One of the key parts of the Bauhaus movement was the constant looking to evolve their style. They were inventing something new constantly.
Influence on graphic design
In graphic design, the Bauhaus proponents’ focus was on the color palette. They used primary colors or “a white and black color palette with a single accent color that could be red or blue.” (above).
Bauhaus’s focus was also on collage design. There, the main thing was “isolated images of figures or human features like eyes or hands giving the Bauhaus poster design a surrealist style.”
Zekegraphic also notes that the Bauhaus artists were very experimental with graphic design layouts. It is very common to see them using “broken” grids. Also, they stressed the importance of geometric shapes and the use of minimalist typography. This will later will inspire the modernist fonts.
Another emphasis here was on technology. “The Bauhaus artists were constantly looking for new technological advances in design. They embraced the new possibilities by developing prototypes of products for mass production. This first came up in the Dessau era.”
An important element to have in mind is the Bauhaus typefaces. They had an immense influence on the current creation of digital fonts. It created new typefaces with extra decoration. This made them functional and accessible for use in different print media and signage. Some of these fonts were just experimental and never published. In modern days, numerous graphic designers digitalize these fonts.
The Bauhaus movement gave modern poster design its current shape. Its focus on geometry and shape psychology influenced modern graphic design. The focus was a “more minimalist style of design.” It gave more importance to these shapes and unconscious meanings. So, the design layouts became cleaner.
The Bauhaus influence continues
There is one more thing to note about the Bauhaus movement’s influence on graphic design. “Bauhaus artists wanted to go outside the conventional grids in design. They were focusing on the experiment with grids and placement of objects trying new design layouts. This experimentation has influenced modern design layouts as they were the firsts who broke that grid.”
But, the influence of the Bauhaus movement goes even further. Recently, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has announced plans to create a new Bauhaus modeled on the influential design school as part of the European Union’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery plan.
Speaking in her inaugural State of the Union address to the European parliament, Von der Leyen outlined her plan to create a “new European Bauhaus.” The idea is to kickstart a cultural and sustainable movement in the European Union.
“We will set up a new European Bauhaus – a co-creation space where architects, artists, students, engineers, designers work together.” The further influence of the Bauhaus movement continues.