The dominant spirit of our epoch is already recognizable although its form is not yet clearly defined. The old dualistic world-concept which envisaged the ego in opposition to the universe is rapidly losing ground. In its place is rising the idea of a universal unity in which all opposing forces exist in a state of absolute balance. This downing recognition of the essential oneness of all things and their appearances endows creative effort with a fundamental inner meaning. No longer can anything exist in isolation. We perceive every form as the embodiment of an idea, every piece of work as a manifestation of our innermost selves. Only work which is the product of inner compulsion can have spiritual meaning. Mechanized work is lifeless, proper only to the lifeless machine. So long, however, as machine-economy remains an end in itself rather than a means of freeing the intellect from the burden of mechanical labor, the individual will remain enslaved and society will remain disordered. The solution depends on a change in the individual’s attitude toward his work, not on the betterment of his outward circumstances, and the acceptance of this new principle is of decisive importance for new creative work.
The character of an epoch is epitomized in its buildings. In them, its spiritual and material resources find concrete expression, and, in consequence, the buildings themselves offer irrefutable evidence of inner order or inner confusion. A vital architectural spirit, rooted in the entire life of a people, represents the interrelation of all phases of creative effort, all arts, all techniques. Architecture today has forfeited its status as a unifying art. It has become mere scholarship. Its utter confusion mirrors an uprooted world which has lost the common will necessary for all correlated effort.
New structural elements develop very slowly, for the evolution of architectural form is dependent not only upon an immense expenditure of technical and material resources, but also upon the emergence of new philosophical concepts deriving from a series of intuitive perceptions. The evolution of form, therefore, lags far behind the ideas which engender it.
The art of architecture is dependent upon the cooperation of many individuals, whose work reflects the attitude of the entire community. In contrast, certain other arts reflect only narrow sections of life. The art of architecture and its many branches should be not a luxury, but the life-long preoccupation of a whole people. The widespread view that art is a luxury is a corruption born of the spirit of yesterday, which isolated artistic phenomena (l’art pour l’art) and thus deprived them of vitality. At the very outset the new architectural spirit demands new conditions for all creative effort.
The tool of the spirit of yesterday was the “academy.” It shut off the artist from the world of industry and handicraft, and thus brought about his complete isolation from the community. In vital epochs, on the other hand, the artist enriched all the arts and crafts of a community because he had a part in its vocational life, and because he acquired through actual practice as much adeptness and understanding as any other worker who began at the bottom and worked his way up. But lately the artist has been misled by the fatal and arrogant fallacy, fostered by the state, that art is a profession which can be mastered by study. Schooling alone can never produce art! Whether the finished product is an exercise in ingenuity or a work of art depends on the talent of the individual who creates it. This quality cannot be taught and cannot be learned. On the other hand, manual dexterity and the thorough knowledge which is a necessary foundation for all creative effort, whether the workman’s or the artist’s, can be taught and learned.
Academic training, however, brought about the development of a great art-proletariat destined to social misery. For this art-proletariat, lulled into a dream of genius and enmeshed in artistic conceit, was being prepared for the “profession” of architecture, painting, sculpture or graphic art, without being given the equipment of a real education—which alone could have assured it of economic and esthetic independence. Its abilities, in the final analysis, were confined to a sort of drawing-painting that had no relation to the realities of materials, techniques or economics. Lack of all vital connection with the life of the community led inevitably to harren esthetic speculation. The fundamental pedagogic mistake of the academy arose from its preoccupation with the idea of arose from its preoccupation with the idea of the individual genius and its discounting the value of commendable achievement on a less exalted level. Since the academy trained a myriad of minor talents in drawing and painting, of whom scarcely one in a thousand became a genuine architect or painter, the great mass of these individuals, fed upon false hopes and trained as one-sided academicians, was condemned to a life of fruitless artistic activity. Unequipped to function successfully in the struggle for existence, they found themselves numbered among the social drones, useless, by virtue of their schooling, in the productive life of the nation.
With the development of the academies genuine folk art died away. What remained was a drawing-room art detached from life. In the 19th century this dwindled to the production of individual paintings totally divorced from any relation to an architectural entity. The second half of the 19th century saw the beginning of a protest against the devitalising influence of the academies. Ruskin and Morris in England, van de Velde in Belgium, Olbrich, Behrens and others in Germany, and, finally, the Deutsche Werkbund, all sought, and in the end discovered, the basis of a reunion between creative artists and the industrial world. In Germany, arts and crafts (Kunstgewerbe) schools were founded for the purpose of developing, in a new generation, talented individuals trained in industry and handicraft. But the academy was too firmly established: practical training never advanced beyond dilettantism, and draughted and rendered “design” remained in the foreground. The foundations of this attempt were laid neither wide enough nor deep enough to avail much against the old l’art pour l’art attitude, so alien to, and so far removed from life.
Meanwhile, the crafts–and more especially the industries–began to cast about for artists. A demand arose for products outwardly attractive as well as technically and economically acceptable. The technicians could not satisfy it. So manufacturers started to buy so-called “artistic designs.” This was an ineffective substitute, for the artist was too much removed from the world about him and too little schooled in technique and handicraft to adjust his conceptions of form to the practical processes of production. At the same time, the merchants and technicians lacked the insight to realize that appearance, efficiency and expense could be simultaneously controlled only by planning and producing the industrial object with the careful cooperation of the artist responsible for its design. Since there was a dearth of artists adequately trained for such work, it was logical to establish the following basic requirements for the future training of all gifted individuals: a thorough practical, manual training in workshops actively engaged in production, coupled with sound theoretical instruction in the laws of design.
. . . Although we may achieve an awareness of the infinite we can give form to space only with finite means. We become aware of space through our undivided Ego, through the simultaneous activity of soul, mind and body. A like concentration of all our forces is necessary to give it form. Through his intuition, through his metaphysical powers, man discovers the immaterial space of inward vision and inspiration. This conception of space demands realization in the material world, a realization which is accomplished by the brain and the hands.
Conception and visualization are always simultaneous. Only the individual’s capacity to feel, to know and to execute varies in degree and in speed. True creative work can be done only by the man whose knowledge and mastery of the physical laws of statics, dynamics, optics, acoustics equip him to give life and shape to his inner vision. In a work of art the laws of the physical world, the intellectual world and the world of the spirit function and are expressed simultaneously.
Every factor that must be considered in an educational system which is to produce actively creative human beings is implicit in such an analysis of the creative process. At the “State Bauhaus at Weimar” the attempt was made for the first time to incorporate all these factors in a consistent program.
In 1915, during the war, the author had been summoned to an audience with the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar to discuss his taking over the Academy for Arts and Crafts from the distinguished Belgian architect, Henry van de Velde who had himself suggested Gropius as his successor. Having asked for, and been accorded, full powers in regard to reorganization, in the spring of 1919 the author assumed the directorship of the Grand Ducal Saxon Academy for Pictorial Art (Grossherzogliche Sächsische Hochschule für Bildende Kunst) as well as of the Grand Ducal Saxon Academy for Arts and Crafts (Grossherzogliche Sächsische Kunstgewerbeschule) and united them under the new name of “State Bauhaus” (Staafliches Bauhaus). The theoretical curriculum of an art academy combined with the practical curriculum of an arts and crafts school was to constitute the basis of a comprehensive system for gifted students. Its credo was: “The Bauhaus strives to coordinate all creative effort, to achieve, in a new architecture, the unification of all training in art and design. The ultimate, if distant, goal of the Bauhaus is the collective work of art—the Building–in which no barriers exist between the structural and the decorative arts.”
The guiding principle of the Bauhaus was therefore the idea of creating a new unity through the welding together of many “arts” and movements: a unity having its basis in Man himself and significant only as a living organism.
Human achievement depends on the proper coordination of all the creative faculties. It is not enough to school one or another of them separately: they must all be thoroughly trained at the same time. The character and scope of the Bauhaus teachings derive from the realization of this.