6. Radical Pedagogy

Today the Bauhaus is seen as one of the most innovative and influential art schools of the twentieth century. Walter Gropius, its founder, was certain that »art cannot be controlled, but the technical means can be.«

This was why the Bauhaus established workshops for wall painting, metals, weaving, and carpentry as the centerpiece in the training of apprentices and journeymen, marking a clear innovation when compared to the classical art academies. The first workshops were the gold, silver, and copper workshop (later the metal workshop), the graphic printing workshop, the bookbinding workshop, and the weaving workshop. In 1920 there followed the workshops for ceramics, glass painting, wall painting, and wood and stone sculpture. In 1921 the carpentry and theatre workshops were founded.

There were difficulties at first in finding the teachers who were able to both teach the appropriate skills and crafts while also addressing artistic issues. »First a new generation which was able to combine both qualities had to be educated,« Gropius later said. This was the reason that the workshops were jointly led by a »work master,« responsible for the practical skills, and a »form master,« responsible for formal and design questions. This principle was maintained until the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, when it was dropped.

If students wished to train in one of the workshops, they first had to pass the Foundation Course, which was taught by Johannes Itten and later by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers. The Foundation Course was intended to develop students’ creative abilities, and to free their minds from conventional approaches and the principles of existing and past styles and movements. Gropius said: »First the whole person, and then – as late as possible – specialisation.«

Architect Hannes Meyer became Bauhaus director in 1928, and he reorganised the curriculum, merged several workshops, increased the period of study, brought numerous guest teachers in, and also organised lectures by scientists. Meyer consolidated the training of architects, which had only been introduced to the Bauhaus in 1927. He also introduced the teaching of sports and photography. He wanted to focus more than previously on »studies in practice,« in particular through participation in joint construction projects, for which very precise analysis of the future uses of the buildings would provide a »scientifically founded design.«

When Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was appointed Bauhaus director in 1930, students with the right prior experience and training were able to enrol without having to do the hitherto obligatory Foundation Course. A lot of theory was now taught, and the length of the studies was significantly cut. In 1930, on the occasion of his appointment, Mies said:

»I don’t want jam, I don’t want workshops and school, I want school.«

Curator: Boris Friedewald

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe