After World War I, the nation state of Germany under the direction of architect Walter Gropius created a "consulting art center for industry and the trades" (Bayer 12). Called Bauhaus, "house for building," the school combined the role of artisans and craftspeople and included everything from architecture to theater to typography. When the school was forced to close during the Nazi regime in 1932, many of its artists moved to the United States to find freedom to pursue their own artistic expression. Here, Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe among others, helped to spread the Bauhaus ideology. Gropius consulted with educator John A. Rice, who opened Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Based on John Dewey's principles of progressive education, the school became home of many of the most progressive and innovative artists. Josef and Anni Albers, also from Bauhaus, combined Rice's progressive educational theories with their own disciplined approach to teaching art and created an entirely new approach to learning. Despite the struggles and challenges that occur whenever educators, artists and innovators work together, Black Mountain became a monument to which colleges can aspire.
Established in Weimar in 1919, the Bauhaus' philosophy largely stressed the integration of modern design principles with their industrial implementation. As the first director of the organization, Walter Gropius stated about the difference between this school and previous schools: "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." However, in earlier "vital epochs," the artist enriched all the community's arts and crafts because he had a part in its vocational life and gained through practice "as much adeptness and understanding as any other artist who began at the bottom and worked his way up." (Harrison & Wood 339).The Bauhaus would once again end the isolation of artists and make them a part of industry and handicraft.
The credo of Bauhaus was to "strive to coordinate all creative effort, to achieve, in a new architecture, the unification of all training in art and design" (Harrison & Wood 340). The ultimate, if distant, goal of the Bauhaus, said Gropius, was "the collective work of art -- the Building -- in which no barriers exist between the structural and the decorative arts." The curriculum included both practical and theoretical studies "to release the creative powers of the student, to help him grasp the physical nature of materials and the basic laws of design." Bauhaus avoided concentration on any stylistic approach to break down earlier preconceptions and biases. As a result, "The Bauhaus did more than any other organization, either in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries to reconcile man and his man-made environment" (Naylor 7). Noted Gropius at its opening:
Let us create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinction which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist. Together, let us conceive and create the new building of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers, like the crystal symbol of a new faith. (Harrison & Wood 340)
Gropius enlisted the support of avant garde artists such as Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to stimulate the creative process. He believed, with their help, he could breathe life into the dead product of a machine. However, the Bauhaus was involved in political intrigue on many different levels from the time of its opening to its closure. There were continual conflicts between the institution, state and city parliament funding agents and eventually between Bauhaus and the Nazi Party. In 1923, for example, the Bauhaus held "Art and Technics: A New Unity," a huge exhibition of art and objects in Bauhaus buildings or the newly built model house. Although the international reaction was very positive, local critics were hostile (Etlin 291). As with earlier exhibitions, Bauhaus was called a "Spartacist-Bolshevist" institution with un-German influences. Gropius said these charges were "nationalistic and anti-Semetic slander."
In 1924, the proto-Nazi groups in parliament refused to refund the school and it moved to the industrial city of Dessau. Once again, there was local opposition and Gropius was asked to resign. After a couple of more directors left and Nazi majority was gained in the Dessau town council, funding for the Bauhaus was completely terminated in 1932 and the school's buildings were turned into a Nazi training camp.
Although it had such a rough history, Bauhaus architects and artists made a major impact on Western Europe and the United States. Moholy-Nagy used the school as a laboratory to examine the formal principles of abstraction in painting, photography, and sculpture. He also explored the influence of technology, which had a major impact on his work and ideas and helped him develop a new kind of theater that took space, composition, motion, sound, movement, and light into a fully integrated, abstract form of artistic expression. Josef Albers explored abstraction and color; Russian painter Kandinsky developed abstraction and became one of the most important innovators in modern art; American-born German painter/illustrator Feininger specialized in analytical cubism, made use of rhythmic interpretations of natural forms and studied the effects of transparency and prismatic planes; Lucia Moholy's documentary photography broke new ground; and architect Mies van der Rohe perfected the international modern architectural style based on advanced structural techniques and Prussian Classicism (Etlin).
When the Nazi Party gained power in Germany, laws were passed to rid the country of its "undesirables," which included many of the dissident and nonconformist artists.
Most of the Bauhaus staff headed to the United States. In 1933, Joseph and Anni Albers began teaching at the newly founded Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which had been developed with the insights of Gropius. In addition, Gropius was appointed head of the Harvard School of Architecture in 1937. That same year, Mies van der Rohe joined the Illinois Institute of Technology. Moholy-Nagy founded a New Bauhaus, renamed Institute of Design, in Chicago. Thus, the Bauhaus ideals and teaching methods began to be adopted by colleges throughout the U.S. (Naylor 153).
By 1942, emigres had achieved critical mass in America. "Yet the activities of one early emigre figure, Hans Hofmann, proved to be crucial" (Johnson 4). "Before arriving in the United States in 1930, Hofmann had managed to assimilate the main elements of most of the important European artistic movements of his time, including fauvism, expressionism, cubism, abstractionism and surrealist automatism." After moving to America, he opened a school for modern art in New York in 1934 and thus began his careers as "the most important teacher of modern art in America" (Johnson 4).
His own work featured improvisation, where he adopted the technique of pouring paint three years before Jackson Pollock and the use of color as the main element of form.
In his essay "On the Aims of Art," Hoffman noted his reverence for art:
Art is spiritual, a result of introspection, finding expression through the natural entity of the medium ... The artist intensifies his concepts, condenses his experience into a spiritual reality complete in itself and thus creates a new reality in terms of the medium. Thus is the work of art a world in itself, but reflecting the sensorial and emotional word for the artist. (Harrison & Wood 354)
In 1933, New York Herald Tribune announced the opening of Black Mountain College. It was to be led by John Rice who had been asked to resign from Rollins College over issues of tenure, teaching methods, and academic freedom. Black Mountain was to give Rice an opportunity to create a new educational environment that would, he hoped, put as great an importance on the creative arts as the development of intellect. He wanted to create a college "based on an idea of community among individuals working and learning together" (Duberman). The emphasis was that learning and living are intimately connected, and dramatics, music and the fine arts are an integral part of college life. Although no student held a job, faculty and students alike worked on the farm operated by the college, constructed buildings, did maintenance work and served meals. Many classes were held at night and none in the afternoons to allow time for work on the campus. There was no organized athletic program, since it was believed that no distinction should exist between work and play.
The school's curriculum was divided into the Junior and Senior Divisions, with all entering students placed in the lower division despite prior education. Entrance into the Senior Division and graduation did not depend on the courses successfully completed, but by the results of comprehensive oral and written examinations and the student's achievement record. There were no required courses, but each student prepared with his advisor a plan of work and was expected to complete a well-rounded course of study. Classes, which were a combination of recitations,…