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Blog

What’s In a Name? “The Bauhaus”

Jenna Graham

If you have participated in a four-week studio oil painting class with artist and teacher David Hummer, or have made a tour through the studio on a “First Thursday” evening in downtown Wausau, Wisconsin, or even just peeked your head into the front door while studio classes were in session and students were in the midst of working on their canvases, you might not know that David named his art studio and business after what is arguably the greatest art movement and school of the 20th Century. The name “The Bauhaus” was chosen by David as a purposeful homage and a dedicated artistic mission to continue, expand, and promote the tenets and principles of what The Bauhaus Movement and School created between 1919 and 1933 in Germany.

The German word “bauhaus” means “house of building” or “house of construction.” The Bauhaus Movement/School (1919 – 1933) started in the Weimar Republic of Germany, when architect Walter Gropius, regarded today as one of the pioneering masters of modernist architecture, was asked to become the Director of two schools that had recently merged: the Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts and the Weimar Academy of Fine Art. He renamed the school The Bauhaus. Gropius immediately refocused the objective of the Bauhaus School to his vision of the future: to unite all arts and crafts with manufacturing and emergent technology. He understood that there was an intrinsic and foundational relationship between the arts, the applied arts, society and technology. He called for the school to show a renewed respect for craft and technique in all artistic media, and suggested a return to attitudes about art and craft that were once characteristic of the Medieval and Middle Age artist and craft Guilds. That was a time when art and manufacturing had much in common, and Guild members were united in their respective trades to produce the best examples of their goods and services. Gropius envisioned the Bauhaus encompassing the totality of all artistic media, including fine art, industrial design, graphic design, typography, interior design, and architecture. He wrote:

“The ultimate aim of all artistic activity is building! ... Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all get back to craft! ... The artist is a heightened manifestation of the craftsman. ... Let us form ... a new guild of craftsmen without the class divisions that set out to raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! ... Let us together create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting."

To bring forth his vision Gropius assembled a stellar faculty group: artists Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, and Johannes Itten, architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hannes Meyer, himself, and designer Marcel Breuer. Central to the school's operation was its original and influential curriculum. This curriculum was described by Gropius as a wheel. Studies progressed inwardly toward the center of the wheel, beginning in the outer ring with a required six-month preliminary course. As students worked their way through the curriculum, courses were designed for specialization in building construction or the arts, with an emphasis on craft and workmanship. According to theartstory.com, “The basic educational approach was to eliminate competitive tendencies and to foster individual creative potential with a sense of community and shared purpose.” Gropius wrote:

“Art itself cannot be taught, but craftsmanship can. Architects, painters, sculptors are all craftsmen in the original sense of the word. Thus it is a fundamental requirement of all artistic creativity that every student undergo a thorough training in the workshops of all branches of the crafts.”

There were actually parallel revolutions in design occurring in the early 20th century, one on each side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Prairie School, begun by Frank Lloyd-Wright in Chicago, Illinois, shares many concurrent ideas with The Bauhaus, although The Prairie School is uniquely American. Lloyd-Wright shook the architectural world with his renunciation of the overly decorative style of his teacher and mentor, Architect Louis Sullivan, in favor of design marked by its integration with the surrounding landscape, horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad eaves, windows assembled in horizontal bands, solid construction, craftsmanship, and restraint in the use of decoration. The extended use of horizontal lines was intended to unify the structure with the native prairie landscape of the Midwest. This style became known as “The Prairie House,” and later “The Prairie School,” a phrase that was ironically coined by a critic writing a scathing review in 1912. The home that is considered the first true example of Wright’s new Prairie Style is The Willits House (designed in 1901), built in Highland Park, Illinois, although many homes designed by Wright before this point had elements of the esthetic. I believe the finest example of Prairie School design is The Frederick C. Robie House (designed and built 1908-1910), in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago. One idea that Frank Lloyd-Wright definitely shared with Walter Gropius was the integration of all the design elements in the architecture. Each of Wright’s home designs incorporated furniture and furnishings designed and built by furniture designer and manufacturer Gustav A. Stickley, the original proponent of what is known as “The Craftsman Style.” Wright also designed the stained-glass windows and all other decorative element in each house. So how does The Bauhaus (and, to a lesser extent, Prairie School) infuse the artistic sensibilities and the teaching style that David Hummer brings to the Art World? In the first minutes of your first oil painting class with David (and probably every class thereafter...), you will hear him say, “Paintings Are Built.”

- Karen Schneider  

(Note: I found much of the information about The Bauhaus here: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-
bauhaus.htm, which was compiled by Larissa Borteh (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus)