The Bauhaus was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20th century. Its 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 Bauhaus was influenced by 19th and early-20th-century artistic directions such as 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; their legacy was reflected in the romantic medievalism of the Bauhaus ethos during its early years, when it fashioned itself as a kind of craftsmen’s guild.
But by the mid-1920s this vision had given way to a stress on uniting art and industrial design, and it was this which underpinned the Bauhaus’s most original and important achievements. The school is also renowned for its extraordinary faculty, who subsequently led the development of modern art – and modern thought – throughout Europe and the United States.
Although the Bauhaus abandoned many aspects of traditional fine-arts education, it was deeply concerned with intellectual and theoretical approaches to its subject. Various aspects of artistic and design pedagogy were fused, and the hierarchy of the arts which had stood in place during the Renaissance was leveled out: the practical crafts – architecture and interior design, textiles and woodwork – were placed on a par with fine arts such as sculpture and painting.
Given the equal stress it placed on fine art and functional craft, it is no surprise that many of the Bauhaus’s most influential and lasting achievements were in fields other than painting and sculpture. The furniture and utensil designs of Marcel Breuer, Marianne Brandt, and others paved the way for the stylish minimalism of the 1950s-60s, while architects such as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were acknowledged as the forerunners of the similarly slick International Style that is so important in architecture to this day.
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.