What is Bauhaus?
Bauhaus literally translates to “construction house,” and was founded by Walter Gropius in the early 1920s, and was closed in 1933 due to Nazi occupation. To this day, we see, feel, and experience the profound influence this school had on everything from paintings to graphic design and from architecture to furniture. The style of Bauhaus is commonly characterized by the combination of the Arts and Crafts movement with Modernism with a sprinkle of industrial function. Whether it’s paintings or architecture, the aim was to simplify. There was very little ornamentation and focus was placed on balanced forms and abstract shapes. The goal was to create a total work of art, Gesamtkunstwek.
Who are some notable artists from the movement?
The founder of the Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius (along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright) is widely regarded as a master of modern architecture. The Bauhaus Dessau building is one of his iconic architectural work. He designed buildings for a wide audience, and left a global legacy behind believing that form follows function. The building must work effectively and simply, as if it is an industrial machine.
Piet Mondrian is one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and a pioneer for abstract art. Working in Paris after the end of World War I, he immersed himself in art as abstraction. As time went on, his painting simplified to geometric, black lines, and primary colors, the pure essence of art at its core. The minimalism and simplicity harken back to the ideas of the Bauhaus school.
Known for his art that was deeply influenced by Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism, Paul Klee, was the master of form at the Bauhaus school. He was deeply preoccupied with the viewers relationship to color. He created watercolors, advertisements, books, and welcomed the conflicting theories being developed by the teachers of the Bauhaus school.
Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian-born painter and art theorist, was a pioneer for abstract art of the early twentieth century. He taught basic design classes and advanced theory of Bauhaus at the school. His paintings focused primarily on line and form leading to the development of his theoretical book, Point and Line to Plane, which coincided with the Gestalt psychological theory, the organized whole is greater then the sum of its parts, a great lesson for any artist.
After four years at studying the Bauhaus, Herbert Bayer was appointed the director of painting and advertising. He is known for developing this iconic typeface that is visually crisp, sans serif, and all lowercase. He is one of several typographers from the school who experimented with a simplified alphabet. Although it was never cast into actual type, the digital form, known as Bayer Universal, is now widely used.
What are the defining characteristics?
Form Follows Function
Louis Sullivan, the ”father of skyscrapers,” coined this phrase and it perfectly summarizes the key principle of Bauhaus. It boils down to simplicity. The design should be based solely on how it works rather than aesthetic appeal. Excessive ornamentation was avoided, because utility is key.
Gesamtkunstwerk translates to “total work of art.” It is about the design in its totality. Essentially, a building is more than its exterior plans. It is not just an empty carcass, it is everything inside and out. It is an overall concept. Ultimately, every aspect of its design, should be the work of a single hand.
The teachers of Bauhaus believed that the materials should reflect the nature of the object or building. They didn’t want to modify or hide the materials used in construction for the sake of aesthetics. Exposed steel beams and the rivets holding it together were an integral part of the design. They focused on the whole rather than the parts of a building.
The results of functional design and using true materials was minimalism. Bauhaus artists favored linear, geometric forms over floral and curvilinear shapes. Line, shape, and color were the essence of design. Everything else was reduced and stripped away for the bare essentials.
Unity of Art and Technology
In 1923, the Bauhaus school organized the exhibition, “Art & Technology: A New Unity,” which shifted the ideology of the movement, placing more emphasis on technology. Art studios became more like laboratories, creating product prototypes that were suitable for mass production while still being hand-crafted. They embraced the possibilities of modern technology.
What is your favorite work from the Bauhaus school? Do you agree or disagree with their design philosophies?
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