Bauhaus Vorkurs History: Johannes Itten 1919-1922

prehaus, haus, and post-haus
shifting models in foundation art teaching
dan collins
ara 598
asu | artcore
september 6 2013
bauhaus history
The Bauhaus was born in 1919 after Walter Gropius was invited to combine the
schools of art and craft in Weimar, Germany.
Ordinary craftsmen as well as famous artists such as Paul Klee and Vassily
Kandinsky were hired to teach.
Gropius felt that an understanding of materials, which was taught in workshops
that included metalwork, carpentry, interior design, construction, and furniture
making, must be mastered before architecture. His goal was to create:
A clear, organic architecture, whose inner logic will be radiant
and naked, unencumbered by lying facades and trickeries; we want an
architecture adapted to our world of machines, radios and fast motor cars,
and architecture whose function is clearly recognizable in the relation of its
forms (Stokstad 1981).
Walter Gropius
Dessau, Germany
bauhaus history: not monolithic
Three different geographic locations with different curricular emphases:
• Weimer (1919 - 1925)
• Dessau (1925 – 1932)
• Berlin (1932 – 1933)
Three different architect-directors:
• Walter Gropius from 1919 to 1928,
• Hannes Meyer from 1928 to 1930 and
• Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 until 1933
Weimar (1919-1925)
Dessau (1925 – 1932)
Berlin (1932 – 1933)
Bauhaus History: Weimar (1919 – 1925)
The school had its roots in an arts and crafts school founded in 1906 and directed by
Belgian Art Nouveau architect Henry van de Velde, a Belgian..
Bauhaus History: Berlin (1932 – 1933)
In late 1932, Mies rented a derelict factory in Berlin to use as the new Bauhaus with his own money.
The students and faculty rehabilitated the building, painting the interior white. The school operated
for ten months without further interference from the Nazi Party. In 1933, the Gestapo closed down
the Berlin school. Mies protested the decision, eventually speaking to the head of the Gestapo, who
agreed to allow the school to re-open. However, shortly after receiving a letter permitting the
opening of the Bauhaus, Mies and the other faculty agreed to voluntarily shut down the school
(1925 – 1932)
R E H A U S , H A Bauhaus
U S , A N D History:
P O S T H ADessau
Walter Gropius
Dessau, Germany
Bauhaus Vorkurs history: not monolithic.
Three different geographic locations with different “foundations coordinators”:
• Weimer (1919 – 1925)
Johannes Itten wrote the original Vorkurs
emphasizing material discovery and personal expression.
• Dessau (1925 – 1928) Lazlo Moholy Nagy rewrote the Vorkurs to
emphasize integration of art, technology, and industry. Albers assisted.
• Dessau (1928 – 1933) Josef Albers directed the Vorkurs.
• Berlin (1932 – 1933). Albers was assistant director in Berlin under Mies.
Johannes Itten
at Weimar
Lazlo Moholy Nagy
Dessau (1925 –
Josef A;lbers
Dessau (1920 – 1931)
Berlin (1932 – 1933)
Bauhaus Curriculum
Abenakt = evening act gruppe werk = group work ; werkstatt =
Bauhaus Vorkurs History: Johannes Itten 1919-1922
From 1919 to 1922 the school was shaped by the
pedagogical and aesthetic ideas of Johannes Itten,
who taught the Vorkurs or 'preliminary course' that
was the introduction to the ideas of the Bauhaus.
[Itten was heavily influenced in his teaching by the
ideas of Montessori, Pestolezzi, Franz Cižek and
Friedrich Fröbel.
Note “spiritual”
Bauhaus Vorkurs History: Johannes Itten 1919-1922
Itten was trained in teaching elementary students
using Froebel’s methods—including the famous
Froebel “gifts” (sets of blocks and other
manipulables which also had a great impact on
Frank Lloyd Wright’s and Buckminster Fuller’s
Friedrich Froebel (1782 – 1852) was the
inventor of the modern Kindergarten and
Froebel “Gifts” including his famous Froebel
Bauhaus Vorkurs History: László Moholy-Nagy 1923 - 1928
In 1923, Moholy-Nagy replaced Johannes Itten as
the instructor of the foundation course at the
This effectively marked the end of the school’s
expressionistic leanings and moved it closer towards
its original aims as a school of design and industrial
He coined the term “the New Vision” for his belief
that photography could create a whole new way of
seeing the outside world that the human eye could
While studying at the Bauhaus, Moholy’s teaching in
diverse media — including painting, sculpture,
photography, photomontage and metal — had a
profound influence on a number of his students..
Note “worker” clothing
Bauhaus Vorkurs History: Josef Albers 1928 - 1933
Before enrolling as a student at the Bauhaus in
1920, Josef had been a school teacher in his
hometown of Bottrop, in the northwestern industrial
Ruhr region of Germany
Once he was at the Bauhaus, he worked primarily in
stained and sandblasted glass, first making glass
assemblages from detritus he found at the Weimar
town dump, then sandblasting glass constructions
and designing large stained-glass windows for
houses and buildings. He also designed furniture,
household objects, and a typeface, and developed a
keen eye as a photographer.
In 1925 he was the first Bauhaus student to be
asked to join the faculty and become a "master"
there. By 1933, when pressure from the Nazis forced
the school to close, Josef Albers had become one of
its best-known artists and teachers.
Note “spats”
“Modernist” Foundations (20th c.)
“postHaus” Foundations (21st. C.)
1. Top down teaching model (“sage on the stage”)
1. Bottom up “participatory” ( “guide on the side”).
2. Design solutions free of context
2. Context driven
3. Passive acceptance of ideas
3. Active questioning
4. Static elements and principles
4. Dynamic elements and principles
5. Drive towards simplicity, clarity of design
5. Formal and conceptual complexity.
6. Western focus exclusively
6. Range of historical and cultural sources
7. Discipline centric
7. Student and/or community centric
8. Subjective response sufficient
8. Subjective response + objective analysis
9. Unexamined “universal” meanings accepted without
careful weighing of evidence
9. Scrutinized “local” meanings and judgments from
weighing multiple pieces of evidence
10. Single discipline
10. Interdisciplinary in scope
11. Skill based
11. Idea based
12. One size fits all
12. Custom tailored
13. Resolved, independent, fixed “codes”
13. Open-ended, dependent, open-source
14. One schedule fits all
14. Thin slicing of schedule for best fit (Kallish)
15. Personal expression (only)
15. Empathy with other points of view
16. Individual intelligence
16. Collective intelligence - Socially engaged
17. Uni-modal with single pathway for navigation
17. Multi-modal with the ability to follow the flow
18. Emphasis on “singular point of view”
18. Emphasis on “negotiation” and “relationships”
19. Single “right” answer
19. Multiple contingent possibilities
20. Analog. Continuous. Unique.
20. Digital. Discrete. Commensurable.
21. Broadcast. Professionally produced. TV.
21. Broadband. Co-created content. Wikis.
The irony of our “Bauhaus Foundations” is…
How many of us are ONLY echoing the “Elements and Principles” of
Arthur Wesley Dow or Johannes Itten’s “theory of contrasts” and not
the integrated curriculum and responsibility to the broader social
context that the original Bauhaus espoused?
While many Bauhaus ideas were integrated into American popular
culture, the reception of these ideas reduced “a complex and
multifaceted phenomenon to a simple formula,” most often made
visible in architecture. Bauhaus ideas in America mainly become
associated with a well-known stylistic “look,” while the context,
writing, and teaching of the master educators of the Vorkurs were
largely buried by time.
--Fern Lerner, Foundations for Design Education: Continuing the
Bauhaus Vorkurs Vision, Studies in Art Education, Spring 2005.
What’s Your Teaching Philosophy?
John Dewey,
Elliot Eisner
Lucy Lippard
What’s Your Teaching Philosophy?
Student Centered (Personal Growth / Self-Actualization)
Froebel – Developed the modern Kindergarten and “Froebel Blocks.”
Maria Montessori - independence, freedom within limits, respect for child’s nature
Johannes Itten – Developed the first Vorkurs at the Bauhaus (1919 – 1922)
John Dewey – Child-centered learning
Jean Piaget – Stages of human development
Discipline Centered (Art for Art’s Sake)
Clement Greenberg – Modernist art critic X
Lazlo Moholy Nagy – Led the Vorkurs from 1923 – 1928 at the Bauhaus
Mies Van Der Rohe – Director of the short-lived
X Berlin Bauhaus (1932 – 33)
Josef Albers – Led the Vorkus from 1928 - 1933
Society Centered (Socially Engaged Art – SEA)
Walter Gropius, Founding Director, Bauhaus (?)
Lucy Lippard – Environmental/Social Activist and Art Critic
Judy Baca – Muralist in So Cal. represented darker side of racial inequities
Tim Rollins – Kids of Survival
Pablo Helguera (Handbook: Education for Socially Engaged Art)
Foundations for a 21st c. Curriculum
Art Educator, June King McFee wrote in 1978 of “the arts as
reflectors and modifiers of a social change.” The kind of
“multivariant problem-solving” she advocated would include: “the
visual as well as the conceptual, the affective as well as the
intellectual, the social as well as the physical, and the aesthetic as
well as the economic. Monumental changes are needed in
education to prepare students to think multivariantly in these
McFee, J.K. (1978). Art abilities in environmental reform. Art
Education, 31(4), 9 – 12.
Foundations for a 21st c. Curriculum
A 21st century curriculum needs to be responsive to the dynamic
and emergent conditions and requirements of its culture. The
objective elements (line, shape, texture, value, etc) and principles
(unity, emphasis, balance, rhythm, scale/proportion, etc.), while
relevant to studio practice, provide little foundation in those skills
and strategies (“markers for success”) that are essential in our
shared and increasingly interconnected world. Rather than
providing recipes that effectively echo “modernist” standards and
assumptions, a 21st century curriculum should provide the critical
and empathetic skills key to operating successfully in any media,
circumstance, modality, or cultural context.
Dan Collins, MFA, PhD
artCORE Coordinator
School of Art
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-2505
[email protected]

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