How the Weather Induced Me to Learn About the Bauhaus Movement

Having been charged with the sole care of Darling Daughter whilst Wifey is compounding tech week and Opening Night into one day for a one-minute play festival, I resolved to get us both out into the sunshine. Daughter was game, despite describing the environs as “co” (cold) when we finally ventured out. We lasted but a few minutes in that biting wind before I resolved upon a hasty retreat. A few minutes outside is better than none, I suppose.

Safely indoors, I snapped a picture on the iPhone and posted it to the Tumblr:

Modesty demands that I do not speculate on where she got the ability to entertain herself with a book.

And, as I often do when I post something to the Tumblr, I scan back over previous posts to see what I’ve had on my mind of late that I considered worth posting to Tumblr, in the hope that I might figure out why on earth I have a Tumblr. It was pretty much an impulse app download when I got my iPhone, and I mostly use it when I want to express a thought or take a picture and I don’t have my computer handy. A kind of online mental diary, if you will (I think I just figured it out. One less thing on the to-do list).

Anyway, I scanned down and found that I had posted this

…and I  did not remember why.  I suppose I surfed through YouTube and actually listened to the song and found myself enjoying it. I’d heard of Bauhaus, certainly – a friend in my early high school days in California had tried to hip me to them in the early 90’s, when they were just old enough to be legendary to the kind of kids who liked alterna-rock and Batman comics. But I was more into the Pixies and pretending I didn’t like Nirvana (for much the same reason Kurt Cobain ended up not liking Nirvana), so I paid him no heed. Anyway, the song had a pleasing sparseness. I’ve added it to my iTunes. I’m listening to it right now.

Then, from some other unbidden data stream in the mind, I recalled that Bauhaus was an art movement, or artistic school, or something like that (is their an official distinction between a “movement” and a “school” in the art community? Who gets to make it?). This seemed a tantalizing void of knowledge, so off I went to Google…

Click picture for a handy article on when not to use Google.

According to Wikipedia (insert standard Wikipedia disclaimer here. Check the references, doubters), Bauhaus was a real, actual art school, with students and instructors and a building and everything. The word Bauhaus even means “house of construction,” which I’m certain provokes endless mirth among deconstructionists (and if you can picture deconstructionist mirth, you are doing better than me. Of course, now that I think about it, “Deconstructionist Mirth” would be a good name for a punk band).

The school was founded by the architect Walter Gropius, who very kindly summed up his philosophy for us:

“We want to create the purely organic building, boldly emanating its inner laws, free of untruths or ornamentation.”

“Also, you are getting sleepy….sleepy…”

The general idea seems to be that Form Follows Function, so there’s no need to put ornamental bits and other extraneities on a building. It should have no more than it needs to complete its function. Which is not to say that we may not imbue a building with beauty, merely that said beauty should follow as a natural consequence of the building’s purpose, and not as an additive imposed upon the building merely because people want to see buildings that look like old buildings.

Which, one must admit, has a certain logic to it. However, when I look at this…

… I feel Anti-Modern Art Rant coming on. This is the Monument to the March Dead that Gropius designed in commemorations of the victims of the March 1920 Kapp Putsch (suffice to say that Hitler wasn’t the first guy who thought of toppling the Weimar Republic. He was just the first to succeed). Even if I ignore my first instinct, which is to say that it looks like a concrete dog dropping, I find myself staggered for context. What has any of it to do with the March Dead? How am I supposed to look at that and think of the people shot in the streets of Berlin in a failed attempt to restore the Kaiser? Sure, a bit of reading, and you get the idea that Gropius was trying to evoke a lightning bolt to symbolize the “living spirit of the people.” But that just shows that I needed the damned thing explained to me in another form. Which I have to consider to represent some kind of basic failure of communication.

I’m getting a bit far afield, but people agree with Camus that “Abstract art is the product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled, to the utterly bewildered” for a reason. It’s not that I want everything to be so representational that I never feel challenged by it. It’s not that I’m frightened by clean lines evoking industrial efficiency. But must everything be carved with two or three layers between it and the audience? Can we have art that’s not just for art students?

On the other hand, a quick search for “bauhaus furniture” does yield some nifty-looking results:

This isn’t that different from the Ikea chairs I have in my basement, and while I wouldn’t vouch for it’s ergonomics at first glance, it wouldn’t look out of place in your average office building. And it strikes me that this is more what Gropius et al, had in mind. Also, that I’ve barely begun to dip my toe in what all this Modernism actually means. I would not feel confident in debating the finer points of Nouveau or Deco, or even in telling them apart (Nouveau was older, I believe). So the better part of valor is probably remembering that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Still, one can’t escape smelling the whiff of the Matrix around the Modern, or tracing the slide from negation to nihilism.

"Art is Useless. Go home."
“Art is Useless. Go home.”

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