Bauhaus—From Gesamtkunstwerk to Applied Design

The philosophy of the Bauhaus leadership, especially influenced by architect Walter Gropius, was to embrace all the art forms without distinction through hierarchy.  With the rise of nationalism sweeping Europe and the United States soon after WWI, Gropius decided to resign his leadership position at the Bauhaus in order to engage in his architecture firm’s private practice.  Gropius had been the visionary for the Bauhaus from 1919-1928 but knew the time was right to step down due to the shifting political climate.  Hannes Meyer stepped up to lead the Bauhaus after Gropius departed and for the next several years (1928-1930), Meyer tried to navigate the shifting political atmospheres.  In the end, Meyer was not able to push forward.  Robert Hughes stated:  “The Bauhaus’s main influence as an institution was on applied design…The school’s view that it is far harder to design a first-rate teapot than to paint a second-rate picture was, of course, unarguable right, and the philosophy of the Bauhaus probably did more to dignify the work of modernist designers than any other cultural strategy of the last half century, at least until the foundation of the design collection at the Museum of Modern At in New York.”

What are your thoughts on the necessity of the Bauhaus to shift its gaze from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design?  Do you think the shift was good as it responded to the time or was such a shift the beginning of the end for the Bauhaus?

Walter Gropius, Bauhaus Dessau, 1926+

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

24 Comments

24 thoughts on “Bauhaus—From Gesamtkunstwerk to Applied Design”

  1. Art can somewhat be timeless. No matter what the style is, most artists can try both new and more traditional styles and still make it their own. When it comes to Bauhaus, I can’t understand the need to move to a different style from Gesamtkunstwerk. When there is a certain Trend in art, most artists find that they have to ship along with it in order to be successful. During a time when artists were trying to break out of a certain cycle, I can understand why people feel the need to try something new and less traditional. Similar to what we’re going through right now in America when politics are shifting and you’re not quite sure which way is going to go, you need to be able to know what is best for you.

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  2. I think that the Bauhaus movement shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was crucial to the evolution of modernism. Even today, in a world of postmodern styles, the Bauhaus philosophies prove to still be present and active. Truly, I don’t believe there is an end for any art movements for that matter. If you think about it, in this day and age art encompasses virtually anything. Contemporary artists argue that art is life, but if this is the case, what is next? Is there a future for art??? The answer is of course. I think that one day all these styles will rotate back into the main scene and live again through new sets of eyes. It’s like fashion and trends. It’s all a big cycle, what is considered vintage nowadays will one day be the modern trend. Such is life. Plus, one of the main premises of the Bauhaus movement is making art that is also functional in everyday life, like furniture. Is furniture ever going to become obsolete? I doubt it.

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  3. There was a speaker that I was listening to at my National Honor Society meeting I attended recently. In which he spoke about Steve Jobs and how if it wasn’t for his shift from what he was doing prior to the Macintosh computer, someone else would be benefiting from that idea. His colleagues were uncomfortable with the idea of throwing all what they had done for something only Jobs was visioning. But his vision is what made Apple what they are today. My point in bringing this up is, as technology advances, so does society , and as well as art. There are no rules on when art is ending or starting within movements. As we advance further into the future, our taste and intake within the art also advances. I think it was vital for this change, it forced up to look past what we are comfortable with. If we continue to do things because we are comfortable, are we growing?

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  4. To me, it appears that the Bauhaus made the correct decision to move from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design. If they had not made this move, I think that the Bauhaus would have ended much sooner then it did. At the peak of the Bauhaus the world needed functional applied design. Not just theory. I do think this was a double edged sword though as the shift did have a negative impact on the Bauhaus. At this point, I honestly think it was just the times, that created these issues. If World War 2 had not taken place the Bauhaus may have continued stronger, but with Hitler having some weird agenda against the Bauhaus really made it hard for them to continue on the original path they had created. All movements are connected to politics in one way or another, the Dada was a response to WWI and the Bauhaus tried to navigate their way politically with Hitler and WW2. This could not have been easy as we all know the terrible events of WW2 and how it effected the entire world. If WW2 had not taken place Bauhaus would clearly have continued to thrive, possibly having more of an impact on the world today. That is not to say that they did not have an impact, just implying that their influence may have been stronger.

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  5. I believe the transition made within the Bauhaus was for the better due to the fact there is an everlasting demand for revolution within society. Although new ideas are always circulating I have been reading about modern and postmodern works from artists and architects throughout different time periods that have reached back to the ideals of the Bauhaus and incorporating that into their work. This sort of resonates with the idea that styles and concepts eventually make a 360 as time goes and I truly believe that. In my opinion the Bauhaus’s concepts will never die because some form of it will relive somewhere down the line.

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  6. I think the movement from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was a good idea because as time goes by, new techniques and ideas begin to develop with time. Something can show up and be the better option because of advancement. Like others have said, art is timeless and I think it can be combined or use new or old techniques. So I think that the decision to go to applied design decision was necessary to see whether we can move on from that and grow.

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  7. Bauhaus will always been known for embracing all forms of art. It’s rather unfortunate Meyer chose a different direction for the school. As Robert Hughes stated best, the philosophy of Bauhaus dignified the work of modern designers best. I don’t agree with Meyer’s standpoint on the issue and I’m not sure if it was the right switch.. Designers work in all types of mediums and art is best when it reflects the emotions of its time period, limiting that controls the designers vision. I don’t believe that was the original intent for Bauhaus.

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  8. I think that it was probably smarter for the Bauhaus to make the move to creating large works completed for function than sticking with smaller projects containing detailed parts. That is not to say that they sacrificed the attention to detail that they had previously implied in their early work, but instead they were concerned more with overall function. Although the movement could not last due to the impact of politics and an impending World War, its ideas about the functionality of art were not only progressive for the sake of art but also for the society. If the movement was able to progress further, I think that the influence of the group’s designs would be even more pervasive in contemporary design.

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  9. What this philosophy change encourage from participants with Bauhaus was a new approach to creating works of art. The rigidity of Gesamtkunstwerk for students hindered exploration of work that was “not good”, but instead feed into the already existing norms. This conceptual process of creating art contradicts what art is meant to symbolize. In one view of art’s functionality, it needs to be something that is in a constant state of evolution that absorbs the current context around it. The utilization of applied arts as Bauhaus’ new philosophy simply flexed its attention to what was relevant to that context. However, because this made Bauhaus specific to its time period, it did seal its fate in inevitably closing as a response to the new change of cultural climate. This can be looked at as a failure to some. But in essence the Bauhaus served a distinct purpose and once it was expressed through the teachings and philosophy of its time it had completed its reason to continue functioning.

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  10. I think that the shift that occurred is a necessity; art movements are as the name suggests, a progressing occurrence, in order to continue to thrive and grow, we have to go through shifts in ideas, inspiration, and values. I wouldn’t say the shift to this new approach was the end of the Bauhaus, but a continuation into new ideas that helped shape how we produce art.

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  11. I think Bauhaus’ shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was overall beneficial even though the actual practice did not last long. This shift helped mark Bauhaus for what it is today and allowed it to make a strong name for itself even after all this time. It was a movement that changed the way we think of art so if it didn’t go through this shift, it probably would have never gotten the chance to make this impact on the world.

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  12. I think, given the political climate of the time, the Bauhaus wasn’t long for this world regardless. Especially given the fact that Adolf Hitler was essentially cracking down on all art that didn’t particularly suit his taste. I think one of the reasons that the Bauhaus was so influential on applied design was due to the fact that they did practice Gesamtkunstwerk. The combination of different disciplines lends well to applied design. Many of designers and artists of our day are skilled in more than just one medium, it’s these combinations of skills that tends to lead to the most successful work. I don’t think the shift was necessarily good or bad, I think it was ineveitable.

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  13. I think that the Bauhaus movement from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was a good move for them. Although it did not last long, I believe if WWII had not happened, the Bauhaus would have lasted longer. Bauhaus is well known for embracing all forms of art. Art is timeless and their decision to move to applied design was necessary to continue to grow.

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  14. I believe Bauhaus shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was influenced by politics and changes in leadership. Regardless of the reason, I think they made the correct choice in changing the direction of focus for their institution. Change is good and it refreshes a person regardless of the profession and I think Bauhaus is no exception to this. As a result, they’ve had a profound effect, if not the largest on modern architecture, furniture, and art that still is prevalent in the post-modern era. If it wasn’t for WWII, who knows how much more of an impact on modern and post-modern culture they would have had.

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  15. I think of the shift as a transition that eventually had to happen but not necessarily an end . With a whole school dedicated to express art forms and innovation, there is also time and moving with modernism to consider and that the formation of new ideas, new methods, world situations, all influence that transition and it was seen as newer approach to creating art. Some of the Bauhaus philosophies and teachings continue to pass on with adjusting to from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design with certain circumstances with time or whichever, but Bauhaus will be known for innovation and new ideas despite change.

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  16. Bauhaus’ shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design may have been important for their survival because of the change in times. Applied design was more practical and with shifts in the political climate, it was time to move forward as well from Gesamtkunstwerk. Meyer’s did what he believed was right to help Bauhaus survive even though it was eventually inevitable to keep it going. Even though it shifted away from what Bauhaus originally was, it was also a step forward into a different direction for their art forms.

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  17. I always viewed movements as limited eras that should have the end goal of phasing itself out. I think the shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was necessary to bring out the right frame of mind that the Bauhaus was ultimately about. Once the ideals are widely accepted, however, it becomes the new norm and a new movement should take its place.

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  18. I think the shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was necessary for the survival of the Bauhaus. Times were changing and I think it was smart to move towards applied design; something that could bring more possibilities. The Bauhaus was inevitably going to end sooner or later, but the switch to applied design bought them some time.

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  19. i think the shif was good as it responded or beginning of the start for the Bauhaus. It is important that people really wanted to create or made such an institution for art, because it was a big foot step in art history. How Gesamtkunstwerk applied into art is pretty much a good step, because it is like an opera that collaboration of arts. Combining of different fields of arts are good. Also, i think Bauhaus’s backgrounds are really important because it was constructed during the peaceful period between the two World Wars. Even though it was a peaceful period, it is still in between of two world wars. How people think art is important even though it was during the war, changed the recognition of art is important in art history.

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  20. The shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was necessary for the survival of the Bauhaus. Change is a constant thing that happens in art, as can be seen with different movements. The shift from one art movement to another does not mean that previous movements have ended. Just that times are changing and that we should proceed to look at things in a different light.

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  21. The shift to applied design was the smartest decision the Bauhaus every made. Unfortunately, they where to ahead of their time in my opinion. Today, the world is applied design and everything we do is somewhat based around the Bauhaus philosophy. Functional, aesthetically pleasing, simple and clean. The founders of this school saw this early, it was just to soon for people to understand. I guess then I would have to say it could have been the beginning to an end for the Bauhaus , but sometimes you have to take risks when you know what’s right. The innovators knew this would be a movement, they just didn’t know when. I think they wold be pleasantly surprised today though.

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  22. I think that both applied design and Gesamtkunstwerk had their place in the Bauhaus movement. The applied design is what I find more interesting though and I think that it was one of the first times in the history of art (at least that we’ve studied) that actual artists relied upon a design-centered approach. Every kind of art is important, but this kind of art is one that affects people differently because it enters the everyday lives of ordinary people and changes the whole environment. Industrial design, architecture, furniture design and more are to me some of the best ways the Bauhaus artists could have responded to the political climate of the post-WWI era. These applications are very anti-nationalist because they do not represent or show favor towards any certain group. Instead, they are objects that could be placed anywhere in the world and would feel as if they belong. To me, the shift in perspective that occurred during the Bauhaus movement reflected a mature and appropriate response to the hostile nationalist atmosphere.

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  23. I feel that the shift from Gesamtkunstwerk to applied design was extremely necessary and important to the evolution of art and design. I also think that the development of the Bauhaus movement was going to happen at one point in time even if the leadership folded under the Nazi regime at an earlier point. The instructors and influential leaders of this time period still had the ideas rooted inside them which couldn’t be taken away from them. I do find it important that it happened when it did because it obviously increased the rate of evolution of art and design. Even after the Nazi regime pressured Bauhaus to fold, it still was just the beginning because Bauhaus principles and influential instructors spread across the globe as a result of the closing of the schools.

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  24. I think it wasn’t necessarily the end of the Bauhaus. It lives on in modern design. Home décor and graphic design still have heavy Bauhaus influences. Gesamtkunstwerk isn’t a bad thing but applied design was essentially the beginning of the future. The art that the Bauhaus brought about can be applied anywhere and it was also the artist’s way of quiet protest during WW1. This type of protest still works today and still has a great influence upon our world.

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