Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Foundations for Design Education: Continuing the Bauhaus Vorkurs Vision

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Foundations for Design Education: Continuing the Bauhaus Vorkurs Vision

Article excerpt

The need for some type of combined art and design curriculum in American education has been the topic of eloquent appeals for decades. In the 1930s, John Dewey (1934/1980) opened the stage for combining art, design and architectural education when he asked "Why is the architecture of our large cities so unworthy of a fine civilization?" (p. 344). There have been increasingly sophisticated calls for a paradigm change through the years, I yet the roots of modern design education had already been well established by the 1930s in the German Bauhaus Vorkurs (Foundation Course). When Hitler closed the Bauhaus School in 1933, most of the master educators immigrated to the United States where they were taken up by the established professional institutes of higher learning, as were their key students. 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 (Kentgens-Craig, 1999, p. xi). Bauhaus ideas in America mainly became 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.

If there has ever been any question about the concerns of the Bauhaus Masters with regard to the lack of spatial and design education in American schools, two little-known articles make their feelings known. They provide an often-missing link between the German Vorkurs teaching and its possible application for younger American students. In "Education Toward Creative Design," published in a now out-of-print 1937 journal called American Architect and Architecture, Walter Gropius outlined his suggestions for developing a Bauhaus-like teaching program for the American K-12 educational system. In a separate article, "The New Bauhaus and Space Relationship," published in the same journal in December of that year, László Moholy-Nagy made a stirring appeal for spatial education and the development of spatial abilities for all American students, an area he felt was highly neglected. Their suggestions sound almost as fresh today as when they were written.

The intention of this article is to re-examine the kind of pedagogical continuum the master teachers of the Bauhaus Vorkurs envisioned for a lifetime of design learning for future generations. To frame this viewpoint, the history of the Bauhaus "look" as a temporary solution to the aesthetic vacuum created by a modern, technological society is reviewed. Additional issues of the time that caused art and design educators to search for a major shift in educational paradigm are considered. The Bauhaus is next summarized in terms of its pedagogical center, the Vorkurs (Foundation Course), including the way in which it was set up by Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten, its roots in the work of Friedrich Froebel, and its genesis through later Vorkurs directors and master teachers.2 In examining the Bauhaus Vorkurs teaching, the suggestions made by Gropius and Moholy-Nagy in 1937, and some directions taken by Bauhaus predecessors, the multifaceted, adaptable nature of Vorkursstyle art and design education for the K-12 forum is illuminated.

Finding a Gesamtkunstwerk for Modern Times

The refinement of combining fine art, architecture and decorative art into a "total work of art" with beauty and meaning for future civilizations was lost by the mid-19th century when industrial development and emerging mass consumption created a huge gap in society between the spiritual and the material world. Gone were unified works of art like the medieval cathedrals, built by generations of artisans, craftsmen and sculptors in the service of the church and its ideals. By the late Baroque period, changes in society caused the degeneration of fine craft and architecture, while painting was relegated to the confines of "salon art." The objects displayed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 in London exemplified the low point in the integration of fine art, decorative objects, technology, architecture and spiritual ideals (Pevsner, 1968). …

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