Imagine studying in a school where the lecturers are some of the worlds most talented in their fields, in buildings designed to encourage thought and creativity with fellow students embarking on careers that lit up the world of design.
Now stop imagining, because between 1919 and 1933 that place was the Bauhaus and last Thursday I took a wander around the Barbican’s latest exhibition: Bauhaus: Art as Life.
Beginning on the second floor, the scene was set by a call for ‘a return to the crafts’, the idea that a group of young creatives could work together in a variety of mediums that’s best embodied by this passage taken from Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus manifesto:
"Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist! Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith."
Heady stuff and must’ve been incredibly inspiring to the young European artists, ceramicists, architects and photographers of the time.
If that wasn’t enough to get you on the first train to Dessau then the list of faculty members would’ve made it a no-brainer: Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Theo van Doesburg being the names that stood out to me.
Besides the overall quality of the work and that I kept having to remind myself just how old it was (some of the pieces are approaching one hundred years old) what struck me most was the environment they worked in. A world of shared ideas and taking inspiration from peers. A world of fun and family - children were regularly present - and the Bauhaus parties became legendary events. A world where there didn’t appear to be too much ego or competition, just a healthy ambition to strive for perfection and have fun doing it. A creative utopia!
Sadly for us and the Bauhaus, politics and a lack of funding brought the curtains down after an all too short lifetime but their ideas and achievements live on in so much of what we see around us today and the exhibition does a fine job of telling one of the great stories of modern design.