Those who were staff and students in the Bauhaus are known as ‘Bauhäusler’. The last leader of the crew was Mies Van der Rohe, appointed in 1930. Mies remained in Germany until civil architectural work dried up as the economy shifted onto a war footing, leaving in 1938. The Bauhaus archives show Mies as one of the signatories of the Proclamation of leading German artists’ supporting Hitler, and he was a member of the Nazi’s Reich Cultural Chamber. Mies Van der Rohe’s designs for autobahn service stations, amongst other work, met with Hitler’s personal approval.
Under Mies Van der Rohe the curriculum was streamlined, and the Bauhaus became a primarily post-graduate school, his teaching focussed on different drivers to the teaching of Gropius. This differentiation again points to the inheritance of the Bauhaus being not about style, much of which anyway comes from De Stijl (as can be so eloquently demonstrated by a visit to Älesund in Norway or a visit to the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen), but to the educational structure of the Vorhus and its following three-year course.
Gropius himself left Germany in 1934, initially working in England but then as European war loomed, taking a post at Harvard, introducing Bauhaus concepts and design principles of teamwork, craftmanship, standardisation and prefabrication to a generation of US architects. He died on July 5th, 1969, and is buried in Brandenburg, Germany. Mies van der Rohe died in Chicago, August 17th, 1969, and is buried in Graceland Cemetery. In 1969 I entered my final year at Bath Academy in Corsham and am still going strong.
For the Bauhäusler in the 1930’s the world was threatening. From 1931 onwards, under Mies Van der Rohe, any students or staff with communist sympathies were dismissed from the school. Many left the country, like textile designer Otti Berger, who initially came to Britain before returning to her native Croatia, only to be swept up in the invasion tide there and ending her days in Auschwitz. For others the conscription process will have swept them into the maw of the German war machine. Many others like Joseph Albers and his Jewish wife leading textile designer Anni Albers escaping the tide of mass arrests of Jews, Gypsies, Intellectuals, communists, clergymen and any others who voiced opposition to the National Socialist party, taking their talents abroad.
In Britain a government and civil service that did not understand the need to escape persecution (behind the curve as usual), dumping so many of them in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, creating an unwelcoming environment, seeing a threat to national security where little existed. Some did indeed carry their opposition to German society into a different ideology, seeing in communism a response to the brutality and poverty of a class ridden society convulsed by the Depression of the 1930’s. Others left Britain because of the hostile reception, enriching rival cultures instead, cultures who in those days held true to their call to ‘give us you poor, your huddled masses’. Britain’s elite liked Hitler, loved the uniforms and maybe, without Churchill and others, would have embraced the Nazi’s view of a United Europe.
Those of us benefitting from the artistic, creative academic inheritance briefly part of the British art college system saw it sadly betrayed and swept away in the 1980’s and 1990’s by a University educated elite that seemingly subscribed in many instances to supporting that communist ideology so opposed to the freedom of the individual. Many in authority did not understand how art colleges through the sixties nurtured those who were different – the dyslexic, those who thought laterally, the misfits and musicians like Medicine Head, – all those who emerged amongst the creative drivers in the 70’s and 80’s. They sought uniformity and introduced such novel ideas as assessing drawing with a written test to bring art and design into line with other disciplines.
We enjoyed by comparison to Germany in the mid 1930’s a beneficial civil societal environment in which to move forward. We even had state support through outfits like the Arts Council (although with typical British mismanagement they lose art works entrusted to them by the state). The economy and civil liberties bloomed although those of us who in our enthusiasm worked for the Labour party became disappointed in its shared belief in the mass rather than encouraging every individual to realise their maximum potential – indeed I was told by Labour officials that the mass didn’t matter as they just put ‘the lumpen into lumpen proletariat’, an attitude portrayed and continued only too well to today in Parliament as MP’s ignore referenda to suit their own ends and fail to stretch a hand out to help those towns in decay. British politics a little like those of Weimar in the 1920’s, and we know where that went.
As an artist I determined to carve my own path. Like those Bauhäusler leaving their college environment as artist, there was little alternative to finding this pathway. Unlike the Bauhäusler I was free of conscription or the clouds of war and have been able to make a living in art and design for over 40 years, as previously outline in the pieces I have written (see below). More than that though I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, a visual richness that has fed my soul. Like the Jesuits, art college took in a boy and turned out a man imbued with the artistic spirit.
In search of academic respectability and reduced to equivalence with other degree programme they so proudly stood apart from, and I would argue above, art college have been absorbed into the standard University type structures we laughed at in the mid-1960’s. Where is the spirit of the Bauhäusler today? Can a creative revival happen again in Britain that led leading design professionals to come from far away to see why the British are so creative? Or have we seen the last flickering light, the last flare of creativity said to characterise to death of Empires in the past, in the nation that built an Empire the sun never set on?
Some of my life in words and pictures: The Outsider – how I view the world; Seeing Seaford as Home; Sixties London – youthful photography; Blast from the Past – memories; Learning the Visual Language – art college experiments; Art Student to Artist – the journey begins; The Dustman and the Baroness – the journey continues; Paint’n’Place – location, location, location; Hanging About – first one-man show for 20 years; A Reaffirmation of Life – dealing with cancer; Wrapped in the Flag – identity; Escaping the tunnel – fighting cancer; Valley of the Shadow – getting back to health; Nameless, Unreasoning, Unjustified Terror – cancer strikes back; Long and Winding Road – restoration.
And, of course, there is the Bauhaus series to enjoy. This last in the series was going to be a look at life for the Bauhäusler compared to a student leaving art college at the end of the 1960’s. There is no comparison that can be made. For those of my generation there is no conscription, no Eastern Front, no invasion, no destruction of our towns and cities, no being raped or pillaged. We had it lucky, give thanks but look at the world we are in now and as Ozymandias may have said, “look upon our works, ye mighty, and despair.”
In art and love I trust…and maybe bell ringing too.