The Bauhaus Body, Exercises in Metaphysics

 Johannes Itten, Color Sphere

Johannes Itten, Color Sphere

The end of World War I and the social movement of lebensreform left the understanding of society and culture in Germany ambiguous.  Particularly, the Weimar’s concept of the body placed a direct connection between physical and mental harmony, gender and classicism at the center of what it meant to be

Through practice, Austrian educator Gertrude Grunow, demonstrated the crucial reforms of art education in the early years of the Bauhaus.  Receiving considerable pressure from Johannes Itten, Walter Gropius appointed Grunow as the first female Master in 1920. Itten, a Swiss Expressionist, had come into contact with Grunow during his years in Vienna and found her belief in stimulating and releasing the creative faculties of the student to be precisely what the Bauhaus needed in order to fully develop as an institution of creative reform.   It is important to note that denominational factions of Lutheranism under the Kingdom of Prussia dominated the German education system until the mid-nineteenth century. However, with the rise of Pietism, a Lutheran reformation, education took on the responsibilities of Pietist theology, which believed in the necessity of inner-spirituality.  The concept of spirituality in German education functioned fruitfully with the rise of philosophical sects in the early-twentieth century, such as neocrucianism and anthroposophy, which hailed the individual, their inner experiences, and intuition as the foundation for all intellectual thought.

Believing that the art educator’s most difficult problem is the liberation and deepening of the inner spiritual sense of perception, Johannes Itten, Master of Form and developer of the Vorkurs (basic course) at the Bauhaus preferred harmonic and sensual pedagogical methods, revolutionary for the early-twentieth century. Despite enduring ideological and philosophical differences between Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten, in The Bauhaus 1919-1928, Gropius speaks of the over-arching objective of the Bauhaus – which silently echoes the beliefs of Itten:

The objective of the Bauhaus was not to propagate any style, system, dogma, formula or vogue, but simply to exert a revitalizing influence on design.  We did not base our teaching on any preconceived ideas of form, but sought the vital spark of life behind life’s ever-changing forms.

The Basic Course, taught by Itten, lasted only one semester; upon successful completion, students were then recommended admission into the various workshops based off which materials they successfully fused with.  Von Erffa speaks of the climate surrounding material at the Bauhaus:

There was the theory current that unless you had a mystical relationship with your material you could not get the most out of it.
 Johannes Itten Teaching at Weimar Bauhaus

Johannes Itten Teaching at Weimar Bauhaus

Von Erffa’s statement exemplifies the biological fusion with material that students were expected to have as early as their first semester – playing upon the idea, or superstructure of interconnectivity – through material.  For the Bauhaus, expertise lay in the body.

By placing the body in the position as the intrinsic starting point for all pedagogical theories and practices, the Bauhaus allows one to explore the crucial role of the student and even more, the paramount position of their bodies in the pedagogical process of creating both art and object. 


Published as part of our #Bauhaus100 Series

A Special Series Dedicated to the Centennial of the Staatliches Bauhaus