Education at the Bauhaus

I started exploring the Bauhaus: Building the New Artist online exhibit (companion to a current live exhibit at the Getty Center) out of curiosity to learn more about the design principles that the interactive modules present. From the blurb I read promoting it I didn’t realize there would also be significant content about the educational vision of the Bauhaus. There were elements of how the exhibit discusses the blending of fine arts and applied arts that resonated with conversations I’ve had with colleagues about the goals of education – including outside the domain of the arts.

In fact, I’m frequently struck by how often the educational considerations of artists and of computer scientists can be highly similar once you dig below the most surface level of the content. Two quotes from the Bauhaus exhibit echo this to me. Describing the painter Lyonel Feininger’s illustration of a cathedral as a representation of the school’s philosophy:

A preindustrial building form, the cathedral promised the possibility of realizing the Gesamtkunstwerk, or the total work of art, in which designers, artists, and artisans worked together toward a single, spiritual goal.

And in an excerpt from the school’s 1919 program:

This world of mere drawing and painting of pattern-designers and applied artists must at long last become a world that builds. If the young person who senses within himself a passion for creative practice begins his career, as in the past, by learning a trade, then the unproductive ‘artist’ will no longer be condemned to imperfect artistry because his skill will be preserved in craftsmanship, where he may achieve excellence.

While I know I am abstracting away some of the deeper underlying sentiment of this philosophy, there is a thread here of balancing learning with doing and with engaging in doing that grapples with the entire breadth of a messy problem embedded in the real world rather than an academically constructed puzzle. From a computer science perspective, there is a similar balance between theory and practice within education, and an ongoing tension in ensuring individual students engage with both sides of the spectrum.

The whole online exhibit, including the interactive exercises, is worth checking out. The content about the specific design principles being taught is interesting and also continue to echo the above themes in describing how they were taught, particularly in the section on Body and Spirit. I think it would be a fun read for any educator, regardless of discipline.

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