The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Success and failure of the Bauhaus. The discussion was initiated by Fred.Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!
Interesting article Como on the Bauhaus, and the exhibition of it's products. Interesting that social democracy wanted to pass Bauhaus off as 'proletarian' in response to bourgeois philistinism: bourgeois proletarianism perhaps? And it certainly comes across as more serious in intent than say dada, surrealism etc. which appeared keener on mocking the contented bourgeois than replacing him with anything more workerist. Interesting too that Lenin and Trotsky had more sense than to think somebody could just come up with proletarian art and design - just like that! - merely because workers had recently achieved a revolution in Russia, and put workers on the map so to speak. But surely we have to wait till after the successful world revolution to discover what the proletariat is capable of creatively, with communism itself being it's first great art work, based on scientific theory.
A quote. " In a society that seems to conspire against man, the Bauhaus held out the hope that modern industry could be re-fashioned for his benefit." A commendable thought in the spirit of reform. But isn't it a bit top down? The kindly, thoughtful bourgeoisie worrying about the home comforts and opportunity for aesthetic appreciation of the sad little worker? The Bauhaus meant well. But when it comes to re-fashioning, nay indeed, the rebuilding of society, the proletariat through it's self-organization is quite capable of initiating all the creativity required for this massive and exciting task.
Very nice article, indeed! It's good to talk about art and politics! I recommend this article, the comment by DAN inclusive.
Agree with Fred that the Bauhaus seems to have a quite paternalistic view on the working class. This group/current of artists, craftsmen, technicians... seem to know what the workers need and don't need. In this sense they are superficially radical, just like the social-democrats of this period were. By this, I don't say they were counter-revolutionary, like the social-democrats, but they didn't understand the necessity of self-activity of the working class for the creation of a new classless culture in the struggle for a communist world.
It is quite ironic that some years after the Bauhaus-movement, after the second world war, artists rebelled against the Bauhaus-style, with its straight line, its buildings out of concrete etc., which were then quite fashionable for the bourgeoisie during the reconstruction periode after the second world war (Hundertwasser is one of these artists, which propagated an "organic" architecture). Yes, the bourgeoisie threw away the original emancipatory principles of the Bauhaus, and just used the new technical and architectural insights for her own purposes: constructing cheap and big appartments, banlieues... in an ugly concrete, for the housing of the necessary working forces.
I went to the bauhaus exhibition and learned a great deal from it. First and foremost, that it was much more wideranging and ambitious than I had thought, especially in trying to appropriate the artistic knowledge of the past and renew it at a higher level by overcoming the false separation between art and production. I had probably been influenced by associations between the bauhaus and what became of 'modernism', which gave me a narrow view of what bauhaus stood for originally. I do agree however that there is a profound critique to be made of the tendency to worship capitalist 'modernity' which affected many of the artistic movements of the early 20th century (understandably given the stanglehold of the classical academic styles). The futurists are another example of this, and it was even more understandable in Russia where industrialisation per se seemed to offer a way out of a stiflingly archaic system. And certainly - something which came out very strongly in the modernism exhibition I saw a while back - modernist experimentation was fairly easily recuperated by Stalinist and social democratic state architecture, giving us the prison-like, all-concrete monstrosities of the second half of the 20th century.
It would be worth inquiring into the concept of the 'modern'. I think it is probably something specific to the capitalist epoch, since it seems to be based on the idea that the past is worthless and only what's new counts (a clear product of the rule of the commodity). When I studied history at university I learned that the period of the rise of capitalism out of feudalism was semi-officially termed the 'early modern' period.
A good discussion about Bauhaus. Here is a link to a piece about the New School's main building in New York. Built in 1930 in the Bauhaus style, the architect and school President had all kinds of grandiose hopes for how the building (architectural space) would change the educational experience. This kind of "utopianism" seems to have been rampant at the time among the liberal/social-democratic factions of the bourgeoisie.The pessimism about modernity that came from the experience of fascism and the Holocaust had not yet arrived, even if they were just around the corner. It's an interesting read:
Sandman has an interesting blog on left com.org called Abolish Art. In it he suggests that art, and the sanctification of the artist, are really a sort of bourgeois invention, along with the fetishization of art commodities and their place as valuables on the market. I'll go along with that. Just think of Michelangelo and Leonardo. (If you are thoroughly bourgeoisified just the thought of them will send you into a swoon!) They were not seen by themselves or anyone else as ARTISTS, but as extremely talented craftsmen and artisans, employed by the church and wealthy dukedoms. Take the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: do you see it as a GREAT ART WORK (sigh with appreciation, and salivate at the thought of it's possible value on the open market) or can we not take in it's beauty as a magnificently designed and executed "mural", illustrating scenes from the bible, and containing a whole gallery of handsome young men,all naked, and exquisitely presented?
Regarding "modernism" and all the other huge variety of 'isms' invented by the bourgeoisie as commodity categorizations for the art industry. When they were in their ascendancy as a revolutionary class, the bourgeoisie were able to encourage, commission and fund a vast outpouring of literature, music, painting, furniture design, architecture etc. while the producers of all this creativity felt good about themselves and the age in which they lived, and were sometimes even decently rewarded by their employers. Sadly all this changed with the onset of decadence. As funds became unreliable, or ran out, as depressions and war set in, the bourgeoisie had less time for art, and indeed for science - as obscurantism and religion crept back into society - and artists lost confidence in life as containing a future you could look forward to. Gradually, during the long counter-revolution of the 20th. century, and its devastating midnight, the reason for art declined and its content ran out. This left an array of forms, emptied of their content and thus of all humanity, human feelings, human desire for beauty, human emotion (now repressed totally in decomposition) all of which had been the actual content of artistic endeavor and expression. How could there be "futurism" when, the economy shattered, there was no future?
So what of the proletariat in this schema? As the ICC has pointed out there will never be an economy, or a State, that you can legitimately call proletarian. (The papers published in 1977 on the state in the period of transition go into a lot of detail about this.) Similarly there can never be any proletarian art, culture, or sport. At the present time all of these activities are controlled, organized and run by and for the benefit of the ruling class, it's search for profit, and it's insistence on nationalistic fervor as underpinning it's rule. For most of us we will have to wait for communism to see the proper unleashing of our creative powers, as a newly liberated humanity comes into it's own.
Does the Bauhaus really represent "Art as Life" or just tubular bells tied up as chairs and for sale anywhere and everywhere? Give me Dada any day. I think Duchamp's urinals - as commodities they were easily replaced and needed to be cos people would use and abuse them when on show all the time, and they got chipped, so he went on "producing" and signing new ones (J.Mutt, as in "Mutt and Jerry") new ones he bought from the local hardware shop, well into the 'sixties - these crudely suggestive piss pots tell us far more about life in relation to art prior to, during and after the First World War, than do any of the marvels cooked up by the Bauhausers and their pals during the Reconstruction. After all, the urinal is a material necessity.
Did some of the art guys in those days really think that capitalism would be finished off in the early decades of the 20th. century? Some critics say that Duchamp was anti-art others that he was anti- capitalist Perhaps, if you were a thinker and an artist in circa 1914 you might probably be both. Change, if not revolution, was in the air they breathed. In 1913 Stravinsky came up with "The Rite of Spring" a noisy orchestral and barbaric extravaganza of exuberant primitivism and noise - not to forget the outrageous dancing it provoked in the name of ballet - such that many called it the end, no, the very death of music itself. It is now of course hailed as a major classic. (Was Stravinsky one of the last Great Composers? He did manage to get in before the onset of generalized capitalist decay.)
Duchamp too is now revered. The father of modern art and "modernism" his anti-capitalism and anti-art antics are now all forgiven and forgotten. One of his many urinals on hallowed display (in New York?) is even kept behind Perspex to protect it from those who must piss in it. Perhaps it's the sight of a porcelain pisspot, called originally the "Fountain" - does fountain refer to the user or the receptacle itself with its in-built flush? - which brings on the urge?
But to be preserved behind a Perspex screen is high commendation indeed. It's like Michelangelo's "Pieta" in St. Peter's which is also screened off for safety, and which has also provoked undesirable responses from admirers, not to piss over but to break. It's as if such commodified perfection in marble is too hard to bear.
In Moscow, in the years before the 1st.World War, a group of artists called "The Jack of Diamonds" set out to challenge the old models for what counted as art, and engaged in political discussion too. Did the essence of their ideas reach Stravinsky? Wikipedia calls them "leftists" though this must be a wrong nomenclature for that historical time. Maybe they talked politics more in the manner of Rosa Luxemburg than in that of the venerable Kautsky and this earned them their renown along with their artistic products. In England there was Lawrence the novelist analysing human intellectual and sexual relationships with an honesty the establishment couldn't swallow; and Joseph Conrad too, writing about anarchists and communists plotting and fighting in Central America (Nostromo) and Russia and Switzerland. (Under Western Eyes). But from where did Conrad get his revolutionary ideas?
Bliss was it at that time to be alive with both art and science in a ferment - and then the war - and then the revolutionary wave itself. The theory of relativity seemed to be changing everything. And then we were defeated. But tubular chairs were invented.
I haven’t looked at any expressions of Bauhaus enough to form an opinion of it but surrealism is mentioned above so a few comments about that and cubism. There was a certain mixture of cubism and surrealism but I think that the expressions were very different. Picasso developed his cubist stage, which included an African influence, out of his original sentimentalism from 1907. John Berger, the art critic (whose work I base this piece on) said that cubism was a brief fusion of Cezanne’s dialectics and Courbet’s materialism with a synthesis of both possibilities. As well as Courbet’s realism and the organised/disorganised structures of Cezanne becoming interactive, one of the techniques of cubism was to use man-made stuff on the canvas, i.e., stuff you could get from a hardware store. What was positive about cubism was that it didn’t know how or why but it could see a future and in this developed the idea that nothing was isolated but everything was related.Cubism was finished by the beginning of World War One and Picasso was unconcerned about the war – it wasn’t his business.The first expression of surrealism seems to involve Picasso and others rehearsing a play-circus-ballet in Rome due to open in Paris in 1917. The poet and art critic, Guilliame Appolinaire was also involved and seems to have saved the day for the production. Appolinaire called the surviving spirit of his art “super-realism” or surrealism. The French writer and artist, Jean Cocteau wanted to call the production “ballet realiste” but surrealist stuck
The production, called “Parade” was put on in Paris in 1917. The backdrop and some other elements were painted by Picasso who also helped with the writing, stage direction, etc. From reports the play involved large, national figures (ie, dressed as the Eiffel Tower, a skyscraper and so on) some good dancing and other stuff. The audience, largely bourgeois (who did they expect?) shouted it down and booed at the end, shouting “dirty Germans”. Appolinaire, who had been wounded in war and still had a bandage wrapped around his head, had to take to the stage and address the bourgeoisie – whom he hated – with an affirmation of his and the cast’s patriotism. He pointed to his own wounds from which he died a few months later.Unbeknown to the cast, because it was kept secret at the time, 150 miles away from the Theatre du Chatelet where Parade was performing, 120,000 French soldiers were killed in a suicidal offensive against the Hindenburg Line and thousands more were deserting under revolutionary influences. The juxtaposition of these two events is surreal enough in itself and certainly shows the limits of surrealism and other “modern” elements such as futurism and how they can serve the bourgeoisie. It shows one of the problems of art and how the artist can bridge this gap between their art and pressing events like war or revolution or even if they have to.
I think that cubism is a positive artistic development. Though the techniques have been developed relatively recently, I think that there’s a cubist expression to some of the very old prehistoric “axes” which were probably used in ceremonies or rituals. There’s what I think a definite expression of cubist work of a woman’s torso found in Ostrava Petrkovice, Czechoslavakia. It’s very small, about 5cm high, goes from the neck to just above the knees and is carved out of black haematite, twenty-five thousand years old and found under the molar of a mammoth. It looks like something from the industrialisation of society but the piece is naturalistic and truthful. If you take the weight on the right leg the figure has the proportions and even the balance of the classical Venus or the Three Graces.