Art, design and modernity: the Bauhaus and beyond

Charnley, Kim (2020). Art, design and modernity: the Bauhaus and beyond. Open Arts Journal, 9 pp. 43–56.




This essay explores the relationship between art and design in the twentieth century through the Bauhaus, the school which established a revolutionary model for modern art and design education between 1919 and 1933. The Bauhaus vision of design is closely identified with a ‘machine aesthetic’, where the form of an object is governed by its function and adapted to the demands of mass production. The pedagogy of the school, which involved a distinctive and unstable synthesis of art, craft, and design, was inspired by the Gesamtkunstwerk, an idea that was influential among avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, which is usually translated as a synthesis of the arts. This essay explores the utopianism of the Bauhaus, and its relationship to the Gesamtkunstwerk, through a comparison between the ideas of two artist-designers associated with the school: László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) and Anni Albers (1899-1994). Although the ‘machine aesthetic’ of industrial design shaped the reception of the Bauhaus, Albers’s work as a weaver, textile artist and textile designer ought to be given equal prominence in evaluation of the school’s design ethos. Once it is, established criticisms of the utopianism of the Bauhaus are called into question, because they take their cue from a narrow and selective account of the activities of the school. This essay concludes by sketching some implications of this shift of perspective for contemporary design.

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