BAUHAUS BOOK 14

L: MOHOLY-NAGY THE NEW VISION 

AND ABSTRACT

OF AN ARTIST

Preface

Introduction
I. Preliminaries
II. The material (surface treatment, painting)
III. Volume (sculpture)
IV. Space (architecture)

It was in Berlin in 1922 that I first met Moholy-Nagy. Impressed by the char­acter and direction of his work, I offered him a professorship at the »Bauhaus« the school of modern design which I had founded and was then directing at Weimar. Moholy was one of my most active colleagues in building up the Bauhaus; much that it accomplished stands to his credit. The opportunities that the Bauhaus afforded for art of every kind must have proved especially inspiring to a nature so versatile, and a talent so many-sided as Moholy's.

 

He constantly developed new ideas. These proved os fruitful to the school os to his own development. But his varied activities - in photography, theater, films, typography, and advertising design - neither diminished nor disseminated Moholy's powers as a pointer. On the contrary, all his successful efforts in these mediums were simply indirect but necessary by-paths on his route to the conquest of o new conception of space in painting. 

 

This conception is for me his major contribution to the leadership of modern art. He succeeded in projecting vari­ous interests into his painting; he thus created a new pictorial unity, peculiar to himself. His conception of spatial problems may be difficult to understand. We can perhaps best explain the task of such an abstract painter by the example of music. like point­ing, musical composition consists of form and content. But its form is only in port o product of the composer, since, in order to make his musical ideas comprehensible to any third person, he makes use of counterpoint, which is a convention agreeing to divide the world of sound into certain intervals specified by fixed laws. These laws of counterpoint, harmony, and scales vary among different peoples and epochs, and changes are slow; that is, they are not confined to individuals. In earlier days the visual arts also had established firm laws, a counterpoint regulating the structure of space. The art academies that had the task of keeping up and developing these rules somehow forgot them, end art decayed. The abstract painters of our day have used their creative powers to establish a new counterpoint of space, a new vision. This is the core of their achievement. [...]

 

Moholy soon recognized that we can comprehend space best by means of light. His work has been a mighty battle to prepare the way for a new vision; he has attempted to extend the boundaries of painting, and to increase the intensity of light in the picture by the use of new technical means, which approximate the in­tensity of light in nature. Moholy has observed and registered light with the eye of the camera from the perspective of the frog and the bird; he has tried to master his impressions of space and to transform them into new spatial relationships in his painting end in his other works.

 

To quote his own words, a creation in space is »an interweaving of parts of space, which are anchored in invisible, but clearly traceable relations, and in the fluctuating play of forces.« This indeed describes his pictorial creations. A thinker and educator, Moholy felt the urge to find objective definitions for the new space conception which had sprung up from his work and that of other contemporary leaders.

 

Early in 1928 he wrote »Von Material zu Architektur« (Albert Langen Verlag, München) which is based on his educational experience and lectures at the Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928. A revised English edition, published under the title »The New Vision« has long been out of print. The increasing demand for this book, which has been so stimulating and helpful to students of modern art and design has brought about the issue of the present new, revised, and greatly enlarged edition »The New Vision« has proved to be more than a personal credo of an artist. lt has become a standard grammar of modern design.

 

Walter Gropius​

One can never experience art through descriptions. Explanations and analyseing can serve at best as intellectual preparations. They may, however, encourage one to male a direct contact with works of art.

 

Moholy-Nagy

I. Preliminaries

The »Bauhaus«

 

The Bauhaus, an art university, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 in Germany, attempted lo meet the needs of group work. Although for reasons of convenience a division into semesters was retained, the old concept and content of "school" was discorded, and a community of workers established. The powers latent in each individual were welded into a free collective body. The pattern of a community of students was worked out by students who learned »not for school, but for life.«

 

Such a community implies practice in actual living. Its individuals learn to master not only themselves, but also the living end working conditions of the environment. Their work, although starting out with the arts, must be o synthesis. This is what is meant when Gropius speaks about the »fatal legacy from o generation which arbitrarily elevated some branches of art above the rest as 'fine art' and in so doing robbed all arts of their basic identity and common life. But art is not one of those things that may be imparted … «

 

The educational program of the Bauhaus, or more exactly, its working program, rests upon this. 

The first year in the Bauhaus is of decisive importance, especially for those young people who, as a consequence of customary education, hove brought with them a sterile hoard of textbook information.

 

The first year their training is directed toward sensory experiences, toward the enrich­ment of emotional values, and toward the development of thought. The emphasis is laid, not so much on the differences between the individuals, as on the integration of their common biological features, and on objective scientific and technological facts. That allows a free, unprejudiced approach to every task. After this first year begins the period of specialized training, based on free vocational selection within the workshops. During this period the goal remains: man as a whole. Man - when faced with all the material and spiritual problems of life - can, if he works from his biological center, take his position with instinctive sureness. Then he is in no danger of intimidation by industry, the haste of an often misunderstood »machine culture«, or by post philosophies about his creative ways.

the shape of the tactile object was not prescribed for any task. the only criterion was that the values to be presented should be clear, but in the most concise way permissible. this requirement led to fundamentally different solutions for the individual. among the many works delivered, there was not a single one that did not have an individual invention. this was not the result of long preparation. the works were all created after the first few hours.​

tactile exercises

it was interesting to observe the different sensory cultures in these exercises. the japanese, for example, undoubtedly have a more active relationship to the tactile worlds than the europeans. this was also expressed in the tactile exercises with their eyes tied shut. mizutani literally danced with his fingers, his comrades stroked to grasp the materials. the stroking palpation was not sufficient for him.

The terminology for the different aspects of moterials has not as yet been worked out wilh accuracy. In general, four terms are used: 

 

 

structure

texture

surface aspect (or surface treatment) 

massing (mass arrangement)

 

structure

 

The unalterable manner in which the material is built up constitutes its structure. Each material has its own structure: in metals, it is crystalline; in paper, fibres.

 

texture

 

The resulting organic outward surface we may call texture. The epidermis is an organic texture.

terminology

some people may only be convinced of the correctness of such exercises if they are told something about their practical applications. for this example: the bookbinders and packaging industries (chocolate, biscuits, etc.) could receive attractive patterns in this way. but it is much less important than the basic relationship of the human being to the material, which in any given case can have a fruitful effect on the task at hand.

a nice result of these material exercises at the bauhaus was the enthusiasm with which the individuals, for example, produced various small objects from a piece of unnoticed firewood through intensive manual processing. sometimes they rubbed and oiled and polished a small piece of wood for days, until at the end of this work a lasting relationship to the material - in this case: wood - was won.​

Objectives and methods of Bauhaus education. 

 

The 20th century overwhelmed man with its inventions, new materials, new ways of construction, and new science. The boundaries of given callings were burst. New problems required more exakt knowledge, greater control of far-reaching relations and more flexibility than the rigid schemes of tradition permitted.

 

The multiplication of mechanical appliances, and new methods of research, required new intellectual orientation, a fusion of clarity, conciseness, and precision. It is historically interesting that everywhere in the world outstanding new industrial products emerged, but mainly unintentionally, that is, in fields where not tradition, but function determined form; in engineering construction, for instance, in acoustic, optical, chemical and medical instruments, and in machinery, railway and electrical equipment. But basically it was not industry, nor technical experts, but the artist pioneers who dared to proclaim the conception of »functional rightness.« »Form follows function«, Sullivan and Adler sid. This created an atmosphere, stimulating a new understanding of form on the basis of changed technical, economic, and social conditions.

 

In Germany various groups concerned themselves with the problem of the creative; such as the Darmstadt artists' colony at Matildenhöhe; the »youth style« (art nouveau); the industrial art school movement (Peter Behrens, Josef Olbrich, Van de Velde); and, above all, the Werkbund. Buildings were constructed to house these movements, exhibitions arranged, periodi­cals and yearbooks published. All had in view the establishing of an organic tie between creative forces end industry. In America, Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright struggled toward a solution. They recognized the creative spirit in the use of the machine brought about by bold end genuine inventors. In spite of that, industry kept on pouring out products, ignorant of its own creative potentialities, and for the most perl following traditional prototypes developed by the handicrafts.

 

Out of the welter of rejection and approval, of demand and intuition, a principle slowly crystallized:

 

Not the single piece of work, nor the highest individual attainment must be emphasized, but instead the creation of the commonly usable type, development toward »standards«. [...]

In the Bauhaus, on the technically simple level of handwork, students could watch a product grow from beginning to end. Their attention was directed to an organic entity, and they were responsible for its entire production, as weil os for its function. In the present factory process, the worker is directed only to parts of the whole, the ultimate relationships being known to him merely by description and illustration, not through experience. 

Thus the manual training in the Bauhaus was not an aim in itself, but a means of education, and in port a necessary tool for the industrial model. This was the reason why the handicrafts were supplemented in the Bauhaus with the basic machines of various industries, enabling mass production.
 
The Bauhaus became the focal point of new creative forces accepting the challenge of technical progress with its recognition of social responsibility. lt became the experimental shop, the laboratory of the new movement.
 
Gropius reintegrated artists into the daily work of the nation. The results were surprising. By uniting artistic, scientific and workshop training - with tools and basic machines - by keeping in constant touch with advanced art and techniques, with the invention of new materials, and new methods of construction, the teachers and students of the Bauhaus were able to turn out designs which hod decisive influence on industrial mass production, and in the reshaping of daily life. The invention of tubular furniture, modern lighting fixtures, practical household appliances, new types of hardware, electrical contrivances, textiles, new typography, modern photography, and so on, were the functional results of this work. 

These exercises have nothing to do with scientific aims. We can understand them as a subjective test, which may be followed later by more objective scientific testing in a laboratory. Experience shows thot the tactile exercises offer wide possibilities for useful ends. They provide a sound foundation for many-sided sureness in the handling of materials in technology, os weil os art work.​

Obituary note by

Walter Gropius

 

 

With Moholy-Nagy's untimely death a life of tremendous vitality, will power and love has been cut short at its zenith. When a beloved friend irrevocably disappears into silence, the sudden loss enlightens our consciousness in a flash so that we recognize the truth more clearly than before. Moholy-Nagy has bequeathed to us a wealth of art works and writings, which embrace the whole range of the visual arts.

 

We might call the scope of his contribution »Leonardian«, so versatile and colorful has it been. He was successful al once as o thinker and os an inventor, as a writer and as a teacher. This would seem to be almost too vast a field for one man to till, but abundant versatility was uniquely his. With his power of imagination he kept this tremendous variety of interests in balance.

 

His vision took brilliant shortcuts, synchronizing his observations into a consistent whole, for he felt today's danger of over-specialization which leads to fallacies. Constantly developing new ideas, he managed to keep himself in a state of unbiased curiosity, from which a fresh point of view could originale. With a shrewd sense of observation he investigated everything that come his way, taking nothing for granted, but using his acute sense for the organic. 1 remember his peculiar freshness when he was facing o new problem in his art.

 

With the attitude of on unprejudiced, happy child at ploy, he surprised one by the directness of his intuitive approach. Here was the source of his priceless quality as on educator: his never-ceasing power to stimulate and to carry away the other person with his own enthusiasm. Can true education achieve more than setting the student's mind in motion by that contagious magic? 

 

This book, which has proved to be »the standard grammar of modern design«, gives broadest evidence of the decisive part which Moholy-Nagy has played in the history of the visual arts, for it has revealed a new mental attitude in contemplating, observing and forming this, our physical world. lt will gain in time when weaker eyes have learned to see through his.

bauhausbuch 14

l. moholy-nagy

von material zu architektur

1929

 

schriftleitung

walter gropius

moholy-nagy

bauhaus book 04

l. moholy-nagy

the new vision and abstract of an artist

bauhaus bookshelf