Friday, December 11, 2009

The Bauhaus and Tradition: New Criterion

One thing this recent review doesn't tell us is the unmistakeable debt modern ecclesiastical architecture owes to the Bauhaus school. The Bauhaus rejected the traditional and more human historical school of art paedagogy and created an absolutist vision which came to dominate the skylines and living spaces of European and American cities for the last 40 years. Bauhaus' architectural rejection of tradition mirrors the Catholic Church's own struggles with modernity as liberal enemies within the Catholic Church attempted to put their heresy in stone and legitiize their attacks on the traditional doctrine, practices and morality.

One might say that the Bauhaus established a workshop for heresy.

The Bauhaus lasted exactly as long as Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919–1933) and is its principal cultural achievement. But the revolutionary school of art and design is also an achievement of modernism itself, for it answered a most vexing question: Was it possible to make a viable institution out of a movement that had arisen out of conflict with institutional authority, and which drew its focus, vitality, and sense of purpose from that conflict? Merely to demolish one bastion of academic authority, such as the imperious École des Beaux Arts, and to replace it with another would hardly have been worth the struggle.

One forgets that modernism before the Bauhaus was a volatile, many-sided, centrifugal affair and that there was little reason to believe that its various factions and groupings—whether Cubist, Futurist, or Constructivist—could ever make common cause. At times, their insistence on stylistic orthodoxy could rival that of the École (one thinks of El Lissitzky and Malevich purging Chagall from the Vitebsk School of Art). Yet the Bauhaus, by enforcing no aesthetic conformity and by promulgating no official style, proved to all that a modernist institution need not repeat the failings of its academic predecessors. Such an omnivorous and receptive stance was perhaps only possible in Germany, which, historically, had been accustomed to draw on the lessons of France, Italy, and elsewhere and to mix the results freely.

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