Teaching – Masters, junior masters and the legendary preliminary course

Education at the Bauhaus took place according to a plan determined by Walter Gropius. In the preliminary course, students received basic training in the properties of colours, forms and materials. The core of the advanced courses was the work in the workshops, directed in Weimar by a master of form and a master of works. All of this served as preparation for the building apprenticeship, which stood at the centre of the curriculum. Some of the most important artists of the day taught at the Bauhaus. In addition to the artistic disciplines, subjects such as geometry, mathematics and business management were also taught.

The training in the workshops was preceded by the preliminary course, a trial semester where the personal skills of the students were tested and the foundations of craftsmanship and design were taught. Even today, the renowned preliminary course led by Johannes Itten is said to be representative of the Bauhaus’s approach to education. After a disagreement between Itten and Gropius about the content and fundamental orientation of the preliminary course, this was eventually taken over and radically restructured by László Moholy-Nagy in 1923. A works course developed by Josef Alberssupported the activities of the preliminary course from 1923. The quality and character of the works created in the preliminary course were decisive for the student’s ultimate acceptance in one of the workshops.

At the Bauhaus, the professors became masters and the students worked in workshops rather than an academy. The workshops formed the core of the training and were gradually developed in Weimar up to 1921. The workshops that defined the profile of the Bauhaus were those for carpentry, weaving, ceramics, wall painting and metalwork. Others included the sculpture, glass painting and bookbinding workshops and the graphic print workshop.

With duties in the workshop divided between the visual artist as master of form and the masters of works, a dual educational principle was introduced, but maintained only during the Weimar period of the Bauhaus. While the overall direction of the workshop was in the hands of an artist – who was especially responsible for formal innovations and the introduction of creative ideas – the master of works oversaw the technical management of the workshop and training in the crafts.

During the Dessau period the junior masters, who were trained in both artistry and craftsmanship at the Weimar workshops, were able to take over the management of the workshops. Here, teamwork played an important role, and technical and formal experiments were conducted across all levels. Practical functionality tests and the creative use of the latest technological resources were also part of the workshop training programme. In the ceramics workshop in Weimar, prototypes for industrial manufacture were already being developed according to the theory promoted by Walter Gropius in 1923: “Art and technology – a new unity.”

The courses devised by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinskyaccompanied and supplemented the training beyond the preliminary course. The work in the workshops was moreover complemented by instruction in non-artistic subjects such as mathematics and building materials theory.

With the move to Dessau, the school was renamed Hochschule für Gestaltung (school of design). Studies were now no longer completed with the journeyman’s certificate but with an academic diploma. The theoretical instruction became more broadly based when, for example, engineering science was included in the teaching curriculum under the second director, Hannes Meyer. Now there were regular lessons in chemistry, technical drawing, statics, psychology, business management and other subjects. Hannes Meyer also organised vertical brigades where students of various educational levels worked on a project from the blueprint stage to the construction site. In addition, numerous experts were invited to hold guest lectures. These included among others the philosophers Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath, the psychologist Karlfried Graf Dürckheim and the art historian Karel Teige. Under the third director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Bauhaus developed into a type of technical university for architecture with support from the art and workshop departments.