There are multiple contexts here, but it’s most often used to refer to a specific German art and design school which operated in the 20s and 30s, and the aesthetic which emerged from it. It was a specific organization, but has become a general movement and approach to design.

The Bauhaus school and its philosophy was – some would say – typically German, in that it sought an aesthetic which was compatible with function and with mass production. The most beautiful design in the world is useless if it doesn’t work, or it can’t be mass produced.

This can be viewed as trying to bring practicality to the arts, but a page on Bauhaus at The Art Story notes that it also went the other way:

[It came from] anxieties about the soullessness of modern manufacturing, and fears about art’s loss of social relevance. The Bauhaus aimed to reunite fine art and functional design, creating practical objects with the soul of artworks.

So, Bauhaus design is not “design for design’s sake,” but rather an approach to design which is functional and practical, or an approach to manufacturing which is artistic. Its goal was to mix the two sides of the spectrum.

From a page on Creative Market:

Bauhaus sought to combine the fine arts with crafts by closing the schism between art and industry. […] a broad variety of visual arts came under the Bauhaus design banner and were merged with workmanship to create a Utopian design philosophy based on celebrating the aesthetic with the practical.

Another page from the Art website provides 10 principles of Bauhaus design that still apply today. Some outtakes:

  • No border between artist and craftsman
  • Form follows function
  • Minimalism
  • Simplicity and Effectiveness

Some of these come from the Bauhaus Manifesto, which the Design Museum of Chicago has posted as the only page under its own domain name:

By learning a trade, the unproductive “artist” will no longer be condemned to the imperfect practice of art because his skill is now preserved in craftsmanship, where he may achieve excellence. […] For there is no such thing as “art by profession.” There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan.

The Bauhaus school is commonly considered one of the most important and influential organizations in the history of modern design.

Notably, there is also a common typeface called Bauhaus, which, not surprisingly, reflects its principles.

Why I Looked It Up

It came up in a book about politics, for some reason. I had heard the term, and I was familiar with the “German aesthetic,” but didn’t know the source.


Added on July 18, 2022

From an issue of the Monday Musings newsletter:

Seeking a new utopia through architecture, Bauhaus ideals contrasted standard architectural tropes, such as ornamentation, because they symbolized the crowns worn by monarchs. Instead, the Bauhaus wanted designs to be clean, colorless, and as flat as the social hierarchy of their democratic utopia. The Bauhaus movement was so influential it shaped art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography. Through design, the Bauhaus envisioned a more perfect future, free from past dogmas.

Modernism emerged from the Bauhaus movement. Bauhaus inspired parallels such as De Stijl in Rotterdam and The Futurists in Italy. All sought a purist future, uncontaminated by the errors of the past. Through architecture, they each rejected classical virtues along with the filigree that defined so much of European architecture in the 19th century.

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