bauhaus: innovators in typography & graphic design
nestled between the two world wars, in a time of dramatic change and tenuous peace, there existed an arts and crafts institute in germany that had an influence on 20th century design like no other.
the staatiliches bauhaus, meaning construction house, was founded in weimar by architect walter gropius in 1919, who sought to create a unity between the fine and applied arts by integrating them with modern technology and human ingenuity. gropius saw this combination of artistic and practical tuition as a way to build a modern, logical and ordered, society (department of photographs, 2004).
such a utopian ideal required a new breed of artist and a fresh method of teaching. gropius felt that handicraft was the foundation of any art, stating the school will gradually turn into a workshop (gropius as cited in bauhaus archive, n.a).
gropius gathered a team of artists and master craftsmen to oversee these innovative training workshops which included carpentry, pottery, glass, metal, weaving & wall painting.
before 1923 typographic design had not played a very big part in the programme, it began to after the appointment of laszlo moholy-nagy who introduced to the school the ideas of new typography (bauhaus archive, n.a).
In 1925, after relocating the bauhaus to the industrial city of dessau, due to the loss of weimar citys financial support, the workshop for typography and commercial art was established. herbert bayer, a former student of typography at weimar, was put in charge of the newly installed workshop at the bauhaus dessau, quickly turning it into a professional studio for graphic design.
the innovations made in typography and graphic design by laszlo moholy-nagy and herbert bayer are among the most radical offerings to 20th century design (walsh, n.a). I intend to focus the aforementioned artists, exploring their work, theories and overall influence on my future practice, graphic design.
described by fiona maccarthy (maccarthy, 2006) as the most inventive and engaging of all the bauhaus artists laszlo moholy-nagy was born july 20th 1895 in borsod, hungary. his legal studies in budapest were interrupted by the WW1, he enlisted in the hungarian army in 1915 and served as an officer in russia where he was wounded. during the war he had produced some drawings and when he completed his law studies in 1919 he began painting. in 1921 he moved to berlin and his studio became a haven for the avant-garde, with visitors such as el lissitzky frequenting it. walter gropius appointed him as the successor to johannes itten at the bauhaus in 1923, this assignment proved to be of great importance to moholy-nagys personal development and to the evolution of bauhaus ideas and teaching methods (spencer, 2004).
it must be clear communication in its most vivid form. a new typographic language must be created, combining elasticity, variety and a fresh approach to the materials of printing, a language whose logic depends on the appropriate application of the processes of printing (moholy-nagy as cited in bayer & gropius, 1975, p.78).
with the intent to enhance communication, moholy-nagy used graphic elements such as rules and points in an autonomous way. In his title page for the bauhaus prospectus in 1923 he employs these techniques.
he was responsible for all but to of the typographic layouts on the covers of the bauhaus books edited by gropius and himself. moholy-nagys style was epitomised by the combination of graphic, typographic and photographic material to create striking designs (walsh, n.a).
born in austria, april 1990, the son of a tax collector, herbert bayer spent his early life in the quiet, mountainous region of haag. in 1919 after completing his military service, he studied as an architect in linz and darmstadt, germany, before becoming a student at the bauhaus in 1921. studying under such masters as kandinsky and later moholy-nagy he acquired an passion for typography, envisaging a new alphabet that would simplify the representation of sounds. by 1925, he himself was a master of the printing and advertising workshop in the new complex in dessau, for which he designed the signage. 1925 was also the year he, created universal, a geometric, all lower-case, san-serif typeface.
why should we write and print with two alphabets? both a large and a small sign are not necessary to indicate one single sound. we do not speak a capital A and a small a. we need only a single alphabet (bayer & gropius, 1975, p.147).
the universal typeface was streamlined, utilised modest curves and mirrored the aesthetics of the new machine age (lillienstei & tessmer, n.a).
bayer abandoned capital letters and removed ornaments such as serifs in order to increase the functionality in terms of legibility and space saving. bayers intentions aligned itself with the stijl-influenced movement of new typography embodied by jan tchichold and fellow bauhaus masters moholy-nagy and el lissitzy.
the elimination of capitals by the bauhaus on top of their unpatriotic use of san-serif letters instead of the archaic and elaborate gothic alphabet german printing generally used, was met with outraged protests.
dan gheno (gheno, 1977) believes bayer destroyed all his gains when he insisted on exclusively using lower-case letters in his work. gheno refuses bayers claims that the eyes are able to comprehend more quickly when they dont have to differentiate between capital and lower-case, stating that full stops lose their importance, sentences get lost in a maze of letters and recognising proper names becomes difficult.
despite such criticism, when herbert bayer died in 1985 he left behind an outstanding career as an architect, artist, graphic designer, typographer and teacher. making his mark on graphic design along with laszlo moholy-nagy and their fellow bauhaus artists. without the bauhaus revolutionary modifications in all areas of the arts, from typography to tapestry, there would never have been many of the designs that followed its forced close in 1933 by the nazis. (williams, 2000) believes that you definitely would not have seen helvetica being used as a corporate typeface in eight out of ten of germanys largest companies, without the pioneering work of typographers and designers like laszlo moholy-nagy and herbert bayer.
i find it fitting to finish this essay on a quote by oskar schlemmer, bauhaus master, written in 1923, the history of the bauhaus is a long story, an endless one, i could never reach the end, I have merely traced one strand lets drop the subject (schlemmer as cited in naylor, 1985).
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