Inaugural Address of Lucius Burckhardt, Founding Dean of the Department of Art and Design

Portrait von Lucius Burckhardt

The members of the founding board, the professors and colleagues who have taken over and joined the department, as well as the students of the first class of the Department of Art and Design, we all have the great opportunity to participate in the founding of a new department. In the process, we feel the historical significance of the location in which we find ourselves, as well as the weight of a great past that stands in the background of this inception. And we all ask ourselves the same question:

What can we learn from Bauhaus? The answer, which was hard-earned, is this: We can learn from Bauhaus that in any situation we have to be innovative! Learning from Bauhaus, though, does not mean repeating Bauhaus. It means rather to consider what is needed, just as the people from Bauhaus did, which 70 years ago was due to innovations. I would like to talk more about what is needed today. But first I’d like to speak a little more about our Master Teacher, Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus of 1919 stood in conflict with the Academy of Art on the one hand and the School of Arts and Crafts on the other, as they crept over from the 19th century. In addition, the designers of these craft objects were schooled in the brilliant airs and graces of the Academy of Art. In order to revise this, the Bauhaus created the new figure of the art student as Apprentice, just as alumni were called Journeymen and professors were called Masters. Just these three words demonstrate how the Bauhaus wanted to cultivate developers who on the one hand possessed a perfect sense of craft and technical know-how, as we say today, and on the other hand to have command of a relevant language of forms. These intentions related to two pedagogical principles that launched the Bauhaus and at the time made sense in order to overcome the declining academicism. Both principles were directed at the new entering apprentice and said:

Empty your head of the things you brought with you, your views, your abilities, the line that your Art Master taught you in school, for all of it is wrong and kitsch!

The second principle: Only do what you have learned, otherwise you make mistakes and you only create fluff!

We all know that Bauhaus was a place where fiercest of debates and discussions took place, which explains why multiple interpretations of what »The Bauhaus« wanted exist. By and large, there are two Bauhaus legends: The Bauhaus as the place of the development of a new art, with Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger and the others, and the Bauhaus as the place of a goal-oriented creation of a standardization of equipment with a view towards industrial production. Let’s address the notion of functionalism and the tendency towards industrial production: It began before World War I; first, there was the famous prototype struggle in 1914 between Van de Velde and Muthesius. We know that the members of the Werkbund celebrated Van de Velde at the time as the representative of the up and coming designer-artist. Later, Bauhaus took Muthesius’ side, so to speak, even if it still produced a wealth of touching, inhibited tapestries, cubist teapots and sofa cushions crocheted in the de-stijl-style. But part of the goals of the Bauhaus was certainly the industrially manufactured device, and most important: the house.

The method with which one wanted to approach industrialization at Bauhaus was that of traditional polytechnical instruction, as it had been conceived in France during the Napoleonic era. The nature of polytechnical instruction centers on the separation of end from means. The employer names the end and takes responsibility for it as well. The designer devises the means with which this end will be achieved and takes responsibility for its production and function. Napoleon says: How does one convey the troops across the Rhein? And the corps des ponts et chaussées answers: we build a bridge! The polytechnicians are responsible for the stability of the bridge, and Napoleon is responsible for the war.

Henry Ford is the clandestine model of all designers and manufacturers in the new age. And, astonishingly, he is the model to the left and the right. The private-sector entrepreneur also envisions the Ford production line as the highest achievable solution with which he can undercut the competition and dominate the entire market. This assembly line also serves as a model of a socialized production in a socialist state. And so the mass-produced assembly-line product, which was developed by designers with technical educations and which remained affordable to the masses who were exhausted by the crisis, was also certainly a goal of at least the late Bauhaus.

If I now speak about what is necessary today, I do not ignore the past, rather I would like to do it full justice and give it the highest recognition. But I do not want it to be passed on unimaginatively, rather in the current sense of the sentence we began with: We can learn from Bauhaus that one must be innovative in one’s era.

Today, we find ourselves in a crisis that has as its point of departure the simple temporary economic recession that can only be dispatched with structural changes. Once this crisis passes, it will no longer be the way it was before. Here I name as an example two irreversible developments that we must take note of:

At one point the Japanese no longer wanted to sell cars in the US, the US no longer wanted to sell cars in Japan and both no longer wanted to sell cars in Germany. We call this a »crisis.« Now, the solution does not center on the notion that everyone should sell cars to everyone else again.

The policy that namely orients itself towards the readoption of trading mass-produced products already—for us—finds its end therein, because the manufacturing industry is migrating from high-income countries to low-income countries or has already done so.

To speak about what is needed means to pose the question: what will we now do, the people who live in high-income countries? The economic policy of developed countries suffered a long time, and suffers still, from a false self-interpretation of these industrial societies, from a belief in a total Ford-ian rationalization of industry and therewith in the impending tertiarization of the remaining work. This belief is bound with the theory of productivity. This states—Colin Clark and Jean Fourastié thought in such figures during the 1960’s, and they influence planning up to the present day—that in the future industrial productivity would increase in such a way that only 10% of workers would still be active in production. And what do the others do? The answer: They go into some kind of economic branch that can not be rationalized, namely into service professions, where 80% of us will be employed. This theory, which is partially true but also errs in many places, reached into the planning of states and cities as well as physical planning. One spoke of the tertiarization of the city and regions.

Let me name some of the mistakes of this theory:

  • Services can also be automated. The administration of people and goods can be transferred to computers. Sometimes we joke and say that this creates more work than it reduces, but one can not deny that the productivity of service work has increased.
  • One can not rationalise all of industrial production like a refrigerator or a car. Ford-ism is a special case for a limited number of goods of a particular construction.

And third: 

  • The increase of productivity, namely automatisation, does not allow itself to be automated. Robots are not built by robots or assembled on a line, rather, they are, seen from a Ford-ian point of view, crafted.

So our question must be stated as such: What will we do in our high-income societies if or when:

  • Ford-ian production is limited,
  • Ford-ian production facilities migrate to low-income countries, and
  • The service sector does not grow?

These are the three points that turn our crisis into a structural crisis. Neither of our political models, neither the liberal-conservative nor the social-democratic, are complex enough to palliate or stimulate the present situation. Both models adhere too much to the belief that one only has to set the assembly lines in motion again. 

In contrast, we must try to find a new, innovative path in our time. And when I look around me, I see that many young people have already found a new path. Here is one example: I live in the so-called bourgeois quarter, where one would assume that only the members of this tertiary society—accountants and life-insurance agents—would live. Two young men rent the basement of the house next to mine. They specialize in making electronic musical instruments. From time to time they arrive with a box of complicated cables and buttons, take it inside, and play around with it—while earning money. A reproduction photographer works in the courtyard of the house next door. He bought special equipment and is now the specialist that supplies the best original film material for reproductions of works of art. Shall I give you another example? At some point, a young woman rented a room. She designs cloth patterns for a small company that sells her work on to a textile printer in the U.S. And certainly in some garage somewhere, someone is working on the electronic automatism for the component of a robot of an assembly line, something the factory does not wish to design itself. What I wish to illustrate is that here we have a generation that stands neither in the Ford-ian system of production nor in tertiarisation. Instead, they—paradoxically comparable to old handicraft—innovatively and productively apply craftsman-, artistic- and technical talents. 

And for this generation, the generation of recovery after the present structural crisis, our new Faculty of Art and Design is there! 

I therefore name three aspects of a future society of production after the crisis:

  • I see our students in the future as the intelligent craftsmen that apply technical knowledge to the areas of photography, printing, computer software, text and video. They have amassed a good deal of their knowledge outside of/independent of their studies. That’s why the initial brain-washing of the Bauhaus and the Ulmer Hochschule would be counter-productive: retain what you brought with you!
  • I see our graduates in the future as consultants who can give the employer no right solution for a falsely presented problem. Instead, they can show the employer how one, applying the concept of dividing the ends from the means, can develop a functioning strategy. The sum of clean solutions are what dirty our environment.

  • I see our graduates as artists of the art of meditation. They begin with the idea and the concept rather than virtuosity. This is why we do not tell our students: do nothing that you did before. Instead, we say, dare to do that which you have yet to master! Mistakes are allowed!

I now turn to the students present and say to them in the name of the founding committee: This was our thinking about an education that relates to the present time and the demands of the future. That we could erect a new faculty upon this basic principle is a unique stroke of luck. The founding committee will end its work in the next few months. We will place the founding in your hands. It is up to you to protect and sustain it and defend yourselves if the teachers descend to typical repressive routines, which is so much easier for them than the problem-oriented education that we need today.

Weimar, November 19, 1993