Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bauhaus vs. Vkhutemas, organicism vs. constructivism...

Both being interesting and worthwhile. Of the two groups, Vkhutemas is the lesser known, although this shouldn't be the case. Vkhutemas was a school established by, among others, Alexandr Rodchenko in Moscow that taught a curriculum similar to that of the Bauhaus, but with a more formalist approach to things. There was cross fertilization on both sides. Bauhaus appears to have been more rooted in the idea of craft, and of a sort of melding of the ethos of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement with industrial production, ironically, so that industrialism could be made human in a way. Vkhutemas appears to have worked for goals that are very, very, broadly similar, but from a completely different perspective. For Vkhutemas, art and design was to serve society, but it was still going to be art. The ideas in practice that fed into it were derived from the formalist movement where shapes, pictures, scenes, were dissolved down to their essentials and then built back up in order to create meaning starting from the most basic elements, that is the most basic elements that human beings pick up on. Formalism, and constructivism, involved aesthetics, creativity, harmony, artistic license, but appeared to do all of it in reference to deceptively simple lines and shapes, that appeared to be 'modernistic'.
The Constructivists' insistence that art should serve the Revolution in Russia has a parallel not in movements that have made art servile to the State so much as in the saying of Goethe, enthusiastically echoed by the Idealists, that architecture is frozen music, and that even society could become a work of art if elements of artistic reasoning are applied to it.
But, in a way, the subtle nature of the Constructivists' art, along with their self declared ideological strivancey, was their undoing, because the folks who came to power in the Soviet Union in the late 20s didn't see why functional art in service of the Revolution wasn't just straightforwardly propagandistic and non-artistically functional. The fusion of an artistic vision with a wish to reinvent society in a way imbued with human creativity over and above pure functionalism was lost. Indeed, the notion of 'Peoples' Art' being something more than propagandistic representations of 'the people' in a kind of heroic realist fashion, because of course 'the people' wouldn't like abstract art, was eventually lost in the Soviet Union.

But Vkhutemas, like the Bauhaus, remains as a documented experiment in what is possible, both artistically and socially, and could benefit from more attention....

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