Marcelyn Gow introduces architectural historian Zeynep Çelik Alexander.
Zeynep Çelik Alexander discusses the epistemological history of modern design education, derived from her book, Kinaesthetic Knowing: Aesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design (2017). She describes a 1905 psychological experiment by Rudolf Schulze arguing for a direct correlation between specific sensations and specific lines, forms and colors as stimuli. She grounds this experiment in a 19th century German philosophical and pedagogical tradition that proposed Kennen – knowledge obtained through experience with the world – could provide a basis for personal development (Bildung) and for Wissen – knowledge obtained by concepts, propositions and language. What Wilhelm Dilthey called “silent thinking” (schweigendes Denken), Alexander calls “kinesthetic knowing.”
Alexander argues that this 19th century German intellectual tradition informed the Bauhaus pedagogy, as demonstrated in three topics: Feeling, Drawing, and Designing.
•Feeling. She argues that the Bauhaus Preliminary Course (Vorkurs) correlating formal qualities to effects, was not a radical pedagogy, but a continuation of Friedrich Fröbel, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and the Theory of space (Raumlehre) and Theory of form (Formenlehre) courses that were made mandatory in Prussian elementary schools in 1872, as propaedeutic for science and humanities. Alexander relates this belief in a theory of form with the multiplication of art schools in late-19th century German-speaking countries.
•Drawing. Alexander cites Paul Klee’s description of Johannes Itten teaching drawing at the Bauhaus, which focused on physical training of the body. She links this with the idea of drawing personal development, which in Prussia in the 1870s was promoted as a way to discipline and order the masses. She notes that the Bauhaus idea of Gestaltung embraced not only design of things but the design of the self.
•Designing. Alexander discusses the similarities between Bauhaus teaching materials and the props of experimental psychology.
Alexander concludes by reviewing the gradual elimination of the Preliminary Course at the Bauhaus, during the directorships of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, replacing the ideal of personal development with progressing towards specialization. However the Preliminary Course was revived by László Moholy-Nagy at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, but with the idea of silent thinking replaced by positivism, pragmatism, and design as formal manipulation.