This paper follows the shifting phases of László Moholy-Nagy's teaching career at the Bauhaus in Germany and then in Chicago after his emigration to the U.S. During this process, we focus on Moholy-Nagi's visions of totality to reveal the significance of the social praxis of the Bauhaus teachings.
The paper is largely divided into two parts; in chapter Ⅱ, we review the context of the development of the Bauhaus’ teaching principles during the school's founding stages.
The Bauhaus initially started out as an educational institution for formative arts, and as a physical and spiritual foundation on which Germany could rebuild its collapsed social order after the war. When the school first opened its doors, it did so on an ambivalence of creative art and social production.
Because this was a time when ideology and reality, and art and technology was divided and torn between conflict, when Moholy-Nagy came to set his teaching methodology, he decided on a dialectical way of thinking towards a dynamic whole, through analysis and integration. His vision of the ‘whole man’ - which he set as his purpose in formative art education – also coincides with the attempts at that time to connect art with the human reality through an organic network - that is, by associating the theological world of the Bauhaus with a physical human experience.
In Chapter Ⅲ, we examine the phase where Moholy-Nagy negates the functional possibilities of the Bauhaus opened up by the U.S., and instead heads toward a new dialectic integration by adopting the principles of a movement called totality. Here we put the focus on how Moholy-Nagy's teaching ideologies were restructured and practised under a novel condition for his artistic production called the U.S. When Walter Gropius mentioned the Gesamtkunstwerk as the founding principle of the Bauhaus, this was a symbol of the modern artistic praxis that had overcome isolation which occurs when art fails to meet the demands of its time. However, the capitalist manufacturing of the late-1930s U.S. reduced the Bauhaus’ achievements as a modern style of design that merely contributed to qualitative improvements in manufactured goods. Moholy-Nagy, who had inherited the artistic responsibilities of the Bauhaus and left behind with the creativity of life, criticized the designs at that time as being restricted by the simple language of industrial manufacture. Thus he arrived the concept of totality, a far-ranging intelligent exploration with the human life at the centre, as his proposed methodology to advocate for changes in form of artistic education.
Without a doubt, the capitalist theories of the market economy had reinforced the socioeconomic influence of the formative arts. However, Moholy-Nagy went a step further and expanded their influence to all areas of life, including science, philosophy, urban issues, economy, and politics. In other words, he proposed a platform for a more comprehensive praxis that serves to both personal achievement and public advancement.
As such, by examining Moholy-Nagy's vision of totality, we discuss the dynamism of the Bauhaus to achieve social praxis through an integration of an organic education with the human condition at the turning point of history.