Lessons from The Bauhaus: Creative Experiment &Time for Play

Cover of the gallery guide to the bauhaus art as life exhibition at the Barbican

This week I decided to take some time out from my usual schedule and treat myself to the Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition at the Barbican in London.

Time for Me

I enjoy going to exhibitions alone.  It means I can take my time if I want to read every word and linger in front of the work that grabs me, or whizz around in the blink of an eye.  It also means I don’t feel obliged to pass comment on what I’m seeing or make conversation with the person I’m with. I can just be alone with my thoughts and soak it all in.  It’s what I call introvert bliss!

Seeing exhibitions also allows me to reflect on the ideas presented in other people’s creativity and to hopefully enhance my own. Time away from my desk can often be more productive than hours spent in front of the computer.

The Bauhaus School

The Bauhaus was a modern art and design school based in Germany from 1919 to 1933. Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School, had a vision for how the arts could work together to improve the way we live. He placed emphasis on expert craftsmanship and design.

The legacy of the school survives today in the form of typography – the distinctive bauhaus font, tubular steel furniture, desk lamps and white cubist architecture.

Creative Experiment and ‘Unlearning’

What struck me most was the educational philosophy of the Bauhaus School.  The foundation course began with a period of creative experiment. The aim was to free students of all conventions and assumptions so that they could discover their creative potential. Students were trained to unlearn old habits and relearn through their own experience.

Bauhaus students experimented with different materials such as plastic, metal and glass and explored their properties.  The aim was not necessarily to create works of art but to gather experience and develop their innate talents. Through the process of discovery came creativity.   Students were also encouraged to collaborate rather than compete.

The focus was on reconnecting body and mind and classes would begin with stretching and breathing exercises followed by quick drawing exercises to awaken the senses.

The Importance of Play

What made the Bauhaus approach to art education so different was that the role of play was seen as an essential part of artistic life. Social activities were considered important and the Bauhaus students and masters staged magnificent parties that were spectacular stage productions in themselves. Festivities were seen as an opportunity for students to demonstrate their creativity and design invention.

Finding the Time

All this seems quite different to how most of us approach education and our lives today. How many of us allow ourselves the time for ‘creative experiment’. That time could be spent staring into space if you’re a writer, doodling, or creating something for the fun and process of doing it rather than fixating on the end result.

young man and woman smiling and collaborating over a model house

We are all under immense social pressure to be busy and productive all the time and anything else feels like pure indulgence. So much of what we do involves copying others and changing a bit to make it our own rather than allowing ourselves the freedom and time to discover our authentic voice or style.

And as for play? I can’t remember the last time I played in a creative way. Probably as a drama student. But watching Danny Boyle’s production for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony reminded me how important festivities and creativity are and how the two naturally work together. The Olympic opening ceremony was a tribute to Britain’s creative talent more than anything else. I wonder if Danny Boyle could have come up with the concept if he had merely followed in the footsteps of Shanghai or Sydney?

Unleash your Creative Potential

If we really want to be creative and in tune with our innate talents, it’s important to step off the treadmill and allow ourselves the time to experiment, dream and play. To unlearn old habits and experiment with new.  It will never be time wasted. And it could unleash your creative potential.

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