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The New Vision
Fundamentals of Bauhaus Design, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture
By László Moholy-Nagy
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1975 Estate of László Moholy-Nagy
All rights reserved.
Sectors of human development
A human being is developed only by crystallization of the sum total of his own experiences. Our present system of education contradicts this axiom by stressing preponderantly single fields of application.
Instead of extending our milieu, as the primitive man was forced to do, combining as he did in one person, hunter, craftsman, builder, physician, etc., we concern ourselves with one definite occupation leaving other faculties unused.
The primitive man combined in one person hunter, craftsman, builder, physician,. etc.; today we concern ourselves only with one definite occupation, leaving unused all other faculties.
Tradition and the voice of authority intimidate man today. He no longer dares to venture into certain fields of experience.
He becomes a man of one calling; he no longer has first-hand experience elsewhere. In constant struggle with his instincts, he is overpowered by outside knowledge. His self-assurance is lost. He no longer dares to be his own physician, not even his own eye. The specialists—like members of a powerful secret society—obscure the road to all-sided individual experiences, the possibility for which exists in his normal functions, and the need for which arises from the center of his being.
Often even the choice of a calling is determined by outside factors: a man becomes a confectioner or a cabinet-maker because there is a shortage of apprentices in those trades; he becomes a lawyer or a manufacturer because he can take over his father's business.
The accent lies on the sharpest possible definition of the single vocation, on the building up of specialized faculties; the "market demand" is the guide.
Thus a man becomes a locksmith or a lawyer or an architect or the like (working inside a closed sector of his faculties) and it is at best a happy exception if after he has finished his studies he strives to widen the field of his calling, if he aspires to expand his special sector.
At this point our whole system of education has hitherto been found wanting, notwithstanding our vocational guidance, psychological testing, measurement of intelligence. Everything functions—and functions alone—on the basis of the present system of production which recognizes only motives of material gain.
A "calling" means today something quite different from following one's own bent, quite different from solidarity with the aims and requirements of a community. One's personal life goes along outside the "calling," which is often a matter of compulsion and is regarded with aversion.
The future needs the whole man
Our specialized training cannot yet be abandoned at this time when all production is being put on a scientific basis. However, it should not start too soon and it should not be carried so far that the individual becomes stunted—in spite of all his highly prized professional knowledge. A specialized education becomes meaningful only if a man of integration is developed along the lines of his biological functions, so he will achieve a natural balance of his intellectual and emotional power instead of on those of an outmoded educational aim of learning unrelated details. Without this aim the richest differentiations of specialized study—the "privilege" of the adult—are mere quantitative acquisitions, bringing no intensification of life, no widening of its scope. Only a man equipped with the clarity of feeling and the sobriety of knowledge will be able to adjust to complicated requirements, and to master the whole of life. Working only from this basis can one find a plan of life which places the individual rightly within his community.
The present system of production
All educational systems are the results of economic structure. In the frenzied march of the industrial revolution, the industrialists set up specialized schools to produce quickly the badly-needed specialists. These schools favored the development of men's powers only in very few instances and offered no opportunity to penetrate to the essential kernel of things and the individual himself. But-to tell the truth-no one concerned himself with this because no one could foresee its destructive results. Today neither education nor production springs from an inner urge, nor from an urge to make products which satisfy the requirements of one's self and those of society in a mutually complementary way.
Our modern system of production is imposed labor, mostly a mad pursuit, without plan in its social aspects; its motive is merely to squeeze out profits to their limit, in most cases a complete reversal of its original purpose.
Not only the working class finds itself in this position today; all those caught within the workings of the present economic system are basically just as badly off. At most there are slight degrees of difference. The chase after rewards in money and power influences the whole form of life today, even to the basic feelings of the individual. He thinks only of outward security, instead of concerning himself with his inner satisfaction. On top of all this, there is the penning up of city dwellers in treeless barracks, the extreme contraction of living space. This cramping of living space is not only physical: city life has brought with it herding into barren buildings, without adequate open space.
But how about technical progress?
It might easily be judged from the foregoing remarks that the present system of industrial production, and especially our technical progress, is to be condemned. In fact there are numerous writers and politicians who suggest this. They mix the effect with the cause. In the XIX century some people tried to make a right diagnosis but suggested a wrong therapy. Gottfried Semper declared in the 1850's, for example, that if iron ever was to be used in building it would have to be used (because of the static nature of iron) in a fashion of transparent spiderweb. But, he continued, architecture must be "monumental," thus "we never shall have an iron-architecture." (!) A similar mistake was made by the Ruskin-Morris circle in the 1880's. They found that industrial mass production killed quality in craftsmanship. Their remedy was to kill the machine, go back to the handwork exclusively. They opposed machines so strongly that to deliver their hand-made products to London, they ran a horse coach parallel with the hated railway. In spite of this rebellion against the machine, technical progress is a factor of life which develops organically. It stands in reciprocal relation to the increase in the number of human beings. That is its real justification. Notwithstanding its manifold distortion by profit interests, the struggle for mere accumulation and the like, we can no longer think of life without such progress. It is an indispensable factor in raising the standard of life.
The possibilities of the machine—with its abundant production, its ingenious complexity on the one hand, its simplification on the other, has necessarily led to a mass production which has its own significance. The task of the machine—satisfaction of mass requirements—will in the future be held more and more singly and clearly in mind. The true source of conflict between life and technical progress lies at this point. Not only the present economic system, but the process of production as well, calls for improvement from the ground up. Invention and systematization, planning and social responsibility must be applied in increased measure to this end.
The common error today is that usually questions of efficiency are viewed from the technical and profit standpoint, without regard to organic considerations. The Taylor system, the conveyor belt and the like remain mistakes as long as they turn man into a machine, without taking into account his biological requirements for work, recreation and leisure.
Not against technical progress, but with it
The solution lies accordingly not in working against technical advance, but—in exploiting it for the benefit of all. Through technique man can be freed, if he finally realizes the purpose: a balanced life through free use of his liberated creative energies. Only if it is clear to man that he has to crystallize his place as a productive unit in the community of mankind, will he come closer to a true understanding of the meaning of technical progress. For not the form, not the amazing technical process of production, should engage our real interest, but the sound planning of man's life.
We are faced today with nothing less than the reconquest of the biological bases of human life. Only when we go back to these can we reach the maximum utilization of technical progress in the fields of physical culture, nutrition, housing and industry-a thoroughgoing rearrangement of our whole scheme of life. For even today it is currently believed that less importance than formerly needs to be attached to biological requirements, the motive power of life, thanks to our technically exact and calculable ways of dealing with them. It is thought that securing sleep by veronal, relieving pain by aspirin, can keep pace with organic wear and tear. In this direction progress of civilization has brought along with it much beclouding of realities and grave danger. Apparent economies may easily deceive us. But technical progress should never be the goal, only the means.
In this book the word "biological" stands generally for laws of life which guarantee an organic development. If the meaning of "biological" were a conscious possession, it would prevent many people from activities of damaging influence. Children usually act in accordance with the biological laws. They refuse food when ill, they fall asleep when tired, they don't show courtesy when they are uninterested, etc. If today's civilization would allow more time to follow the biological rhythms, lives would be less hysterical and less often stranded.
In reality the basic biological needs are very simple. They may change and be deformed through social and technical processes. However, great care must be taken that their real significance should not be adulterated. This often happens through misunderstood luxury which may thwart the organic satisfaction of the biological needs. The oncoming generation has to create a culture which does not weaken but strengthens the genuine biological functions.
Efforts toward reform
The creative human being knows (and suffers from it) that the deep values of life are being destroyed under pressure of moneymaking, competition, trade mentality. He suffers from the purely material evaluation of his vitality, from the flattening out of his instincts, from the impairing of his biological balance.
And yet, although the present social structure is a thoroughly unsuitable medium for the balance outlet of human capacities, in the private life of individuals some glimpses of a functional understanding have already appeared.
The intellectual advances in art, literature, the theater and the moving-picture in our time, and the various educational movements have given important indications of this fact. Likewise the interest in physical culture and in recreation and leisure, and in systems of treatment by natural rather than chemical methods.
Such efforts, taken as a whole, portend a world which even today shows its initial stages at many points. But no small unit of this growth should be studied as an isolated fact. The relationship of the various members (science, art, economics, technical knowledge, educational methods) and their integration must be constantly clarified.
Not the product, but man, is the end in view
Proceeding from such a basic readjustment we may work out an individual plan of life with self-analysis as its background. Not the occupation, not the object to be manufactured, should be put in the foreground, but rather the recognition of man's organic functions. With this functional preparation, he can then pass on to action, to a life evolved from within. Thus we lay the organic basis for a system of production whose focal point is man, and not profit interests.
Everyone is talented
Every healthy man has a deep capacity for bringing to development the creative energies found in his nature, if he is deeply interested in his work.
Everyone is equipped by nature to receive and assimilate sensory experiences. Everyone is sensitive to tones and colors, has sure touch and space reactions, etc. This means that by nature everyone is able to participate in all the pleasures of sensory experiences, that any healthy man can also become a musician, painter, sculptor, architect, just as when he speaks, he is "a speaker." That is, he can give form to his reactions in any material (which is not, however, synonymous with "art" which is the highest level of expression in any period). The truth of this statement is evidenced in actual life: in a perilous situation or in moments of inspiration conventions and inhibitions of the daily routine are broken through, and the individual often reaches a plane of achievement otherwise not expected.
The work of children and of primitive peoples offers another proof. Their spontaneous expressions spring from an inner sense of what is right, as yet unshaken by outside pressure. They are examples of a life governed by inner necessities. So if we consider that anyone can achieve expression in any field, even if it is not at first objectively his best outlet, or essential for society, we may infer with still greater certainty that it must be possible for everyone to comprehend works already created in any field.
Such receptivity develops by stages, according to disposition, education, mental grasp and so forth, but that the essential is attainable sooner or later is beyond doubt. If the broad line of an organically functioning life is once established, the direction of all human production is clearly indicated. Then no work—as is often the case today in industrial production with its endless subdivision—can be felt as the despairing gesture of a man being submerged, but all emerges as an expression of organic forces.
In conclusion we may say that the injuries worked by a technical civilization can be combated on two fronts:
1. By the purposive observation and the rational safeguarding of the organic, biologically conditioned functions through art, science, technology, education, politics.
2. By the constructive furthering of our overspecialized scientific culture, e.g., relating its results to all single human activities.
In practice the two approaches interlock closely, though theoretically step 1 must prepare for step 2.
The responsibility for carrying out the plan lies with each individual
There is no more urgent problem than that of realizing this desire to use man's powers at their maximum. For the last 130 years or so, we have been thinking about the problem, talking about it, and attempting to act on it. Our practice even today is at best a statement of belief, and not a realization. Partial solutions cannot be commended; we are now too deeply implicated in our industrial society. Partial rebellion is only an evidence of the monstrous pressure, a symptom. Only the person who understands himself, and co-operates with others in a far-reaching program of common action, can make his efforts count. Material motives may well provide the occasion for an uprising, for revolution, but they can never be the deciding cause.
The revolutionist should always remain conscious that the class struggle is, in the last analysis, not about capital, nor the means of production, but in actuality it concerns the right of the individual to a satisfying occupation, work that meets the inner needs, a normal way of life and a real release of human powers.
Utopia? No, but it is a task for tireless pioneers. To stake everything on the end in view—the supreme duty for those who have already arrived at the consciousness of an organic way of life. Pioneer work with this aim in view: man's functional capacities must be safeguarded, but not only safeguarded; the outward conditions for their realization must also be at his disposal. At this point the educational problem merges into the political, and is perceptible as such in so far as a man goes into actual life and must make his adjustment to the existing order.
The task for education
What we need are:
1. actual life examples of strong-minded people, leading others onward;
2. an integration of intellectual achievements in politics, science, art, technology, in all the realms of human activity;
3. centers of practical education.
We need Utopians of genius, some new Jules Verne; not this time to sketch the broad outlines of an easily imaginable technical Utopia, but to foreshadow the existence of the man of the future, who, in the instinctive and simple, as well as in the complicated relationships of life, will work in harmony with the basic laws of his being.
Excerpted from The New Vision by László Moholy-Nagy. Copyright © 1975 Estate of László Moholy-Nagy. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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