I’m close to the end of Bauhaus – A New Era, a German TV miniseries that tells a story of Walter Gropius and his relationship with a student, Dörte Helm, against the background of the arts school Gropius founded in Weimar after WWI. It’s currently running on MHZ Choice, a streaming channel that features foreign-language TV. (MHZ is also the home of two great French series, a cop show set in Paris called Spiral and a series about the German occupation of France during WWII called A French Village.)
Gropius started the Bauhaus with a declaration that it would be a school for and a community of artists. He wanted to pioneer new artistic ideas to respond to the twentieth century. He also announced that there would be no discrimination between men and women.
He indeed founded the school and the influence of much of the work that came out of it surrounds most of us who live in cities today, as Tom Wolfe wrote in his controversial indictment of modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House.
Part of the point of the series (created and directed by Lars Kraume) is that it was one thing for Gropius to articulate noble ideals and another for him to start his school and another to keep it open in the face of conservative critics who could influence the funding. So, yes, Gropius fell short. But, the Bauhaus movement accomplished much.
Artists have a habit of proclaiming their ideals. They then tend to be worked over when they fall short of their ideals. Lin-Manuel Miranda is being worked over for aspects of In the Heights and Hamilton. This couldn’t help but remind me of J.K. Rowling, who has used much of the fortune she made from her Harry Potter books to subsidize organizations to combat poverty and violence against women and promote literacy. Lately she has been under attack from former friends for opinions she has published regarding gender politics.
This reminds me of Alan Ehrenhalt’s 2001 essay in the NY Times, “Hypocrisy Has Its Virtues.” He suggests that there are different kinds of hypocrites. One kind is the person who doesn’t believe what they proclaim and makes statements strictly out of self-interest. Ehrenhalt cites Senator Joseph McCarthy as a model of this sort of bad hypocrite. And then there are the people whose actions sometimes belie their ideals. He cites 19th century British prime minister William E. Gladstone as a good hypocrite. I won’t explain why because I prefer you to read Ehrenhalt’s article for yourself.
Part of Ehrenhalt’s thesis is that people who fall short and berate themselves for falling short often are the ones most motivated to redouble their efforts and do notable and useful things. Flail them too severely when they fail and we may discourage their continued efforts, and society will be the poorer.