Framing in Negative Space by Katya Savelieva

László Moholy-Nagy’s Wie bleibe ich jung und schön? (How do I stay young and beautiful?) and Wassily Kandinsky’s Parallel Diagonals share certain abstract aesthetics of framing and are both related to the Bauhaus school.  The Bauhaus operated in Germany in the early to mid-twentieth-century.  It pioneered a new approach to studying design, giving equal importance to art, craft, and technology.  Kandinsky and Moholy-Nagy both taught at the first Bauhaus site in Weimar, Germany and thus their work exemplifies the ideals of the school. 

Through the unification of art, craft, and technology, the Bauhaus produced an aesthetic that continues to influence architecture and design to this day.  Specifically, Bauhaus focused on geometric shapes and their relation to the human body.  This aesthetic is present in both Kandinsky’s and Moholy-Nagy’s work, as they frame forms through positive and negative space.

In order to understand Moholy-Nagy’s Wie bleibe ich jung und schön? (How do I stay young and beautiful?), the viewer should approach from technical and aesthetic perspectives.  The composition, consisting of two figures and a thick circle that frames one of the figures, shows the balance of geometry and human form typical of the Bauhaus.  The implied movement of the figure on top balances the asymmetric placement of the circle on the page.  Both figures interact with the circle, creating a unity between the three elements.  The two figures can be seen as geometric forms themselves, as they frame each other in the abstract composition.

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Because of Moholy-Nagy’s involvement with the Bauhaus, this work should not be read as a commentary on youth and beauty, as the title of the piece suggests.  Rather, it should be framed in terms of its technical elements and the title left as an ambiguous edge to the compositional fusion of geometric forms. 

Moholy-Nagy’s work comes from his Fotoplastiken portfolio, which translates as “photo-sculpture.”  Thus, the piece is furthermore related to the ideals of the Bauhaus as the school believed the ultimate output of creativity to be a building.  The two-dimensional photograph gains implied three-dimensionality as it plays with framing through flattened form, positive and negative space, and the relation of geometry and the human figure.

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Like Moholy-Nagy’s piece, Kandinsky’s Parallel Diagonals also works with Bauhaus ideas of design, but to a lesser degree there is no incorporation of human figure.  Kandinsky’s composition is balanced through dichotomies of color, line, shape, and positive and negative form.  The Bauhaus curriculum relied on these elements in its Vorkurs, or preliminary course.  Kandinsky, a teacher at the Bauhaus school, utilized the color and design theories taught to first year students in his work.

The title of Kandinsky’s piece, Parallel Diagonals, furthers its relation to Bauhaus aesthetics.  The title focuses on the forms of the piece, just as the Bauhaus focused on the interaction of geometric shapes.  Thus, Kandinsky’s work of abstraction can be framed both through its technical elements of framing through lines, shapes, and positive and negative forms, as well as its greater frame of Bauhaus design. 

By Katya Savelieva, Class of 2015

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