Walter Gropius at DeCordova

Remarks by Walter Gropius at the ground-breaking ceremony for new classrooms | DeCordova Museum | September 19, 1965

“This unique institution, which we are lucky to have in Lincoln celebrates the ground breaking of a new classroom building, so it seems to be fitting to emphasize today the importance of its consistent activities, the more so as President Johnson seems to be determined to make a campaign against ugliness to make America beautiful. Ugliness can certainly not be overcome by ordinances, but people must be educated to see, to care for the beauty of their surroundings and to acquire a sense of visual unity. Beauty, I think, is a basic requirement of life. When a society has recognized this, and has educated itself to see, it will finally produce a cultural image. The DeCordova has actively helped for years to create and sustain a cultural climate in our region, and this is a pre-condition for restoring the visual unity of our habitat.

Our modern society is also on trial where cultural integration is concerned, and this certainly cannot be accomplished by handing out authoritative beauty formulas to an uncomprehending public, untrained to see, to perceive, to discriminate. A society such as ours, which has conferred equal privileges on everybody, will have to acknowledge its duty to activate the general responsiveness to spiritual and aesthetic values, to intensify the development of everybody’s imaginative faculties. We shall have to raise the expectations and demands that people make on their own way of living, to waken and sharpen their latent capacities for creation and for cooperation. And only this can create the basis from which eventually the creative act of the artist can rise. Not as an isolated phenomenon, ignored and rejected by the crowd, but firmly imbedded in a network of public response and understanding. The only active influence which our society can take toward such a goal is to see to it that our educational system for the next generation will develop in each child from the beginning a perceptive awareness which intensifies his sense of form. He is born with eyes, but can he see? No. He has to learn how to see. Seeing more, he then will comprehend more of what he sees and will learn to understand the positive and negative factors which influence the environment he finds himself in. Our present methods of education which put a premium on accumulation of knowledge have rarely reached out to include a training in creative habits of observing, seeing and shaping our surroundings. And the apathy we meet in many citizens who entertain only vague notions of wishing to get away from it all can certainly be traced to this early failure of arousing their active interest in the improvement of their living area. So children should be introduced right from the start to the potentialities of their environment, to the physical and psychological laws that govern the visual world, and to the supreme enjoyment that comes from participating in the creative process of giving form to one’s living space. And such experience, if continued in depth throughout the whole of the educational cycle, will never be forgotten and will prepare the adult to continue taking an informed interest in what happens around him.

Recent research at the University of Chicago shows that the high IQ children seek out the safety and security of the known, while the high creative children seem to enjoy the risk and uncertainty of the unknown. I believe we should strengthen this creative spirit which is essentially one of non-conformist, independent search, and we must instill respect for it and create response to it on the broadest level, otherwise the common man stays below his potential and the uncommon man burns up his fireworks in isolation. But the most difficult to learn is what we might call the “direct approach to design” that sounds so easy. This is to keep one’s mind unprejudiced, to discard all non-essential features, and thus to develop, so to speak, a state of new innocence.

May I remind you of a very nice old Chinese parable of an artist who wanted to carve a beautiful post for bell-chimes. By making it, he thought he could win love from his people, but the result was a flop. He tried again, expecting glory, honor and money as a result, but the second attempt also misfired. Finally he concentrated in a straight-forward manner only on the work at hand, without secondary thought, and lo and behold now he succeeded. To gain such insight in a long process of trial and error one cannot begin early enough. And the tragedy is that most people are placed before such experience so late in the educational process that it does not become a determining factor of their development. Their attitudes become stereotyped before they have a chance to learn to trust their own reactions, thereby to release their own talents. It is therefore of incalculable value for a town such as Lincoln to have an institution of experimental learning in the various forms of art as at DeCordova.

In a highly developed democracy, the intuitive qualities of the artist are as much needed as those of the scientist and the mathematician. All our children have innate ability, a desire to produce form. But this talent must be given a chance to assert itself instead of being relegated to the sidelines. Under the imaginative leadership of Mr. Walkey and his staff, the DeCordova Museum has gone far beyond the confines which museums usually set for themselves. It has become a vital center for young and old, not just to contemplate the masterpieces of renowned artists and artisans, but to try actively their own hands at the creative process, to participate. So, I wish that the new classroom building will become the happy container of many new creative contributions in Lincoln.”