The Kunsthochschule through Changing Times

The roots of the Kunsthochschule Kassel go back to the 18th century. On 18 October 1777, "L‘Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture de Cassel" was ceremoniously inaugurated by Frederick ll, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. In the course of its over 238-year history, the  Kunsthochschule Kassel has undergone many changes, responded, in its teaching programme, to the currents of the time and, through new pedagogical approaches, put its stamp on training at other art academies. Then as now, important artists such as Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Elder, from the famous Tischbein painter family, or - centuries later - Arnold Bode, the founder of documenta, taught here.

The current structure of the Kunsthochschule Kassel can be traced back to the merger, in the 1970s, of the Staatliche Hochschule für bildende Künste (State University of Visual Arts) under the direction of Arnold Bode with the Werkkunstschule (School of Applied Arts) under the direction of Jupp Ernst to form the  Hochschule für Bildende Künste (University of Visual Arts - HBK). On 2 August 1971, the HBK was integrated into the Comprehensive University of Kassel and the disciplines of Art, Product Design, Architecture and Visual Communication became autonomous functional units as departments. In 1997, the Hesse Ministry for Art and Science decided, together with the Comprehensive University of Kassel, to combine the above departments, with the exception of Architecture , with the degree programmes in History and Theory of Art and Art Education to create the Kunsthochschule Kassel in its current form.

In the 2008 winter semester, the Kunsthochschule Kassel gradually converted the degree programme in History and Theory of Art to the international standards of Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes. Students of Art Education (Gymnasien (upper secondary/grammar schools), Hauptschulen (lower secondary schools) and Realschulen (intermediate secondary schools)) take the First State Examination on completion of the standard study period. The degree programmes in Visual Arts and Visual Communication have decided to adhere to the proven concept of the art degree, just as the degree programme in Product Design continues to offer the Diplom degree.

A Historical Review of the Kunsthochschule

On 18 October 1777, "L‘Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture de Cassel" is opened by Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. The independent academy's mission is to surround the Landgrave with artistic splendour and to compete with the other courtly academies.

The Academy receives a statute. The foundation document and the initial regulations for the Academy of Painters and Sculptors, dated 22 May 1779, emphasizes the Academy as a society that cultivates and promotes art, while the Academy as a teaching institution is of only secondary importance.

The Department of Architecture, which has hitherto remained with the Collegium Carolinum (founded in the 1760s), is integrated into the Academy.

During the French occupation, hardly any teaching activity takes place, and the painting collection is transported to France, which effectively means the withdrawal of the most important teaching material.

Responsibility for the Academy is henceforth in the hands of the government and all teachers are subsequently placed under obligation as public servants.

A new directive shifts the priorities of the Academy towards an art teaching institution, which provides tuition and education in visual arts. The art society which aims to arouse and promote artistic striving and aesthetic sense takes a back seat.

On 24 May 1869, the Werkkunstschule is created by Prussia's Minister for Trade, to counteract the "... shameful fact that our industry is poor in designs of its own invention, as it limits itself to imitating foreign figures that in no way always comply with the laws of beauty." An essential component of the Werkkunstschule is also the training of art educators.

The Art Academy completes a clear-cut separation between academic tasks and training in commercial art.  This leads subsequently (around 1900) to an expansion of the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts). A significant new aspect is the introduction of workshops. The increasing importance of industrial production and technological innovations renders workshops indispensable to a forward-looking educational institution.

In keeping with its reform concepts, the Prussian government contemplates, but does not implement, a merger between the Werkkunstschule and the Art Academy. In the 1920s, the Academy also acquires workshops with a view to embracing the increasing importance of crafts in art.

In view of the global economic crisis, the Prussian government decided to close the art academies in Kassel, Wroclaw and Königsberg in December 1931 - in the context of the emergency decrees by Chancellor Brüning. In March 1932, the Kassel Academy ceased its teaching activities, with Prof. Kay H. Nebel alone continuing his tuition in painting. The Pedagogic Academy, which was set up on a supplementary basis in 1930, was also closed again. In 1933, the new Prussian government approved a transitional continuation of the Academy, which was greeted with high-profile celebrations in Kassel, as the first step to its complete restoration. In addition to Nebel's painting tuition, other individual tuition was resumed as "a quasi-private continuation"; and several unused studios were made available to selected former pupils of the three subject areas of painting, sculpture and architecture, in order to prevent the premises from being impounded. Later, the Ministry responsible would also send master-class students from other academies as scholarship holders to Kassel. Other studios were rented out to freelance artists. However, this "transitional situation", which was primarily supported by the personal commitment of various teachers and professors, was to become a permanent fixture, which meant that the heralded restoration of the Academy continued to drag its heels.

On commencement of the Second World War, all German art academies were closed, with the main building in Kassel being impounded as a backup military hospital. Following initial slight bomb damage in August 1942, the buildings were flooded in May 1943 following the destruction of the Eder dam and damaged to such an extent in the major offensive in October 1943 that they could no longer be used.

The Kunstgewerbeschule is re-opened after the war under the name "Schule für Handwerk und Kunst" (School for Crafts and Art).

On 1 September 1947, a decision is taken to re-open the Art Academy under the name "Werkakademie (Craft Academy)". Teaching starts with 61 students. The main idea behind changing the name of the Art Academy to Werkakademie was informed by the principles of combining activities in the fine arts with applied areas such as had existed since the Bauhaus period. The main focus, however, continues to be on activity in the fine arts.

The Statute of the "State University of Visual Arts" applicable from 8 September 1960 onwards emphasizes the mission to train students in all kinds of artistic design as well as applicants wishing to become art teachers in secondary schools. Since this time, the Kunsthochschule has been the only institution in Hesse to provide training to become an art teacher.

Reconstruction of the Werkkunstschule in the Karlsaue, with the ideas for research and teaching in the applied arts being put into practice in the building. Together with teachers and architects, Director Jupp Ernst set out to apply the principles of aesthetic form from the perspectives of teaching and research practice, developing and propagating to the design of the building, the selection of materials, forms and dimensions of furnishings, equipment etc. The building is classified as outstanding in international journals and committees and bears testimony to the penetration of the world of living and work by principles of comprehensive design.

The State University of Visual Arts under the directorship of Arnold Bode relocates to the newly erected building in the Karlsaue right next to the Werkkunstschule, which, at that time, was under the directorship of Jupp Ernst. In the 1960s, the Werkkunstschule is one of the most renowned international locations for Design and Design Training, cultivating numerous contacts with the USA and with former Bauhaus teachers.

On 1 April 1970, the Kunsthochschule merges with the Werkkunstschule. The aim is to effect a partial revocation of the separation between the disciplines and to press ahead with a reconciliation between fine and applied arts, for all their differences. Interdisciplinarity comes to the fore as the watchword for a changing academic landscape.

On 2 August 1971, Kassel University of Visual Arts is integrated into the Comprehensive University of Kassel and Art, Product Design, Architecture and Visual Communication become autonomous functional units in the form of departments.

As of the summer 1977, Architecture moves out of the buildings on the Karlsaue and is housed on Holländischer Platz. The separation that already existed, in terms of content, between Architecture and artistic degree programmes is now completed in spatial terms.

Together with the Comprehensive University of Kassel, the Hesse Ministry of Art and Science decides to combine the departments of Art (Fine Arts, History and Theory of Art, Art Education), Product Design and Visual Communication to form the Kunsthochschule Kassel.