A colleague asked me to provide further information on history’s “Creative Hothouses”, such as ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence, the creative communities of the Parisian cafes and salons (early 1900s) and the German Bauhaus (1919-1933). Following is a summary of history’s creative hothouses.
The Athenians during the Golden Age of Greece (500 – 300 BC), created forms of history, mathematics, democracy, political science, philosophy, drama, architecture and sculpture, that continue to influence our world today. The hothouse of Athens was able to fuse a number of cultural domains into distinctive forms such as buildings, literature and politics. Thousands of years later the achievements of Athens played a crucial role in inspiring the Renaissance.
The Renaissance Period (1300 to 1600), particularly in Florence, was characterised as the age of exploration with an emergence of new knowledge that influenced art and science. The knowledge from the ancient Greco-Roman period, that had lay dormant for a millennium, suddenly gained a renewed interest that further influenced the explosion of art and science. Advances in a number of industries occurred, including, travel, metallurgy, optics, ballistics, construction and agriculture. An exponential growth of wealth and knowledge also drove the emergence of the nation-state, each with its increased military power. The legacy created by the Renaissance Period was in the form of art. Life-like oil paintings and sculptures, the use of perspective, and the design of visually inspiring architecture was developed during the Renaissance.
The Parisian Cafes and Salons
During the early twentieth century, following the Paris World Fair in 1900, an industrial boom occurred in Europe and the United States, bringing new technological developments such as the horseless carriage, the wireless radio, widespread use of the telephone, and the proliferation of electric light bulbs. It was also the time when Albert Einstein published his first paper on the Theory of Relativity. During the early 1900s the Parisian cafes were social hubs fuelled by coffee, wine, and creative passion, where people would meet in an environment conducive to sharing mutually stimulating ideas and conversations. Gertrude Stein’s apartment also became one of the significant hothouses in Paris in the 1920s, with gatherings every Saturday night (salons) and visits throughout the week. Stein collected paintings of notable artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Braque before they became famous. The apartment became a salon of creativity where artists, poets and writers (Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder to name a few) came together to share their experiences and fuel creative inspiration through the process of osmosis.
The German Bauhaus (1919-1933) under the leadership of Walter Gropius provided a workshop experience for architecture, sculpture, art and design. It also became the creative hub that bridged art and business where new creations could be transformed into products for the market. It brought together the cultural and physical landscapes to develop and stimulate students through transfering the skills of the masters. Many students then became masters teaching their learnings and experiences to future students. In 1934 when the Nazis declared all modern art to be ‘un-German”, the Bauhaus moved to Chicago where it became the New Bauhaus and later the Institute of Design.
The hothouses in history had a number of characteristics that were common, particularly the ability to accomplish the following (extracted from “The Hothouse Effect”):
- Sustain a high level of innovative creativity for a significant period of time
- Draw on the knowledge and innovation of the broader cultural community to which it belonged
- Spawn geniuses whose achievements climax the work of many other practitioners at all levels of achievements
- Establish a new paradigm, that is, a new way of doing things that informs its creative products and establishes new principles, procedures and standards.
- Achieve wide recognition and establish a lasting legacy to which future generations continually return to emulate.
It may also be interesting to study some of the more modern creative hothouses, such as Silicon Valley, and learn how intellectual exchanges led, in this example, to the development of the “dot.com boom”.
You may also know of other creative hothouses, local regional or national, that you would like to share.
Dr John Kapeleris