“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.
– Frank Zappa –
“You have to do stuff that average people don’t understand
because those are the only good things.”
– Andy Warhol –
At high school we learned art was boring…
In its infinite wisdom Dutch government had sanctioned that two years of “Cultural Artistic Formation” should be part of the school curriculum. A fine and noble idea, but as usual it left something to wish for in the practical department.
In reality we had to analyse artworks according to standardized textbooks, that looked like they were were written for kindergarten. We also got a ‘workbook’ in which we had to copy the lines from the other book, and had to color pictures of famous artworks with crayons… Most of my classmates were so bored by these lessions that they had a hard time to stay awake.
We had two kinds of teachers for this class; The first type thought hat art was serious business. You had to fill in exactly what was told in the textbook. Their knowledge of art was limited to the same textbooks.
On the opposite site of the spectrum we found teachers that used to get in a sort of religious mode when the subject of art came up. They permanently hovered a few inches above teh ground. Making any slightly critical remark about an artwork was like heresy to them. Every brush stroke was a masterpiece, and don’t you dare to question that… Their explanations remained vague at best.
Both kinds believed that art and humor didn’t mix, and most lacked the latter entirely.
The lessions were so boring that my classmates had a hard time to stay awake. It didn’t take long before even I started to hate these classes. Partly because theuy couldn’t tell me anything interesting or new, partly due to the way these lessions were given. What troubled me the most was the rigidity, but also the indifference of the teachers. They really didn’t care wherether you learned something about art or not. All they did was their presceribed task, nothing less, but certainly nothing more…
The field trip
During field trips they counted off the required minutes and fled out of the museum to do something fun.
In the museums we were given the most infantile scavenger hunt they could find and hooked us up with a tourguide. One of the things that got me in trouble was that I folded up the paper and put it in my bag, got rid of the guided tour and started exploring the museum on my own. I walked around, looked in every nook and cranny, read every inscription I could find and talked with the museum personel. This way I spend the whole day in the museum, absorbing all the information and artworks like a sponge.
On the bus the teachers collected the forms of the scavenger hunt. That’s were they discovered a problem; mine had nothing written on it. They came after me and asked why I failed to do the assignment, it wasn’t too hard, was it? I told them the questions were so simplistic and infantile that it was a waste of time to give them andy attention. Beside, I wanted to see and study the artworks, not the stencil. The teachers said I was lazy and threatened to give me a low grade and fail the class. I asked them if they could ask me a question about the collection, any question they could come up with. One of them showed me a picture of a painting…
“Who made this?”
-Isaac Israëls of course…
“Ok, and this one?”
“And what is the style of this picture?”
-Impressionism, Piet Mondrian, Vincent van Gogh, Theo van Doesburg, Berlage, Joep van Lieshout, Kees Verkade, Rodin… I answered all their questions. Then I asked them to do the same with my classmates and do the same thing a week or a month later…
When they did my classmates could answer only some of the questions. They made the assignments, but had forgotten it one moment later. After a month they had forgotten all about the museum.
I didn’t hear anything afterwards, but felt the teachers’ disapproval. The rest of the year I stayed away from their classes (beside gymnastics the only time I skipped school). When the school decan asked me why I cut these classes my answer was simple: “Because I deeply love art…”
What did I learn from this whole experience?
That, how good the intentions of the teachers might have been, they failed completely. You can bring a horse to the wate, but you can’t make him drink.
The other thing I learned is that I love art, in all its forms. I still visit museums on a regular basis and immerse myself in the collection. Wandering around the corridors and roomss brings my mind at ease, but it also (re-)activates and inspires me.
This quirky stubbornness got me in to trouble a lot. But I wouldn’t like to live without it (literally, trust me I have tried, and to me a life without it just isn’t worth living). At the same time this is the one thing that makes me want to explore new fields and techniques and to push the limits of what I do. Not because someone makes me, but out of a natural desire to discover. A curious mind is a joy forever…