Art in school…

“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?”

-Charley Toorop…

“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…

At the Rijksmuseum, studying

At the Rijksmuseum, studying “The Kana Wedding” by Jan Cornelisz Vermeijen

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5 Responses to Art in school…

  1. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones once described the process of making music as the search for the Holy Grail. You know you’ll never find it but the fun is in the search.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keith is right. But with some of these concepts (the holy grail, the philosophers’ stone) the search in itself is the most important part. Just because we will never get completely to the object of desire, the pelgrimage to find it becomes the most valuable part.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. darinmolnar says:

    I woke up last night in the wee hours thinking about this damned post. What occurred to me is that the effort we put into education and creation are two completely different things. Hopefully, we create based upon knowledge we have acquired by educating ourselves in a particular area, but this is not what awakened me. I was knocked out of sleep last night by the realization that education should be an open, expansive effort without boundaries. Learning should come in waves and never stop. Creation, though, is another matter entirely. Creation is about constraint (restraint?) and, more specifically, freedom under constraint.

    Let me explain.

    When you first began learning about early musical instruments, the world was and opened book for you. You probably learned about the conventional instruments first and then you moved into the less conventional until you found yourself awash in the completely unconventional. Then, you settled on the guitar as your favorite stringed instrument. Once you did this, you learned everything you could about the instrument, including its history, contemporary lutherie, and how to build one with your own hands.

    This is where constraint enters the scene.

    Once you decided to become a luthier, you constrained yourself by setting boundaries around what you were going to create. You probably followed the advice of your early teachers (okay, knowing you, you probably follow SOME of the advice of your early teachers). You did things according to tradition and you were grateful for the lessons learned that saved you time and materials as you became the master luthier you are today.

    Then, something clicked and you started learning again. You came up with new ways of doing things that made your teachers look askance. They questioned your methods and shook their heads when you showed them your new way, but you trudged on, keeping what worked and letting go of what didn’t. Eventually, you realized that creating this way is what you really wanted to do in the first place.

    My point here is that you educated yourself freely and then you found freedom under constraint, which is the hallmark of a true artist. All of the little choices you make as you move from raw materials to cut and sculpted pieces and then a finished product are the freedoms you exercise as you complete the GUITAR. You are an inspiration and I thank you for your work and for this blog. But please stop keeping me up at night…

    P.S. I made a lot of assumptions here, but they made a pretty good comment, anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you are right Darin. But even in lutherie school I was the one to explore and push te boundaries. Beside learning about all the methods to make guitars I also looked into other instruments. When a violin maker came over to tell about Chladni patterns I attended the class. A documentary about Paganini? Bring it on! A weekend workshop turning harpsichord legs? Nice! In the breaks or when I had some time to spare I wandered around in the violin class, learning more about their tools and techniques.

      One thing that helped was that the teachers really mastered the knowledge, instead of reading from a book. To me someone can really disqualify him- or herself by proving to be an empty vessel. Also a teacher should give an answer, instead of telling that it’s just the way it is, because someone said so.
      But the teachers at ILSA liked it when I asked questions, or disagreed with them. One of the teachers was also making harpsichords, and worked as a restorer for the MIM Bruxelles. He was the one that first showed me the encyclopedie by Diderot. His lessions were never planned and chaotic, but we all learned a lot by just talking with him.

      But they were also honest when they didn’t knew the answer and encouraged me to search and find out for myself. Sometimes these proved to be dead ends, sometimes it even lead to changing the work methods used in school. In the end one of them said to my parents: “He never takes anything for granted and really kept us sharp and on our toes, but it was wonderful.”

      A while ago I found a nice definition of tradition:

      “TRADITION: A body of knowledge anchored in a place, a culture. Tradition is alive, is transmitted, evolves from person to persoen. Creativity draws on it in order to move forward.”

      It was written down in a book about clay and pottery, by a brother of Taizé.

      Liked by 2 people

    • It was not my intention to deprive you of sleep 😉


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