As I mentioned in an earlier post I was a guest teacher at the academy of Den Bosch in the Netherlands, the same art academy I graduated from in 1998. I had never been back there in about ten years so being in that building again was rather odd. By coincidence I recently kept bumping in to people who were there when I was a student, like former director Alex de Vries. It was really good to see him. We met in Antwerp where he was part of a so called visitation-committee, evaluating Flemish art schools.
One thing I noticed when entering the academy building was that it seemed smaller than I remembered. Which doesn’t really make sense. I was still just 23 years old at my graduation and one would think at that age you’ve stopped growing (physically, I mean). Maybe I got used to bigger buildings, like museums. The building is still fantastic, though the surroundings have changed dramatically from a worn down industrial area into post-modern architectural housing blocks.
For the second year students of the drawing minor I was teaching I’d written a more or less clear assignment involving integrating a non-linear narrative into drawings. After an introduction by Frank van den Broeck (who was one of my former teachers and the one who invited me for this guest teachership) and a short presentation of my own work the students got to work. After about twenty minutes I walked around the classroom. I noticed almost everyone started to neatly make drawings, working towards a finished product. It then became clear the students were drawing on a very low level, high school level even. There was absolutely no originality and they seemed stuck in their own conventional ways of building up a drawing. This had not so much to do with technique, but with the way they regarded drawing as an action, so to speak. I had to stop them.
From then on I decided to leave my assignment and consider the two days I was a guest teacher as an experiment to try to get the students to draw in a more unconciouss and intuitive way. Starting points were the fact that drawing is actually one of the most direct ways to translate your thinking process into a language and the notion that interesting work is made by interesting people. I tried showing them how this works by producing a drawing myself and writing down with every step what I was thinking and which were my associations. This helped a bit. By the end of the first day most students were making some sort of children’s drawings, which was excellent. The weirder, the better.
This is the drawing I made on the spot, it’s not a very good drawing – it’s not really a drawing at all – but it was meant to make a point:
The next lesson we started by reviewing the drawings that were already made. There was usually a big difference between the first and the last drawing, which meant most of them understood the point even though I’m afraid I stuttered a lot while trying to explain what I wanted them to do. After this I had them buy bigger sheets of paper, because up till then the students were using their rather small and way too neat sketchbooks.
Unfortunately in the afternoon I noticed several tendencies: some of the students were starting to draw really adolescent drawings, in a bad way, like they were in fact high school kids. They used texts that were superficial and, well, idiotic. Not what I expected from a bunch of second year art school students. I expect people in their early twenties to use at least a little bit of their intellectual capacities. Another thing I noticed was the fact that four girls sitting in a group were using the same elements in their drawings – they were all drawing bridges and stairs. This was probably because they influenced eachother but since I tried to explain to them before everyone’s brain works in a different way and that’s exactly what makes them (and therefor their work) unique and interesting. This development was kind of annoying.
Since two days were actually not enough to really get into the more or less controlled associative drawing – I realize this is something that needs to be trained but I didn’t realize that it was this hard for a lot of people – I’m not sure if this exercise will stick with the students. I asked Frank van den Broeck to recapture my ‘lessons’. As far as I understood the students seemed to like my project and that’s a good thing.
In the end I was reasonably satisfied, especially with the level of concentration the class ended up with but I’m still quite dissappointed with the general artistic level of these students (not to mention the level of the graduate students – I visited those studios and to be honest I was shocked to find out that their level was incredibly low compared to what I remember to be our level twelve years ago). Though I really liked doing this project, I prefer to do studio visits – having one on one conversations with graduate students for instance. I just hope to have made some sort of impact on some of the students. There’s never an excuse to make boring stuff.
This was another ‘drawing’ I did while guest teaching, because I couldn’t walk around the whole time breaking people’s concentration. You can clearly see what I was busy with (the performance night at Base-Alpha of the 6th of february):