On the question of how I am qualified to teach art …


By trade I am a lawyer. Many lawyers do have a passion besides their original profession though, I happen to have three, if you count my love for children in general and my own children in particular as one. The other two are writing and art. I mention this because you will surely want to know how I am qualified to write on a subject that is a bit out of the way of my original expertise. My grandmother used to say I have been born with a brush in one and in pen in my other hand – and as far as I can remember I have been scribbling and drawing on every appropriate surface – and some less suited. That I came to study law is strange, all things considered, but I guess I wanted to try out if I could succeed at something else, something real. I graduated with two law degrees and, even though I actually (and I should add: eventually) became a practicing lawyer – even before starting to practice law I came straight back to art.
I do believe though that art is not an esoteric, isolated endeavor that people sometimes take it to be. Artists are well advised to take notice of their world and have an understanding of it that transcends the visual. Beuys said that every person is indeed an artist. He demanded that every sales person, dental hygienist, physician, scientist, philosopher, electrician … (fill in your profession) be first trained in art. The reverse holds true too. Every artist is part of a tangible social reality. The training to become a lawyer might in the end not be either so far from or so detrimental to artistic creation as it might seem at first.
I do love children – and I do remember quite vividly to have been one myself. Believe me as a first hand witness and as someone who still draws and paints, saws and glues every day: There is no time like childhood to experience the joy of art. I had the good luck to be partly raised by a grandmother who had the wisdom of an older generation to pretty much let me do whatever I thought entertaining if I obeyed some general ideas of etiquette that were easy enough to memorize. I was allowed to use any tool from the tool shed or the kitchen. Nothing was childproof or child-size, I had to use them as they were. I was also allowed to make generous use of old newspapers and magazines, of the newsprint paper that my grandfather, who was publisher of a local newspaper, brought home, and of every piece of metal, screw, paper, feather, stone or glass shard that I loved to pick up during our long walks. It never occurred to my grandparents that it was their responsibility to prevent me from injuring myself (and cutting , scraping and bruising myself while working with knives, scissors and hammers seemed part of my job description as “child”). I don’t know whether they ever articulated it that instead they trusted me to take care of myself that but it surely was the result of their laissez-faire regime.
I brought everything I found home and assembled it very much the way every child will when you do not interfere. I do not know where our desire to “make” things has its origin; I do know that we already possess it as children, together with an instinct of how things fit together. If children are not allowed to roam as freely as I was they will still build markers from pebbles and stones, they will still use sticks to draw in sand, build strange, improvised gardens in the mud, decorate prefabricated play structures with ritual signs when the occasion (boredom paired with freedom) presents itself.
To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as a teacher is to take them on the long walk I took as a child with my grandparents allowing my students their own discoveries and the freedom to collect at will what responds to their unique desire to create this world new according to their own vision as every artist will.
If we’d create more protective spaces for our children, spaces in which they could grow according to their own needs, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. The challenge is right out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet whatever form that challenge in their very own live might take.
To come back to the question of my own expertise: I do believe with visionary clarity that it is not my expertise and training/education that is relevant. It is my willingness to acknowledge, respect and celebrate children as the artists they are. I do believe that art is not a matter of paper and ink, of perspective and shading, I do believe though art techniques can be taught art cannot, no more than breathing, walking, seeing. It is something that happens when things go right or when you have to make them come out right. Art is the freedom to choose your own words. Art is the freedom to follow your own voices. Art is life.