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Teaching for Now

21 November 2009

Live blogging from the NEU NOW Festival 

  The white horse head at the entrance where you can put your ideas is beginning to fill. While we are brewing ideas for next year's festival already, there is another question to address: What should you do to get picked? Of course, the jury is not going to give you a recipe for how to make your degree work in a way that will get you into next year's NEU NOW, but for them as teachers, the issue is rather what to ask from your students. A good deal of their adult life as artists will go into getting selected, attracting attention, making a difference. And for many of them, the degree work will be what launches them.

Now the NEU NOW jury members are also teachers. So while in the jury they are looking for what makes a difference and have to ask themselves how to recognize it, but that is not all that different from what they have to do as teachers: finding the salient thing. Yet there is one thing they are supposed to do as teachers that is not required of a jury, and that is bringing it out.

What are we looking for? What can the teachers do? What should the students learn? These were the overlapping topics for a panel discussion with the jury chairs for each discipline, under the title Teaching for Now.

Ingo Petzke (film) holds that skill is not a priority. When he started out as a filmmaker you had to learn it the hard way with 16 mm; then came video; now you have digital cameras. It is the ideas that make the difference. In fact, those of his students that made the bigger steps and 'got there' where often the most experimental ones - and they got there in the industry precisely because people could see that they had an idea of what they were doing, not necessarily because it was well-made.

Ingo teaches his students to summarize their film in one line. ("It used to be one sentence, but then in German you can make very long sentences.") Because the important thing is that a film has to get out. It is not finished when it's finished. It only starts its life when it reaches an audience. "As I grow older, I grow increasingly concerned about my students' prospects - even if that is not a 'pure' artistic concern. As teachers, we have the responsibility to prepare them for life after the academy." And he adds that this is what festivals are for: being seen.

Audrius Klimas (design) has a different set of priorities: First comes social responsibilty. Second comes innovation. Last comes creativity. It's about stimulating the commitment to make something new that matters and know what you're doing, rather than teaching them to be an artist. In fact it's the students that are all there at their education that will make it. (And sometimes, this means that they must be able to afford it, or be very committed otherwise.)

Andrea Brooks (dance & theatre) argues that ultimately, it's all about effectiveness. And that is a physical process. To make something hit home you must make it physically tangible - what you have to tell about it will never replace the live thing. (She claims that only 7% of information comes verbally - which is a nonsense figure because there is no unit measure of information - but OK we get what she wants to say.) And if you want to get your project staged or nominated, pay attention to another sort of documentation: video. Don't just film something from one camera standpoint in the audience! She has films like that of her own plays of twenty years ago, plays that are very dear to her, and she can't watch the footage because it makes her eyes bleed to see them like a videotape slideshow.

There is nothing against innovativeness, for sure, but one can also be creative without being innovative. And one shouldn't let one's wish to be innovative get in the way of what you want to convey.

(This reminds me of Mogens Rukov advising a group of film students: "Don't be original. You are not good enough to be original." I doubt if Andrea would lend herself to such extreme views.)

Christine Peybus (visual arts) takes a different view. In visual arts, you can encounter installations, robots, self-built orchestras, documentaries, art books, posters, performances. How can one be an expert on that? You need to get a sense of what people are after. So she is very grateful that NEU NOW nominees had to present an artistic statement; for her, at least, some of the art works were profoundly altered by that.

As a matter of fact, there is no sculpture or painting whatsoever at NEU NOW: the closest you get to something pictorial is Izabela Kazcmarek's Shaken, not stirred series of ironical posters. 75 % of submissions in visual arts wasn't either - and maybe this 75 % had an advantage in being more fit for digital reproduction in the first place. (At least this goes for all work made in digital media.)

Now arts education of course isn't all about preparing people for the work field. This may be precisely the thing art schools are not good at. The whole discussion about the "creative industries" that art schools somehow should accomodate to still revolves around what the creative industries are - in that sense it's a sign of not knowing what we're talking about.


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