Art is Hard to Educate

Art teacher Matthias Reinhold believes in self motivation, freedom, and individuality. Questioning skills can be a barrier and once this barrier is removed the flow can find its way.

Nearly a hundred years ago Marcel Duchamp showed us with his Fountain that any object from everyday life could become an art piece, as soon as it has infiltrated the discourse of art institutions. As people are generally not so much into this discourse, but are still interested in producing a picture, I would rather teach the latter. In my »career« as an »art teacher« I had »students« ranging from a very young age to their late twenties. They were attending elementary schools or colleges or technical universities. So their focus was very much on visual expression and not so much making a work of art. While »teaching them« I felt very much like a picture maker myself, so I would share my own experiences, to try to communicate something of the passion that drives me to express myself visually, in order to help the students to discover their own potential, both in medium and content.

Aqua system solitude playground, didactic material for architecture students, 2016


I have a strong belief in self motivation, freedom, and individuality. As soon as you give somebody the time, space, tools and materials, they will create something with it. Young kids usually do that intuitively and directly, whereas the older students involve their brain and may question their skills before they do something, which can be a barrier to making a picture. Once this barrier is removed the flow can find its way in any age. The older students get, the harder it can be to free them, or to help them free themselves, from conventions and prejudices. Education in schools often does not trigger intrinsic motivation but, rather, trains the ability to fulfill standardized tasks posed by the teacher. This is often conditioned by the sheer number of students in the classroom and their willingness to be constructive. What can you do with a class of thirty teenagers who feel the urge for rebellion rather than for collaboration with an authority figure?

Architecture students drawings, ETH Zürich, second semester, 2016

Being in the situation of teaching I try to avoid any kind of hierarchization. I try to identify myself as someone who assists somebody else in something, in what he or she wants to do. If there is no sign of this will, it does not make sense to do anything and it is better to do nothing at all. Visual material can be a trigger for creation. The power of imitation is not to be underestimated. The culture of imitating something has quite a bad image. Copying is connoted with stealing intellectual property. In asian cultures, e.g. chinese traditional painting, copying is the main method to learn from a master. It is a way of appropriating something that has been done before, not so much to do it better, but to do it nearly as good and to thus get something from it. So the input of stimulating visual material and its imitation is another crucial element, besides organizing the preconditions of time, space, and material.

Drawing with Leon, two years old, 2016

Once the process took off it is my task to accompany it. With my experience I can help to avoid dead ends, which take a lot of time to go back and work around. That does not mean that I would remove every obstacle that the student possibly could fall over. Dealing with difficulties is a very important aspect of the creative process. Sooner or later they will appear and every pupil has to learn how to deal with a productive crisis, with the doubts that what you do is senseless or stupid. In that moment I would very much focus on the joy the project creates as a whole. I believe very much in the dynamics of a game with its own rules. What comes out of it is another question. Following a process just for its own dynamics, playing a game just for itself is a value in itself. As long the flow lasts it should go. I would say: when the game is over, start the next one and/or modify the rules.

I believe that in a playful atmosphere we learn the most. Fear and pressure prevent the brain from reacting flexibly. The panic mode shows us just the easiest way out. Once we are safe and happy the thoughts can get in a flow, visions can emerge, plans can take shape, and our constructive drives from deep inside can come to the surface. I am sure that everyone has something to express, wants to do so, and also has the ability to realize it, as soon as they’re given the proper conditions.

Elementary school, classes 1-3, Willy-Brandt-Schule, Warsaw, 2012

So, in the end, teaching as-such, and especially teaching the making of pictures, is about assisting someone on the way to where they want to go by foreseeing the different possibilities. It means the implementation of their own vision, of forging their own path through an ideal landscape. That is also why teaching involves so much reflecting back on one’s own ideas and imagination, which would not appear if they were executed by oneself. The motivation to teach for me is quite egoistic: it is somehow an extended way to express oneself through others. It would be an abuse, if the other would not benefit from this symbiosis as well. But as they supposedly do, it is a win-win-situation – hopefully!