Good questions mean more than right answers

Preface for publication of ‘Voorbeeld’, a project highlighting the artistic process of teachers at The Royal Academy of The Hague (NL). 


Teachers are only artists. I found that insight very encouraging when I attended the first edition of Voorbeeld back in 2007. Some of my own teachers had been reluctant to discuss their work during class, so Voorbeeld offered a glimpse into my teachers’ artistic processes. Even the harshest of analysts turned out to be hesitant mortals too. Some of their ideas had misfired and they were all too familiar with failure and rejection.

Phew, that seemed to bridge the gap between myself and these professionals.

I sympathized even more when I learned about the beautiful trajectories some teachers undertook. I remember Eva Klee showing a very delicate investigation into housing and the concept of home. Pim Voorneman presented an information sign which, due to a technical flaw, was not able to display any information at all. The irony suited him. However open most of them were, few teachers seemed well at ease to answer too many questions about their artistic processes. Within the education context, they had been the ones to pose question to the students. For the edition of Voorbeeld in 2008, as a student, I had the opportunity to interview teachers-cum-artists Maria Pask and Reinoud Oudshoorn. Their totally different work urged me to formulate relevant questions which suited both their processes.

And that element is of great importance in art education, I later found. Learning to ask good questions. For a good question is of more value than the right answer. Borrowing my teachers’ sets of eyes and their perspective on art when I am working in my studio still gives me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and revisit some of these discussions that I have had in class. Rien Monshouwer for instance, once told me to throw excrement at my work when it tended to become too esthetical. Not literally of course. The catch phrase is still in my head however. Also, the experience of looking over their shoulder when putting up a show is still valuable. I arrange my works differently than other artists, because I was taught to look at an exhibition differently.

Despite all the valuable lessons one learns in school, there comes a point when you have to pull the finger and go it alone. Scary as it may seem, this is the only way to unglue from all the opinions and preconceptions teachers raise. If you are lucky, you experience this when still in school. So when you do find your artistic autonomy, you can start afresh with your teacher. For a successful graduation requires collaboration between students and teachers. And this teamwork can continue at great length, even after school.

Teachers are only artists, just like students. Perhaps a bit more experienced. That is the beauty of Voorbeeld: teachers dismissing the unintentionally hierarchical education context and thus connecting with the students. Speaking of a true voorbeeld.