I had to learn to leave my stories behind. The kind of stories about your life you tell yourself over and over again until you believe them. And still they are only stories and as such exchangeable. Of course there are also stories around art schools. What is your art school story? Why are you here? Today I wanted to tell you mine: My grandfather wasn't allowed to study art because he was partly Jewish. He had to leave high school early, in 1930s in Wroclaw, former Prussia, now Poland. He couldn't live his dream, but had to become a factory worker. This story left me with a mission: Because I was the artistically talented one in my family, I had to study art to get it off the family check list. A likely story, isn’t it?
My other art school story goes like this: When I was 16 years old my grandmother asked me what I wanted to be later in life. She was a great role model. She managed to be one of the first female medicine students in Germany. I proudly proclaimed that I would do something completely different from the paths of my family of professors and doctors - and told my over 90 year old grandmother that I wanted to be an interior architect. She replied that that was a good idea, that I would be a great wife who could decorate the house of her husband nicely. Of course I rebelled and I gave up the idea of being an interior architect immediately. At the same time I somehow still believed in my creative talent (and the other story), and managed to get into an art school. In my first art school experience, I was trained as a designer to be a creative owner of the design process, and a whole new world of art and design as political tools opened up for me. Yet in my mid twenties, I told my dad that I decided to be a professional full time artist. My dad told me that one could not make a living being an artist. That small sentence chilled my idea immediately. I spent the next years tiptoeing around making art. I was trying to qualify myself in every single possible way to get the allowance of finally being allowed to be an artist. I went abroad. I interned. I published on making art. I did PR for art. I taught art. I wrote my PhD dissertation on art. I worked as an educator in art museums. I became a professional art enabler. That was all fun and taught me a lot of things, but did not count as making art exactly. I finally realized when I was appointed full professor and department head for art and design education at a well known European art school, that I must have become quite good in working around the arts, but it also showed me that I still wasn’t quite doing what I set out to do.
Two things happened with me just because I allowed myself to stick to those two stories:
I believed in the bottom of my heart that I had to have a real job, not an arts job (which is rather funny when I consider that I have a meditation teacher and a pastor as parents). But simultaniously I didn’t really know what else to do with my life than the arts. So I ended up circling the arts and doing one course, one study after the other to somehow get the blessing of someone, telling me: Now it is okay. Now you are allowed to make some art too!
Sometimes there is no one there to tell you that it is fine to go ahead. Sometimes your family or your friends or your partner or your children or your dog do not quite know what is right for you.
Circling around teaching, publishing, organizing, curating, mediating, critiquing art showed me that I truly believed that everybody is an artist except me. But not leaving the art world showed me that even deeper down in my heart I still believed in the idea of being an artist myself. Finally checking everything off my to-do-list (all the studies I could do, all the jobs you could get, the right salary, blablabla). Then and only then I finally realized that I was a victim of my stories. The stories I believed for years. The stories I thought my family had told me. (Probably they told me to be an artist a million times and I somehow filtered that out). One day I realized that and started to write, not in an academic way, but in a way I wanted.
Art and Education