Christian Wideberg’s “The Call for a Studio Challenge – An Educational Perspective”1 is an investigation of the studio critique i.e., the teacher/student studio interactions that take place as part of two Fine Art higher education programmes in the Fine Arts in Sweden. In his dissertation, he explains that the studio critique can be regarded as a process where the student reaches a deeper knowledge of self, and of his/her artistic goals, and where subjective and creative impulses are essential for the developmental growth of this form of living knowledge.
Wideberg observed the behaviour and attitudes during the studio visit, in which both student and teacher were so busy with their own thoughts that they failed to reach each other. When the studio visit was over the teacher was often not aware of the student’s need or concerns. Other scenarios included studio visits where the teacher either took control or on the contrary remained too far in the background. The teacher could be eager, self-absorbed and inattentive, or so busy with processing the information that s/he missed the essence of what was being said. Such situations often occurred even though the intention of the studio visit is to nurture the student’s artistic expression, and to contribute to their process of growth.
He divides studio critiques (or visits) into two complex and interwoven interactions: 1) Where the student and teacher seek a common ground in a mutual process of understanding and accord, 2) Interactions where the integration of intention and quality is strived for. Furthermore, he describes that it should be the teacher’s aim to find that point of interface between the student’s intention and the material qualities of the student’s work.
By using this format the goal is ultimately growth, and to maximise the student’s potential and thus the development of the student’s talent. When the main topic has been found, a different interaction begins: “This process addresses the challenge of integrating concept and material, the ultimate goal of which must be a seamless fusion of the two if the finished work is to possess sublime qualities. If the discussion does not come to this point, then both the teacher and the student seem to lose enthusiasm, and the studio critique derails. In and through its two dialogues the studio critique describes a complexity that demands attention and mutual respect.”2
The student must somehow find the opportunity to grow on the impulse of free will. So, it is not enough for the teacher to enter the studio visit with ideas and demands, even if these come with great drive and initiative.
In “To Rest Assured: A Study of Artistic Development”, Dr. Ann-Mari Edström3 focuses on changes in the student-artist and their work as part of their artistic development. The connection between self-direction and ‘resting-assured’ is regarded as the main result of the study. She describes the notion of ‘rest assured’ to draw on the relation between the work and the student-artist as an experience of confidence and trust, within three aspects: the intimate, uncertainty and the working process. The student-artist themselves indicated that they tend to attribute the alienation they experienced with their work to the strong influence of others, i.e. their supervisors or teachers. This delays their capacity to ‘rest assured’ in the intimate and the working process.
In the Structured Studio Visit model, the visiting artist verbally repeats what s/he has understood from what the visited artist communicates about his/her work.
This model aims to provide the visited artist with a ‘tool’ which is the repeating/the reverb of the visited artists uttering’s, in order to help the visited artist to further develop how to present his/her work by articulating his/her thoughts, areas of interest, processes, techniques, ideas, challenges, questions, objectives, concepts, and other possible topics that the visited artist un/consciously tells the visiting artist in a manner in which the visiting artist understands him/her. The intention is that by doing so the visited artist will gain a better understanding of what the labour/artistic process is really about; that is, what is important about the work for him/herself.
The moment for choosing this model could be when the visiting and visited artist will meet for the first time, or when the visited artist is not yet familiar with the visited artist’s new work. For a full description see APPENDIX, MODEL 2: The Structured Studio Visit.
The Structured Studio Visit model was practiced very different in each workshop: in the first workshop at the UdK Berlin (November 2012) some people were very concentrated and tested the model. However, some people (in the role as visiting artist) slipped back into the normal way of having a studio visit: in particular they did not repeat what the visited artist was saying. Instead, they asked the visited artist questions, and in this manner then also led the studio visit.
On the second day of the second workshop (UdK Berlin, April 2013) two participants tried out the model, but partially failed. They initially tried, then complained that they felt stupid, and then aborted the exercise altogether.
During the discussion those who really engaged, stated that the outcome was successful:
J.D.: “So you have a first impression as with someone’s face or something. Which I already saw during the Spectator Studio Visit [The first tested model/see part 1]. So it is very interesting that this same insight was actually confirmed during the Structured Studio Visit. What I remember the most was when it became clear to me that performing outside was somehow fundamental to my art. Actually, that I was getting something from performing outside. That I wasn’t getting in other ways. This really came out about through the process of repetition and hearing my own babbling. I guess by not being forced to set it down in writing but with it being repeated back to me like that was definitely a confrontation which was jarring but also clarified some things in terms of what my own priorities where. So it was a very constructed moment of self-consciousness and actually I think it really allowed me to … it had a concrete effect on the next piece that I began, I decided to sort of dramatise this issue of performing outside, or inside, even more that the piece would have wanted that one part was outside and one part was outside. That is the thing I remember best about it, just my own experience of reflecting on my own work. I had a pretty substantive kind of thinking through on that day. It was substantive for me, and so my own experiences of myself were what I remember best really.”
K.B.: “[…] entering or applying a particular model creates specific terms of engagement that, although contrived, provide opportunities for greater insight and discovery.”
Some thought that the New Studio Visit could be beneficial for student-artists. And ‘workshops’ would be a way to move forward since those that show up are a self-selected group. The models of the New Studio Visit go into one specific element of the studio visit with great depth. Edström in “Art Students Making Use of Studio Conversations”: “Placing a first year MFA practiced-based student in a situation that demands self-direction does not result in a self-directed student.”4 I also think that in this case the models could provide practical benefits, particularly when student-artists see three possible new ways of having a studio visit, whilst also having a structure to navigate within.
THE NEW STUDIO VISIT
In the New Studio Visit both artists (the visiting and the visited) agree beforehand which of the models will be chosen and thus in what manner the studio visit takes place. The visited artist is the one who chooses the model since s/he is the one who invites the other artist, or another willing visitor, to aid him/her in the process of development. Making it clear that it is actually the artist him/herself that is, or at best should be, self-directing.
APPENDIX B, MODEL 2
THE STRUCTURED STUDIO VISIT
This model demands attention and mutual respect. The task of the visiting artist is to facilitate the artist as best as possible. To be able to do this s/he firstly needs to understand the artist. This understanding of the work is a shared responsibility: 1) The visited artist must learn to present his/her work, and articulate his/her thoughts/ideas/problems/questions/work etc.. The visited artist starts the talk, and thus gives direction to the talk, and can communicate about any matter that is important for the artist at the very moment of their meeting. The visited artist decides if it is a talk about the idea-, process-, material-, development-, economical-, personal-, critical-, emotional part or aspect of the work or any other implication that is important for the visited artist and his/her practice. When the visited artist feels that the visiting artist has indeed understood him/her they can move on. If not, the visited artist must repeat until s/he feels the visiting artist has understood. 2) The visiting artist must understand the visited artist. Therefore, the visiting artist must verbally repeat what s/he has understood from what the visited artist is showing, telling or asking. The visiting artist must (learn to) repeat until s/he has understood the artist correctly. It is not enough for the visiting artist to say: “I have understood you.” No, the visiting artist has to repeat it again in order to give back to the visited artist what s/he has understood. This is so that the artist hears his/her own words back, and also that s/he knows and feels that the visited artist has understood him/her. 3) Both artists must try to not lose their patience in case the visiting artist does not understand something or the visited artist gets lost in his/her words. It is not the purpose of this model and thus not important to investigate whether the visiting artist is a good listener or not, or if s/he is capable of understanding or not, nor if the visited artist is not (yet) good at communicating their work, problem, or process. The goal is that the visiting artist understands the visited artist. This can be easy but can also be difficult. In the case of difficulty, there is apparently something to learn, and neither should give up. It is possible that there is no natural chemistry between the artists. This might form a greater challenge because the visiting and visited artist cannot move forward until the visiting artist understands the artist. But exactly this challenge can be bridged by repeating what the visited artist has said, and through this way come to understand the artist.
Unless the visited artist is a very good listener and this is something s/he already practice and is good at. S/he can use in between sentences, such as: “So what I hear you say is that you work mainly with video;” “So how I understand it is;” “To clarify again;” or simply “So;” It might feel unnatural to repeat again and again what you have heard. This means that as the visited artist continues to say the same things, it becomes clear to the visiting artist that is what they need to repeat back to the visited artist in order to make the visited artist aware of this.
1. Christian Wideberg, “Ateljésamtalets utmaning – ett bildningsperfspectiv,” ArtMonitor 26, 30, no.1 (2011)
2. Ibid, 179
3. Ann-Mari Edström, “To Rest Assured: A Study of Artistic Development,” International Journal of Education & the Arts 9, no.3 (2008). http://www.ijea.org/v9n3/ (accessed May 7, 2013) 4. Ann-Mari Edström, “Art Students Making Use of Studio Conversations,” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 7, no.1 (2008)
Image: Claude Monet in his studio