In relation to the Personal Studio Visit model, I want to highlight Katrin Hjeldes’ Ph.D. thesis “Between Fine Art and Teaching: Reflecting Creative Passion.”1 Here she explores the role of creative passion in relation to fine art teaching. Creative passion is described as a cluster emotion: an emotional resonance that contains a collection of emotions such as obsession, love, jealousy, confusion, and fervour. The emotion of creative passion according to Hjelde can be used as a powerful tool for learning when applied to fine art. Students need to undergo learning shifts to obtain competence and confidence. These shifts need emotion.
Chapter 11 of bell hooks’ “Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope”2 starts with the sentence: “To speak of love in relation to teaching is already to engage a dialogue that is taboo.” Hooks is referring to the teacher-student relationship. When professors care deeply about the subject matter, teach this with love, and love the process of teaching, this is regarded as something good. But loving the students is not regarded as something favourable. Emotional connections tend to be suspect in a world where objectiveness and the mind are valued above all else. According to Hooks, when teaching and learning in a humanistic situation objectivism can’t serve as a useful basis. Teachers who fear to get too close to students may objectify them in order to maintain objectivity. They could see students as empty vessels, with no opinions, thoughts, personal problems and such. Conversely, students don’t learn from teachers who are disconnected, dissociated, or self-obsessed.
Furthermore, she writes about competition in the educational setting, which disrupts connection, making it impossible for students and teacher to connect. The insistence on objectivism negates community. Students are thought to see each other as competition rather than comrades. She goes on to argue that dominator culture is contrary to creating mutual partnerships instead it promotes calculated objectivism that is essentially dehumanising. The focus on a love ethic, not to be confused with romantic love, is defined as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. With the basic principles of love as interaction, the mutual pursuit of knowledge creates the conditions for optimal learning. Teachers are then learning while teaching, and students while learning and sharing: “When students are encouraged to trust in their capacity to learn they can meet difficult challenges with a spirit of resilience and competence.”3 When there is no care or no recognition of their inner conflicts, students shut down, and the status quo has been upheld. When teachers open up so that students can address their worries openly, they can offer affirmation and support.
Teachers don’t want to become therapists and do not want to respond to emotional feelings. However if the student shuts down teaching becomes impossible. Therefore, Hooks argues in favour of conscious teaching, teaching with love, and becoming aware of psychological conflicts a student might have that may block the student’s capacity to learn. This could mean that the teacher steers the student towards therapeutic care. When the teacher establishes appropriate boundaries s/he doesn’t need to fear to become engulfed or entangled in the student’s dilemmas.
The Personal Studio Visit contributes to the human aspect of the art making profession. For some artists, the immediacy of certain experiences creates an imperative to engage in dialogue. The Personal Studio Visit model is an attempt to help articulate the traumatic or distressing character of being a human artist with a disruption, problem, or situation.
This model takes as a point of departure the idea that the visited artist specifically chooses this model in order to talk with the visiting artist about personal matters that may be worrying or occupying his/her mind, and perhaps even hindering him/her to work as an artist. This model could also be called upon when the visited artist can hardly think of anything else anymore due to enduring emotional stress, and needs aid, guidance, or support to start/continue to work again. But it could also be employed in less intense cases where the visited artist simply needs acknowledgment or wants to share their experience. For a full description see APPENDIX, MODEL 3: The Personal Studio Visit.
The Personal Studio Visit model, was the model that generated the longest conversation as part of the group discussion in the second workshop at the UdK in Berlin (April 2013). One of the participants did not practice the model because of a language barrier with his training partner. He reflected that for him trust is an important factor in the Personal Studio Visit model:
K.B.: “As an artist, each model had valuable qualities but some seemed more likely to be realistically embarked on than others. For instance, the Personal Studio Visit model, although I didn’t have the opportunity to experience it in practice, is one that for me would depend on a great deal of trust. To be truly listened to with focus and attention allows one to externalise and therefore own and experience one’s thoughts for their having been spoken, but the speaker must know that these thoughts, listened to with great attention, are entrusted safely.”
J.D.: “The real difference between this model and the others might be that it gives you the liberty to assert what you want the framework to be. The way you [K.E.] describe it is incredibly broad. But maybe you have to say it’s that broad in order to really give the licence to then do something specific, which is to say like: “I’m kind of frustrated with this problem.” And sometimes also having a problem is a good thing in art; this thing you’re turning around over and over again is a good thing. And I was thinking: have I ever had studio visits before where I took the liberty to assert that I was asking for someone to come and help me with my problem? And I have. But what is different is that, when I’ve done this before, I’ve had the feeling that it didn’t really worked that well. I felt like what ended up happening was that people wanted to reassure me as opposed to walk through the substance of the issue.”
The framing and naming of the Personal Studio Visit model was discussed in length. Many alternative names were suggested, such as the Problem-, Open-, Issue-, Free-, Knot- and Struggle Studio Visit model. What I (Kim Engelen) am after in this model is a space for the acknowledgement and verbalisation of the artist’s personal struggle. I don’t expect this model to untie the knot or solve the problem. But I do believe that it could help to have a second artist look at the issue, since a peer-artist can relate to this in a different way than a friend who wants to be friendly or a therapist who doesn’t necessarily relate to the art context of the problem. With the Personal Studio Visit model, I specifically lifted that element out of the current traditional practised studio visit, in order for the visited artist to verbalise the problem and to directly address it. That is, to enable the visited artist by letting him/her verbalise, expose, identify, and address their problem:
J.D.: “A therapist does in general not really know that much about the relationship between video, installation and local memory. Why is it necessary? Because generally speaking, when you have meetings with people, you don’t feel the licence to do that. So maybe by having the structure, of the Personal Studio Visit, you make that explicit at the beginning. Perhaps the title is not the most important thing, but to clarify what it is and then the title will develop from that, because you definitely want it to be personal. Maybe you have to make it so dramatic to then feel the licence to say: “Okay, come along with me, with my leg performance photo problem,” which is kind of a weird thing to share, in a way.”
M.S.: “I quite liked your [K.E] approach, going directly into this very personal issue, because usually we don’t do it. We usually discuss these things with people we know very well but never with people we don’t know. As far as I can tell, what you did, and you did that first, you were the presenter, you immediately went straight into a very personal level. I think that’s the method where you will get something out of it. More if we would have talked about other things and this and that and in the end a little bit about you. No, you addressed your problem and then we talked about it, which was very straightforward. I saw the opportunity to actually solve something I had in my mind, something I have not talked about with other people. You see, I saw the opportunity, and I took it.”
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, MODEL 3
THE PERSONAL STUDIO VISIT
This is the model in which you have the freedom as a human artist to talk about any topic you choose. Maybe you feel like talking about: money issues; commerciality; trends; discrimination; feminism; gender (transition) issues; religion; loneliness; isolation; personal meaning in your work; the overly white male western work visible; the dematerialisation of art; nepotism; elitism; the increased level of theory and discussion in art education; the market-driven, artist-saturated art world; and so on. Topics that indirectly, but also directly, connect with your work as an artist, your lifestyle, or simply your life as an artist. Within this model, you choose to have a studio visit in which you specifically talk about your concerns, problems, hiccups, professional development, marketing, coming out, addiction/s, depression or whatever it is that worries you, or occupies your mind, and hinders you from working as an artist. Or more intensely still you notice how personal issues affect your work so much that you feel the work might even develop or is already moving in a different direction because of these issues. When choosing this model the visiting artist is well aware of the fact that personal matters are going to be discussed. This is so that s/he is not overwhelmed or bored with the studio visit since this would hinder the visited artist to speak freely and frankly. This model can be called upon at any time in the art making process; since personal matters such as sickness or even death of a loved one can come unexpectedly.
You can have a walk or go with your visiting artist to a certain location, exhibition, person, job, migration office and so on. The only rule or boundary is the time frame you and the visiting artist have agreed upon. Both must communicate and protect their own boundaries of what is socially, legally, and financially acceptable to them, since there are no real restrictions or rules except the agreed time frame, and the context of artistic development. This model could also be called the free model not merely because the studio visit could take place outside of the studio context but also because it addresses personal matters, and could be informal, or still be placed in a formal setting.
1. Katrin Hjelde, “Between Fine Art and Teaching: Reﬂecting Creative Passion,” in Unspoken Interactions: Exploring the Unspoken Dimension of Learning and Teaching in Creative Subjects, ed. N. Austerlitz, 141-151 (London: The Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design, 2008)
2. bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (New York: Routledge, 2003), 197
Image: Inside Roy Lichtenstein’s Studio, © Laurie Lambrecht, 1990-1992