Art education – a workshop report from upper school

By Henning Hauke, September 2020

Generally speaking, art is not compatible with industrial reproduction in the art lessons of the Waldorf school. The question is whether technically reproduced media – such as for example photography or video – can’t nevertheless be used creatively in school.

The lifeworld of the pupils and the irrationality of art appear in many points to stand in irreconcilable contradiction to the system that is school. Yet Waldorf education advocates the ideal of an art of education which sees art as development. Social – just as individual – development assumes an investigative spirit which is curious about the surrounding world, which will not subject itself to anything that has become rigidified and counters fatalism with the joy in creative activity.

The pictures of the pupils document how they playfully grapple with painting by means of technical media. In the class no didactic concepts of art education are presented or digital media discussed as such but we focus on the problem of how realistic phenomena are presented in leading the medium of photography back to painting.

Under the influence of the digital media, a growing dependence of their perception on images from the Internet has developed among young people as they grow up.

The images shown here are case studies of individual paths of development. The self-representations in painting, photography and video made in class 12 and 13 illustrate the way in which pupils make the digital images their own through painting processes.

The documentation has as its subject the migration of the images between the media of text, painting, photography and video. In the images produced by young people we can see, among other things, a “hybridisation of the images” under the influence of digital media; intermedial spaces are created which result from the play with various media. By working on the same motifs in different media, a multi-perspective view of the image comes about.

One picture by Vermeer (see Ill. 1 ), for example, is translated into staged photography and this photography is transposed into painting and further varied into other motifs of bodily representation to stimulate the inner mobility of the imagination. In parallel, texts are created in the form of letters which describe what Vermeer’s figure is just reading in the letter. The intermedial linking of text, painting and photography opens up deeper ways of accessing the phenomenon of the image changing between linguistic picture, digitally processed photography and painting. A further variation consists of transforming the image of the original into a fictionally hybrid figure of ideal beauty by means of digital animation techniques (see Ill. 2).

Illustration 1

Illustration 2

The question how imaginative abilities are stimulated in art education is centrally connected with the activity of the I. The productive imagination is practised as a flexible pictorial force in dealing with images. The pupils create images of themselves particularly in adolescence. The I faces itself in various images. The mirror here serves as an object of self-presentation. In classes 12 and 13 the young people concern themselves more intensively with their own identity. The underlying question is what they want to make of their lives. The painted portrait encourages them to put themselves flexibly in different roles or other biographies. Here the productive imagination acts as a mediator between inner world and outer perception. The strengthening of this productive imagination can lead to its enhancement. Aesthetic experience (Seel 2004) stimulates self-efficacy irrespective of whether the creation is successful or not.

Aesthetic experiences come about in the different media in respectively specific ways. Consciously handling the subtle differences between the image media of photography, film or painting and the medium of text can develop perceptual capacities which sensitise the aesthetic power of judgement in the subtle qualities of the material. The movement between the different media supports a flexible life of ideas. This capacity of enhanced attentiveness and consciously dealing with the effect of images is an activity in our media-dominated society which can also emotionally touch the core of our soul and spirit and thus enables experiences that convey identity. Such experiences activate our own drive to acquire knowledge and influence our ethical stance. The need to seek out knowledge for ourselves is awoken in the playful setting of art education.

The increasing mediatisation of society and the development of imaginative abilities appear as the two sides of the same development. A media balance arises for the young people in that they use the technical media in a creative way. Art lessons attempt to open spaces in which the lifeworlds of young people, which are often only shaped by unconscious consumption, can be integrated into school in a meaningful way.

Coherent self

The I activity undergoes metamorphosis in classes 9 to 13 through the transformation of the physical and soul-spiritual structure of the human being. The case studies focus on portraits from class 12 and 13. The developmental steps show the expansion of the perceptual abilities of the pupils or the courageous enhancement in their expressive possibilities. Crises and developmental leaps point to a complex lifeworld which today is mostly immersed deeply in the identity-creating consumption of various media formats.

A central aspect of art is the constitution of reality, as Cezanne attempted in his “Realisation”. The question can be asked in the everyday activity of art education by means of the creation of image structures in that a framework is created which enables the self to form so that the subject can test their formation independently through play. It is all about experiencing the self and the balance between inner world and outer world in the sense of a deepened art of living.

There are various media for artistic work between which the pupils move in art lessons depending on their individual inclination, supported by individual conversations, but also group discussions.

Painting and self-design

In the five-hour final school-leaving examination in the German state of Baden Württemberg, the pupils develop images under the aspect of identity which display original dimensions of time. The focus is on how they conceive of memory or imagine the course of their life. An example from the 2019 examination illustrates this.

The old face looks into the distance with an indeterminate blue space in the background which through the brushwork displays a certain dynamism and simulates movement. Perhaps she is looking back on her life. The colours in the countenance have been extinguished in the grisaille, the lines of life have engraved themselves in the face; it is serious but collected, the light in the eyes reflects a wakeful brightness, perhaps something like recollection. A certain contentment characterises the face; life lies behind it and it questions the past. The mouth is closed and the horizontal orientation of the lips gives the impression of equanimity.

The picture in the imagination appears below in colour as a young woman, as a face which visualises a certain distress and is set up as a slightly unreal moment through the smudging. The life plan indicated thereby creates aesthetic differentiation, the pupil plays with a fictional narrative of her biography, how it might have gone. This distance creates an event which is constitutive of the personality because the power of the imagination is stirred to experience her own life in the artistic activity of painting as a process to be actively shaped in autonomous activity. The script of a biography as a role is actively created. The I sets itself, it designs one possible version of itself in the future. The realistic style of representation points to the world of the consumption of serials; film posters or narrative structures of film form the basis of the design.

In an interview, the pupil said that the emotionality of film images formed the basis for creating a picture in the first place. The varied representation of the media quote from the film represents an aspect of media education through its appropriation in painting because the film images rapidly flitting by are “symbolically” charged through reflection in the painting. The transfer into another medium – made possible through the slowed down, concentrated activity of painting – creates attentiveness as a power of the I and brings about the coordination of hand, feeling and perception.

The daily consumption of a TV series over many years by the pupil led to a connection with the characters shown in it and had a sustained effect on her social behaviours. The power of recollection and the relationship with the world, for example with regard to other nations or other social environments, is profoundly shaped in young people through film narratives. The appropriation through the medium of drawing creates a supplementary, self-actioned relationship with the world, what might be described as a therapeutic dimension of education.

Painting and selfie culture

The following examples show a process which is productive for the formation of identity because through the transfer from the medium of photography to the medium of painting a look is also taken at self-staging on the social media platforms.

The oil paintings from the final piece of work in the class for the college entrance qualification show the pupil reflecting on the medium in the search for own identity. Starting in class 11, the pupil already kept selecting picture motifs with young people from other cultures. An interesting aspect is the technically skilled, almost hyper-realistic presentation and the attempt to represent the selfie culture of the media platforms in painting. The reflection on the various media taking place in parallel to the practical activity produces – so my hypothesis – an identity-establishing moment. The touchscreen is broken. The pupil is using glass some of which is real and some of which is painted. She shows someone looking through broken glass (mirror and touchscreen).

The figures offer their identity in selfie-style but the painted interface of a screen creates a boundary, but also distancing, from which the selfie culture is then critically questioned and the problem of the I or the represented subject appears in a reflective space. The critical questioning through practical representation indicates strength of I, awareness or attentiveness which are revealed in the strategy of the arrangement and in the distanced gaze of the composition: the all too perfect faces appear curiously frozen in their artificiality. The melancholy look of the young people reflects sadness and solitariness. The painting is a reflection on the medium of photography which in turn takes place in another medium, on the surface of a computer screen. Here alone three different media are involved. It is a hybrid image creation which enables cognitive steps through the parallel discussions which train a more conscious handling of image structures.

Videos stills

 

The observation and analysis of moving images makes increased demands of producers and recipients. But some pupils occupy themselves more deeply with this medium and some of them can use it creatively in their topics for their school leaving and college entrance exams. Such film work leads directly into the intermedial links between image, music and language.

As an upper school subject, this is hard to do for a whole class, even just in terms of the equipment required. But there are possibilities for projects in smaller groups because the motivation of the pupils for the required team work is very great. Since the film consumption of some of the pupils in upper school is very comprehensive, questions about film reception, analysis and production are an educational necessity today. The link to the film below was part of an examination for the 2018 school leaving exams in Baden-Württemberg.

Link: https://vimeo.com/281795743

About the author: Henning Hauke, art teacher at the Göppingen Free Waldorf School, lecturer at the Kirchheim Teck Seminar for Art and Media Education. Studied painting in Dornach, Master of Arts in education, practical research at Alanus University, studies on performativity, course work at various seminars and higher education institutions, glass projects. https://henninghauke.space/menu

Follow