ART-long learning – and the pursuit of knowledge through art education

What is art education? At first glance this might seem like a naive question, but for those who engage in today's art education and contemporary art landscape, the answer to this question can be a serious challenge.

During the past ten years I have observed how the lines between art education and education in general have started to fade due to the complexity of sociocultural changes, the internet and other technologies, and economic shifts in educational funding.

Certain art schools are trying to adapt to the environment, looking for new pathways proposed by artists, curators, researchers, art educators to form new art school programs. The Berlin University of Arts (UdK), in particular Art in Context postgraduate program where I was admitted two years ago, does exactly this.

After experiencing the academic practice at the University of Arts in Bucharest, I pursued my Master's degree at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, and immediately after my graduation I moved to Berlin.

In autumn 2013 I started a new chapter of my life, filled with different challenges, but also wide opportunities. Being on my own, I tried to figure out what I could do to integrate myself better both socially and professionally. I already had a vague idea that it would be favorable to start studying again in Berlin.

Looking for information on what UdK had to offer to alumni, I came across the postgraduate interdisciplinary masters program, Art in Context, and realized it was exactly what would suit my needs and aims. I found out that I could apply initially with only the B1 German language certificate, that I could study part-time in case I wanted to work in parallel, and that I could develop my artistic projects within the master’s course. It sounded like a dream.

The admission test consisted of a portfolio with a selection of my previous artistic and curatorial projects. This was followed with an interview where I had to present one of my realized projects and answer a series of questions in front of the examination board.

October 2015 marked the beginning of my new Berlin chapter, the UdK chapter, and the best one so far.

One interesting fact about being at the UdK, Art in Context postgraduate master’s course is that we are so diverse: we are artists, but also architects, designers, and performers, all coming from different countries with at least one year of work experience outside the art school. We learn from each other and we collaborate with each other, although we have different interests in the art field, from: curatorial practices, approaches to public art, working with social groups in schools, hospitals, or refugee shelters, researching different scientific matters through art, to just confronting our artistic practices in different aspects of society.

In this program we can always be critical. There’s place to speak your mind in class and give and receive constructive feedback, so we have an exchange. The teachers are relaxed and we can call them by their first names, a fact that surprised me at the beginning! Most of the seminars, talks, and classes are in German, but sometimes when international speakers are invited they are in English. The program offers the possibility of developing our projects within the master's course, being assisted by teachers of the institute. We are always taught to research and to take a realistic approach in terms of our position in society as artists, as creative minds, and how we can find our way being less dependent on the art market.

The Institute for Art in Context is part of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Berlin and in 2018 will celebrate its fortieth anniversary. Since 2016 Prof. Dr. Jörg Heiser has been the new director of the institute. For almost twenty years he has worked for Frieze Magazine, and from 1998 to 2003 as the Berlin-based associate editor.

This year I joined some of J. Heiser’s seminars, and the most interesting for me was "Struktur, Wandel, Öffentlichkeit" - "Structure, Change, Publicness" with a series of talks where speakers were invited: Alexander Koch (director of the KOW Gallery), Michal Kosinski (Computational social scientist, Professor at Stanford University), Carmen Mörsch (head of the Research Institute for Art Education (IAE) at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), Niklas Maak (journalist and architect - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Nina Power (teaches Philosophy at the University of Roehampton, London, and Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art, Author of "One Dimensional Woman"), Hito Steyerl (Prof. Dr. in UdK), Andrej Holm (Gentrification and Squattingresearcher), and Elmgreen & Dragset (Curating The 15th Istanbul Biennial).

We have had other interesting talks also organized by our institute such as one with Gabriel Lester (Amsterdam-based artist, participant of Documenta13, and teacher at Sandberg Institute), Judith Siegmund (philosopher and artist), Moira Zoitil (Austrian video and installation artist), as well as many others.

Guest speakers are an important part of the educational experience for students at the UdK, as they expose us to real-world life experiences from the shoes of those who has been there. We have the opportunity to hear insights and perspectives of the guest speakers' particular fields. This gives us the opportunity to ask specific questions, have an open relevant discussion, and build important connections.

An interesting aspect of the talks is that some are open to the public and are audio and video recorded with the aim of creating an open access electronic platform so that anyone from outside the UdK can benefit from them. I also have the opportunity to meet people from different fields in the audience. One example of these talks is Michal Kosinski’s talk, "Elections in the Digital Age", where he exposed his research on the impact of technology on elections, and how micro-targeting political ads change the way people vote.

Kosinski showed examples of how one can predict human behaviour and personality based on data, and called them "Digital footprints: Predicting psychological traits from social network data".

I dare say this was one of the most interesting talks for me--as someone coming from the art field.

Art in Context is definitely the place to grow in the art learning process, specifically through connecting with other people with different visions and ideas. It is the place where it is worth spending your early mornings or late evenings (from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.!), and still go home happy and motivated.

It is a program that in some way brings together the best parts of the art school: studio practice, curatorial activity, and research, with a balance between practical and theoretical work, as well as offering the opportunity to create joint projects with different types of institutions. 

The cooperation with Charité teaching hospital is one good example, as it is an institution with a long and important history, which even has its own museum. The collaboration consisted of numerous symposiums and exhibitions that took place in the past years under the guidance of the lecturer Wolfgang Knapp. Another example is “Kontext Labor Bernau” a project elaborated by lecturer Kristina Leko with Art in Context students, together with the Bernau Cultural Office, a town just outside Berlin. A case model was developed on how “new genre public art” can expand in direct exchange with a community. Another joint project among many others can be the seminar lead by lecturer Claudia Hummel, developed along with the exhibition programme "UNTIE TO TIE'' and ifa – Gallery Berlin. During this seminar artists together with students from the university and from schools, explored the colonial legacies in contemporary and historical teaching and study materials.

Art in Context it is free of tuition, without any age restriction, and brings together around 30 practitioners each year--who all take an active role in developing collaborative projects within the institution and beyond the walls of the building itself. The experience of learning is done collectively, through dialog and collaboration. In a way, it is a chance given to the students to recontextualize or contextualize their position in the art scene, from an international perspective, and not only to integrate themselves in the art field on a local level.

Having an overview on what is going on in the art world, and not only on a global level, is so important nowadays--especially with all the fast-occuring changes in society and the impact of globalization.

What all art academies and universities should keep in view is that the students need to be prepared for the reality that is expected of them after graduating. The definition of what art education is, needs to be reconfigured in order to give a response to the societal shifts. The art education programs offered should be adapted not only to the societal needs but also to technological changes.

The Institute for Art in Context is trying its best in this direction, to function in an exciting way and at the same time to prepare us for life after graduation. I believe I made a wise decision to start studying again here in Berlin.