Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Universität der Künste

University of Arts at Steinplatz in Berlin-Charlottenburg                    Photo: Hatto Fischer

When visiting the University of the Arts together with Jula Dech, Jad Salman and Boudewijn Payens, it meant entering a building with long corridors, white walls and many doors leading on to different kinds of studios. During that visit, Friday, 18th of November, there was no exhibition shown. The long tables at the back were completely empty even though one could sense previous works had been shown on them by students. Interesting is to see at the very back of the building the existence of another inner court yard and other buildings beyond there. The spatious extension allows a flood of light to reflect itself on the white walls. The university of the arts seems to be a friendly but bit coolish place to study the arts in the midst of Berlin.

Jad Salman in studio for lithographic work                                    Photo: Hatto Fischer

Lithography is the technique of writing or drawing on a kind of yellow slaty limestone so that impressions in ink can be taken. It is diligent, hard work and requires knowledge of how things appear in reverse.

Jad Salman is himself student of art in Paris, so he could compare conditions there with those we found prevailing at the University of the Arts in Berlin. He found the situation to be comparable or even to be much the same.


Student talking with Jula Dech, Hatto Fischer          Photo: Boudewijn Payens


Naturally differences in approaches to art and art education can be brought out only when deeping this subject matter in discussions with various professors and students. Some of them could be found to be working in the various studios despite being Friday. At least, Jula Dech was surprised to find so many in the different studios. It meant in the past more were present on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday than an the other days of the week.

Jula Dech with Professor, Jad Salman (right) and in the background Boudewijn Payens         Photo by Hatto Fischer

Jula Dech taught for many years at a practical orientated school of Fine Arts called 'Kunst im Kontext' (art in context). There the main emphasis was to give students practical experiences of working with the arts in various fields. This includes street theatre. Thus it was not surprising that Jula being a specialist in DaDa - technique of the photo montage as orientated along the works by Hannah Höch showed in subsequent discussions her knowledge about teaching art.

For more information about the artistic work of Jula Dech, see www.juladech.de)

She asked students what methods there were being taught or else with what artistic tradition they had been brought in contact with. Interesting was what points she picked up subsequently. For instance, one student who wishes to become an art teacher (and not an artist i.e. he has to undergo a special study programme in order to qualify), had to take as well courses designed for artists. It includes regular studio work. Jula Dech asked him immediately, if that meant he was still taking lessons showing him how to use materials? This used to be the case in the past and applied only for those wanting to become teachers. In retrospect Jula Dech mentioned that interestingly this course designed to educate the future art educational teachers produced very good artists who became well known with time? The student replied to their question with a 'no'. It made Jula Dech become more sceptical about the way students were being prepared for future challenges. It signalled to her a negative change which she attributes to the general university reform under way for now already eight or more years. She could not see any reason for dropping that important aspect, namely how to treat materials, how to work with them. She saw it as being most essential for any future art teacher or for that matter for any artist. To her it is essential to have knowledge about the materials one is working with.


Studio at University of Art, Berlin                                             Photo: Boudewijn Payens


When students start to study art, they risk a lot. There is no guarantee that they will have afterwards a job i.e. to make it as artists in a society known to be most neglient of the arts and filled at the same time with many more who aspire likewise to become an artist. There is the question how to become known and therefore can exist from one's art works? To make it as an artist, that requires dedication and even deep inside of oneself a kind of call to be an artist who has something to give to society. All this requires a different kind of motivation not based on certainty or conviction in oneself but on being able to live out of uncertainty.

When visiting the various studios, students were bent over their work while music played in the background. The existential background of their being was not self evident but they listened and understood when strangers came into the studio as this was somewhat a break from routine. Jula Dech did reflect upon this when she remarked usually students and professors do not like to be disturbed by visitors. For such work out of dedication does require concentration and therefore most natural is the wish not to be disturbed. Surprisingly no one objected really to our entering unannounced into the studio. It seemed as if curiosity itself was still a key ingredient to do art and therefore potentially open to anyone else who was curious about one was doing.

The visit gave us readily some answers to our curious question about the existence of man in this modern world? Call it existential viewpoint, it does reflect these times in being helpless not only by not knowing how to exist, but due to the very questions being posed by the nature of the arts themselves. Here it has to become clear if studying the arts is merely an answer to not knowing an answer to this question but how to exist in society? Or if it is done out of a wish to bridge the gap between own potentialities felt, but not as of yet developed fully and what needs to be explored further? In that case studies at the University of Art would give such an opportunity.

While seeing students being bent over their particular work or sitting in groups around tables on which were placed architectural models, images of different time became apparent. Was it very different to study at this place when the Berlin Wall was still standing and West Berlin cut off from both East and West Germany?  How do the times now compare with to what is still in front of these students, that is once they have graduated and become either an art educational teacher at one of the many schools or else someone opening up an own studio and trying to live as an artist in society? Especially in the latter case it is a self finding process which at one point or another has to enter the art scene in West Berlin.

Looking back to the times of Jula Dech, the art scene was quite different due to the existence of the wall, the cold war and the student movement and with it a growing Feminism. It left behind traditional art as had been known in Germany before the war, but which has still today some of its legacy in place. For then prevailed a certain kind of Radicalism which invigorated the arts. That then poses the question for contemporary art students but which threads of former artistic traditions should they pick up and perceive in a new light of the present? For Jula Dech DaDa and the photo collages of Hannah Höch were important. A look around in the art scene as presented by the professional galleries may underline the fact that the collage as art form is still relevant today. Thus it may well be a question of how to modernise a tradition of the montage by entering the digital world and how it complicates the same old question, namely what is art and not merely a montage of parts left behind and which no longer form a whole?

A lot can be deduced as well from what student works are on display either in the studios or else hanging outside in those long white corridors.

Student work -  Last supper                                                             Photo: Hatto Fischer

If the arts need to reach out to bring into focus the human being and those subjects which are worthy to be painted (Vincent Van Gogh), then the crucial question for art education is what should shape the curriculum? Any answer from the side of the university administration in interaction with both students and staff is link the guarantee for artistic freedom with academic freedom to teach in such a way, as to open fields to that the arts can and do explore such vital topics, but can the artist still stay honest when doing only abstract work? That question resonates with the aesthetical reflections of Andrej Woron who told Jad upon seeing his work that it is important to work hard on the abstract in order to make it become concrete in some specific way.


Student work                                                                                Photo: Boudewijn Payens

There are many more questions in need to be posed in order to find out what is the state of affairs at the University of the Arts in Berlin and especially how does this conjoin with the new art galleries altering the art market and therefore as well the art scene. If a professor is merely popular by being able to guarantee exhibition possibilities to his students regardless of the quality of work, then this needs to be critically reflected upon. For it is on the one hand a kind of corruption while on the other someone taking a pragmatic approach would say this is not merely creating further going opportunities for the students, but also a way to link academic studies with the practical existence of artists outside the bounds of an university. Alone this possibility to reverse the original question can indicate that many students undergo a huge transformation in the course of their studies as to what was their original dream when taking up studies as an art student, and this especially in a city like Berlin.






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