How would you like to learn art?

Lakshmi Karunakaran

In this edition of Teaching and Learning Moments, Anna Okrasko talks about her experience of art education in Poland, Spain and the Netherlands and why she thinks teachers need to become more open to experimentation in the classroom.

ania Anna Okrasko graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. She did her Masters in Fine Arts at the Piet Zwart Institute, Netherlands. Her work has been presented in individual and group shows internationally to critical acclaim. She has been awarded several scholarships including a scholarship by the Vordemberge-Gildewart Foundation. More recently she was a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart and at Artist in Residence Laboratory at Warsaw.

In an interview with Teacher Plus, Anna describes her journey as a student of art, an artist, and a ‘non regular’ teacher of art. Having been a student in a very traditional and in many ways restrictive school of art in Warsaw and then moving on to a more liberal and open-minded school in the Netherlands, Anna believes that art is an expression of the individual self and it is up to the individual to find his/her path to learn art. No teacher can teach art, a teacher can only guide.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

My initial journey
I grew up in a small town in Poland, about 20 kms away from Warsaw. In my primary school, I had the most conservative art classes. Our art teachers would take our pencils or brushes from our hands and correct our paintings. Both art and the perception of art were highly controlled. There was no room for experimentation. Then, in our community there was an artist who was from Krakow. I started going to her for a couple of hours every week. I feel she was my first teacher. She emphasized a lot on observation. She asked us to observe things around us and draw them. Though we were quite young, she wanted us to become keen observers. I went there for several years week after week. I loved going to this studio. I loved the smell of the studio, I loved the quietness that I felt in it. This I feel was the time that I enjoyed painting the most. A year ago her other students and I organized a group exhibition to pay tribute to her and her work.

After high school I went to the art academy, and this was singularly the most horrible experience of art education I had with teachers. Their method of teaching art has remained hyper conservative. My painting teacher, with whom I had to work for a year, looked at my paintings in our first meeting and decided I was terrible. You know these teachers are really old and they stay in the academy all their life, many of them don’t really have an artistic career beyond teaching. They don’t have exhibitions, and I feel they remain extremely frustrated. But as a young aspiring artist such acidic criticism shattered my confidence.

Teachers only guide
Later, on a scholarship I went to Spain and something changed for me there. The scholarship allowed me to relax. I finally realized I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. And just being able to break down all my preconceived notions about art, slow down and just be, helped me a lot. I started to experiment more. I experienced more freedom.

If I had to advice a teacher about art education, I would say make the space for children to experiment, allow them to make mistakes and learn by themselves. Encourage them to go out, experience something, and then try to organize it. If the student is fascinated with cinema, encourage them to watch films, if they like talking to people, let them talk to people. So the teacher, I feel, needs to mould himself/herself to the taste of the students, all the way encouraging them to walk on their unique path.

You can listen to the complete interview at: http://yourlisten.com/BolHyd90.4/tlm-with-teacher-plusbol-hyderabadanna-okraskolakshmi

The interviewer and writer is an educator based in Bangalore. She can be reached at lakshmikarunakaran@gmail.com.