Friday, 11 May 2012

Be Like Water. Or Anouk.

Construction Week at la Tour des Templiers, HYERES FRANCE © Anouk Kruithof

As a teacher I'm constantly trying to find words to get those light bulbs on in the students heads. Or keep them burning. Since the student population is diverse and their backgrounds and former education differ greatly, I have to use different metaphors and examples to make them understand on a deeper level what I'm talking about. Of course I just could tell them what to do and how to do it, but where is the fun in that? I've had several teachers who were that 'old school' and, let's face it, some of the art schools nowadays are still teaching according to that principle. 'Just do as I do, only a little different and you're fine…' Ugh!

The trick, of course, is to find a balance between motivating and challenging the student on one hand and offer enough support and guidance on the other. Sometimes I just bluntly say to a student what to do, against my own principles and beliefs of what good teaching should be:

'Just do it like that.'


'Because I say so.'


'Trust me, if it doesn't work you can kick my ass.'


Construction Week at la Tour des Templiers, HYERES FRANCE © Anouk Kruithof

But most of the time I try to find the right words and images to inspire the students to find their own solution. Metaphors are very important in this matter, because it will shift the attention and shows the topic in a different perspective. Since everybody is sensitive to different metaphors I sometimes explain the same topic three of four times in a row, using different words and images until I see a majority of the group 'turned on'.
I think it's a heritage of my first teaching experiences, which was in the field of Tai Chi Chuan and other martial arts. Metaphors are widely used there, because you talk about things that can be felt within the body, but are very difficult to comprehend with your mind. Bruce Lee had a classic one:

Construction Week at la Tour des Templiers, HYERES FRANCE © Anouk Kruithof

"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

If I have to think about someone within the field of photography who adapts this principle beautifully, it's Anouk Kruithof. Every time she amazes me with her constant flow of projects and ideas. She adapts to her environment, whether it is Berlin or New York and uses the people around her for inspiration and context. Her projects are light and playful, but also profound and serious at the same time. I think that are very important qualities if you want to survive nowadays in the ever changing world of art and photography. So my ultimate advice to my students would be: be like water. Or like Anouk.

Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.


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