Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Open Door Day

This Saturday it's open door day again at the HKU, like in so many other schools this time of year. It's always quite a fuss to organize and it seems that the whole academy is in stress-mode the week before. When I get out of bed early this Saturday I'm sure I can think of a lot of more fun things to do than go to the school and tell the same story a zillion times to shy pre-students and their somewhat assertive parents.

It's funny; at the moment I'm there and I see how good the classrooms look and every department is looking better than ever, it's actually very good to be there. I hear first-graders (who are now studying for three months) talk to the fresh youngsters and their parents like PR pros, explaining better what's going on in the classrooms than I ever can! I finally get a chance to catch up with colleagues and students in between the conversations we have with our visitors and really can show and tell how we try to educate people in a profound way.

I have a reccurring problem during my central presentation though. There they are, all those eager boys and girls who dream of becoming a world-famous photographer and look at Anton Corbijn and Erwin Olaf and think, 'That's what I want!' How do you tell them that that's the exception, and that many of them won't get that far? How do I keep myself for a harsh reality check and crush their dreams before they even start to realise them? Why do I feel the urge to warn them? For what?
Of course the profession of the photographer has changed. It's not like ten years ago (or five years ago, for that matter), where I could tell the audience in the auditorium that most of the alumni will end up as entrepreneurs, owning their own businesses as photographers. Sure, a lot of the graduates will establish their business as independent photographers, but this is changing fast lately. Most of them have side-jobs to make sure they have a steady income. Or they choose to continue their study in a masters course, locally or abroad. Or they start their career as an assistant or apprentice and take it from there. I've seen 'my' students in the creative industry as filmmakers, graphic designers, photo agents, art teachers (hey, that's something I can relate to), or more obscure professions like horse breeders or nightclub owners (actually, the last one isn't true, but you catch my drift).

I know, no, I suspect that if you follow a study at (most) Dutch art schools nowadays, you'll be all right. You will find a way to keep on learning and develop your professional life because you learn how to manage yourself in that way. But at the same time it's a very vague promise: 'trust me, you'll be OK…'

To conclude, I like to refer to a famous TED talk of Sir Ken Robinson in 2006, called 'Do Schools Kill Creativity?' In it he says: "If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue … what the world will look like in five years' time. And yet we're meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary."

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


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