Interview with Laurențiu Ridichie
Tell me a little bit about your experience as a teacher of visual education. I’m interested most of all in your goals, the way in which children react to your teaching approach and also to you as an artist.
There is a hierarchy in schools between ars liberalis and ars mechanica which seems as if it has been maintained since the Renaissance. The last place in this hierarchy belongs to visual education, right behind musical education. This subject is looked upon as something laughable, kept alive mostly to fill the teaching norms of tenured teachers in case some of them are left without any classes because of drop-outs. Whenever I receive classes, I feel they’re offered to me out of pity. Such classes are usually held by the principals, Math, Biology, Music teachers etc., so that visual education classes have virtually disappeared. In the past five years, I’ve taught at eleven schools, most of them on the outskirts of Cluj or in nearby villages. It’s very difficult to work in such schools because I’m constantly looking to innovate my methods and students tend not to pay attention for more than a couple of minutes. Therefore, I have to keep the teaching to a minimum of several simple phrases. Their unfocused participation males their works look like sketches, but that doesn’t bother me (it does bother the principals, who would like to decorate the school walls with them). However, their refusal to do anything else throughout the remainder of the class leads to mayhem and bothers those who want to continue working, including myself. I’m constantly on alert to prevent any play-related injuries and my nervousness prevents me from working properly with the other students.
When I became a teacher, my aim was to work with all the students and not create a context which unwittingly leads to a selection among the pupils and seemed elitist to me.
The children generally look down on the teachers, and the pupils from villages have their minds set on leaving to the big city, where they believe the teachers are better. A sixth grader once told me I had to be a mediocre artist. I asked her how she knew that, since she hadn’t seen any of my works. She replied: “If you were any good, you wouldn’t have come to work here”.
What do you believe to be the role (or/and goal) of art in the education of children and teenagers?
Initially, I thought the goal was to pump enough knowledge to eliminate the illiteracy surrounding visual arts. Artists cannot blame society for its lack of understanding if they don’t get involved in education. Faced with the capitalist context in which such knowledge is useless, I aimed to develop the student’s creative abilities. Visual education is especially suitable for such a goal, since it has more permeable rules than other subjects. The increasing hardships brought on by Romanian capitalism made me attempt to awaken the political conscience through various jocular ways that would get pupils to relate to certain topics. I try to get them to think about other areas, such as the political and social ones or the public sphere, so that they can at some point take a critical (or non-critical) stand through creative visual means.
From my more limited experience of working with high-school students, I noticed that many of them are more aware of the current socio-political issues than I was at their age. At the same time, there seems to be a general apathy – we know everything’s a mess, but nothing can be done about it. In this context, to what extent can art and artistic education function as stimuli for rebellion and action among teenagers?
When I was teaching high-school, I met very few socially aware students. Most of them were more interested in the latest cell phones or socializing with classmates. During my first year of teaching, when I was approaching different ways of triggering creativity, I came across drawings which reflected political topics influenced by the media, as you can see in the exhibition Lecția ca vernisaj (The Lesson as a Gallery Opening) from the school gym and in other drawings from 2009 posted online. There you can see, for instance, how the media reflected on the energy issue between Europe and Russia at that time. Those drawings had a significant impact on me and were a major influence in my teaching approach.
For about four years I’ve been teaching grades 5 to 8. I took advantage of students’ lack of respect for teachers and their subsequent freedom of expression and introduced them to topics that might remove them from the traditional sphere they had been used to (painting Easter eggs, Christmas etc.). These new topics functioned as creative and reflective exercises in relation to areas that do not usually preoccupy them at their age. One of the experiments was The Activist School, which started two months before the protests in January 2012, anticipating the social tensions. The Activist School is a broader project where we developed various topics: Genetically Modified Organisms, Self-management, May 1st, Monuments, The Participatory Budget in Schools, Save Roșia Montană, Animal Freedom, CCTV Cameras in Schools, A Day in the Life of the President etc. This is where the idea for The School of Activist Painting in Cluj originated; as an awakening of both artistic and activist consciences, by creating banners behind the scenes at the protests in 2012. The intention was an ironic opposition to the school of bourgeois painting in Cluj, tucked away in workshops, galleries and museums at that time, but it was neutralized and turned into an extension of the latter. During the Activist School I aimed for the development of critical thinking, using the social tensions which ignited protests in other countries as well. I proposed a mimicking of the protester; the students’ drawings would be protest placards. Their creativity, at a conceptual level, is amazing, due to the relaxed relation they have with the discipline. After they were finished, some students refused to show their drawings, maybe because of certain fears or a lack of confidence in their work stemming from their exposure to traditional models. They threw them in the trash can and I had to pick them up from there.
Interview conducted by David Schwartz