Harm Heye Kaninski: initiate processes of re-examinations from a different direction

In which context are you working as an art educator?

HHK: I work as an art teacher at a Gymnasium in Hamburg. Originally, my interest was purely technical and rather undifferentiated, so I applied to the Academy of Fine Arts to study fine arts. From the very beginning I also attended seminars on art history and art education. After what I experienced in my own school days, I could not have imagined at first becoming an art teacher. I came into conversation with Bernhard Balkenhol, whose picture of an art teacher was not what I had experienced before (in my school years) and (from a certain point on) rejected. At the Kunsthochschule Kassel, art educators worked with visual artists in practically the same studios, which is why I also enrolled in art education.

With whom do you cooperate?

HHK: At my school there are in total 5 more art teachers working, each of them studying at different universities at different times and thus representing different approaches. During my practical training, I was also fortunate to be able to work with Dr. Michael Grauer, who in my opinion possesses and communicates an incredibly structured methodology in dealing with the subject and its subjects. Normally I am surrounded by the system school every day. It is not always easy to act as a representative of a classical “exotic subject” there, but it also makes exciting encounters possible.

What is your understanding of art education?

HHK: Art education helps to develop an aesthetic access to the world. By this I do not mean a creative-artistical approach that is misunderstood as an ontological holiday resort, which is to a certain extent to be played off against the cognitive-scientific comprehension of the world. Aesthetic processes also contain high cognitive proportions. They can be extremely complex and require a certain degree of discipline and the courage to cross borders. In other words, art education first and foremost means making aesthetic encounters seem a bit comprehensible.

What is the relationship (for you) between education and art?

HHK: Artistic discourses (as any other discourse in a world of highly differentiated division of labour) have a certain intensity. In an interview with Georg Peez and Werner Stehr, Hermann K. Ehmer mentions Morandi as an example, who spent decades dealing with the colour edges of abstract bottles. With the sufficient time for reception, I can’t even rule out the possibility that viewers will arrive there at some point, who haven’t dealt with the corresponding discourse beforehand. Nevertheless, such works require teaching (which also includes holding a brush in one’s hand) because otherwise art quickly becomes something very elitist.

This is especially true of art, which seems to be accessible at first glance. For example, when I look at Damien Hirst’s exhibition “Treasures from the wreck of the unbelievable” or when Koki Tanaka exhibits films and artifacts of a walk to the nearest nuclear power station, the artist offers me ample opportunity to find a supposedly fast access, settle for it and close my reception. Here I need a dialogue partner who will keep asking questions and thus (at best) initiate the continuation of hermeneutic processes.

Why mediate (contemporary) art? / Why educate people about (contemporary) art?

In my opinion, this is also about cultural participation. I have answered the previous questions with a perspective on the visual arts. One must indeed assume that what has traditionally been described as applied art is undisputedly more present in the everyday culture surrounding us. Nevertheless, it is in this context in particular that it is interesting to include works of art.

Contemporary art in particular always has a history, and an understanding of art also requires a general and art-historical awareness. The teaching of contemporary art is always difficult when one tries to understand it without context, i. e. independently of historical reality and the reality of life. This still happens far too often, especially in schools, as contemporary art is often imparted precisely because it forms one’s own passion, which educators/teachers may not even want to contextualize themselves. Those who do this quickly proceed unilaterally and have thus not only missed a paradigm shift in art didactics, but also in many of the works of contemporary art itself, since many artists work quite deliberately with these contexts or explore their own position in the first place. Ignoring this is to the disadvantage of the learners, as they are denied the opportunity to learn about strategies of questioning self-evident facts, which other specialist discourses can rarely offer. It is not without reason that contemporary art has always been assumed to have the possibility of subversive potential…

In what kind of relationship do you see the practice of curating and educating?

HHK: I try to answer the question from a perspective that corresponds to that of a pure exhibition visitor or an art educator coming from outside, who has little insight into internal processes and is thus rather connected to the group of pupils with whom he visits the exhibition. As such, one may also often appear with a certain “self-interest” in the exhibition, which does not primarily aim to impart the curator’s concept, but often seeks completely different learning objects, just as they seem more coherent in their learning process in view of the pupils’ confrontation up to the point of the exhibition visit. Just as every viewer, despite the curatorial approach and the program of communication, remains free to find his or her own accesses up to a certain point, every now and then an exhibition is allowed to be presented “against the grain”. But that’s the beauty of guided tours or workshops; because what the curator thinks is important, you can also get from explanatory panels and the audio guide. Instead, with the art educator you get a dialogue partner who leads a dialogue in both directions, as he/she is always the recipient himself/herself at the same time. At documenta14, for example, I believe I have observed that visitor-oriented guided tours stand and fall with the skills of the art educators involved.

Why is art education important for a museum or an institution?

HHK: The fact that only a few works of art were comfortable enough to communicate themselves on their own has already been sufficiently explained. I would like to reformulate the question and ask questions about what makes art education in museums important or quite simply successful. During my studies I worked for a while for the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel (here I try to change my perspective on the last question compared to my outside view). Even from an in-house perspective, (I believe) it is possible to follow up on the fact that an examination of works of art is always hermeneutic and one can speak of the fact that dialogue partners who have perhaps already worked out certain contexts are always enriching. Even if one accepts that the work of art itself should in a sense be sufficient as a partner in dialogue, the value of such a third party can be maintained.

From this idea, a museum-based art educator is therefore always successful if he or she succeeds in entering into a lively dialogue with the viewer. This is a much greater challenge in the canon of themed museum tours than in school, as the encounter is much more transient and requires much (more) empathy and intelligence to deal with what is usually completely foreign than individuals and groups.

Where do we find the (institutional) spaces, in which we can have a discussion about our experiences of art?

HHK: Is that a question of knowledge? At first I think of the classical and very formal institutions “school, art association, museum”. It is perhaps interesting to see how these institutions can create additional spaces for this purpose. I could also imagine, for example, that art in public space will develop its own educational institutions in the future.

To what extent can art education and art mediation open up a new sphere of action?

HHK: Good art shows unusual and thus not yet known things. Those who consciously expose themselves to this and allow the resulting irritation, learn to think unfamiliar and not yet known things. Unorthodox thinking leads to unorthodox action. However, this state of irritation has to be endured and transformed into a productive (or destructive) moment. At this point, art education may start.

When do you think art education is successful? When do you think art education is complicated?

HHK: Art mediation has been a success whenever it helps to raise questions in the debate. Nothing is worse than to visit an exhibition and to leave it with the thought that everything is, as you have known before and always assumed. If this happens, it is not only art education that has failed, but also art. Art, on the other hand, is hardly able to defend itself in so far as the exhibition visited, as well as the artists and works of art, occupy themselves with the viewers, and have certainly been selected out of an interest which, in a certain sense, is formed precisely out of their habits and is thus often sought to confirm the already assured knowledge and feeling. This also leads to a limitation of the view, comparable with the filter, which wants to present to me again and again what I already consume in a google search anyway. Here, art education can to some extent intervene and initiate processes of re-examinations from a different direction.

Is there a specific method or strategy you currently work with?

HHK: The best way to understand my strategy is to work in and with structures that I try to convey in school art classes. The aim is to give pupils an insight into the working structures and their fundamental attitudes (towards the world) so that they can try themselves out as much as possible. In the best case this should also lead to a certain sensitivity towards the everyday, institutional or even thought structures in which they are involved.

What are you currently working on?

HHK: I am particularly interested in learning and cognitive processes that arise in connection with artists and works of art. On the one hand, this flows into my teaching development.

Which books and projects are important for your work and why?

HHK: In my work, I can especially let positions from aesthetics or learning psychology flow into my work in a very direct way, since they are the most directly concerned with art perception and learning processes.

Apart from that I like to deal with pedagogical literature, which allows me to think differently in this area. For example, I was impressed by my studies of Nora Sternfeld’s “The Pedagogical Unrelationship”. Today I still find the book interesting, as it was “avant-garde” at that time, because it reflects many of the (learning) settings that I still encounter in everyday school life. At the same time, I like to watch classics such as Theodor Litt’s ” Führen und Wachsenlassen” or Gerd Selle’s ” Kultur der Sinne”.

How do you imagine the future of art education?

HHK: I could imagine more direct interventions in everyday life. Street art, art in public space, architecture, design of consumer goods: topics that affect us all in everyday life, but which only become the subject of education if the institution catches them by becoming part of museum exhibitions or school lessons. I could imagine that much more “wild culture of teaching” is emerging. An example of this is youtube: I observe that in the last few years an increasing number of often film-analytically high quality “reviews” of cinema films and increasingly also series are to be seen. These often receive a large response from five- or six-digit audience numbers and reach a public that is rarely found in an exhibition.

Harm Heye Kaninski, art teacher, studied fine arts at the Kunsthochschule Kassel in the classes of Barbara Hammann and Urs Lüthi, before moving to the University of Kassel to study art and German as a secondary school teacher and then graduated as a master student with Urs Lüthi at the Kunsthochschule Kassel. Worked as a freelancer for the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, trainee at the Marion Dönhoff Gymnasium (Hanseatic City of Hamburg) and as a teacher for fine art and German language. In addition, in 2014-2017 he is responsible for public relations at the Marion Dönhoff Gymnasium.
kaninski_hbk[ et]yahoo. de

Published: 03.01.2018
Interview: Gila Kolb
Image: John Hufnagel, 2018