German Art World

Art Education in Germany – A Free Space for Creativity

Felix Kraus und Bianca Kennedy mit ihrem Modell „Life 3.0“; © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/Anne-Kathrin GebertDetailed view of the “Life 3.0” model ; © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/Anne-Kathrin Gebert

The name speaks for itself - the course of study entitled Free Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich gives its students a maximum of free space for their development. Just how much creativity this unleashes can be seen at the annual summer exhibition. The students like this freedom - but they also have to have the stamina to take it.

A boy reaches for the key in the keyhole of the cupboard door and gives the artist a questioning look. “Yes, of course, you may open the door,” says Minyoung Paik. The young Korean woman is in the ninth term of a course in sculpture under Gregor Schneider. On the first day of the annual exhibition she delighted visitors with her piece entitled Gefrier-Schrank (Freezer), which at first glance appears to be a common or garden farmhouse cupboard - until you look inside and see that it contains pullovers that are frozen.

The old building at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich; © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/Anne-Kathrin Gebert“A short while ago I had to move into a tiny one-room place,” explains the 30-year-old. “That is why I had to rent a basement room from a self-storage company to keep all my things in. In order to prevent the things stored there from going mouldy, they keep the basement as cold as a refrigerator. Whenever I went there to get some clothes or books, they were as cold as ice. That is how I hit upon the idea for the freezer piece.

To study or not to study – also a financial decision

Accommodation in Munich is expensive, a course of study at the Academy however meanwhile only costs 111 euros per term - very little, indeed, as Minyoung Paik finds. In Seoul, where she used to study textile design, she had to pay the equivalent of 3,000 euros.

Paik also thinks studying in Munich is also better than studying in Seoul. The training you receive in South Korea is much more regimented. At the Academy, in contrast, she can do exactly what she wants to do. “We have a lecture, when the professor decides to have a lecture,” says Paik, “Sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month. Most of the time we work on our own. When we have a discussion with the members of the course, you can take along a design concept, material or even a finished piece of work to show the others. There are lectures on different subjects, but they are not compulsory, you just go to them if you happen to be interested in that particular subject. You are totally free to choose yourself.”

Die koreanische Bildhauerei-Studentin Minyoung Paik/ Gefrorene Pullover im „Gefrier-Schrank; © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/Anne-Kathrin Gebert; Montage: T. Köster

Self- management is the order of the day

“If you want to learn something about a particular technique, you have to go to one of the workshops,” says Felix Kraus, who is in the twelfth term of a course in art education. “It is not a case of the professor showing you how to use a paintbrush. When we have a group discussion we analyse our works, at best a few suggestions for improvement are made. It is up to you, if you want to polish up your technique; that is the whole point - you work on developing your own style.”

At the same time, however, Kraus is fully aware of the benefits to be had from classic instruction and assessment, “It structures the course. And you are trained in theory. You learn where to locate your own works in the realm of history of art. This is important for your own, free work.”

Welcome to the year 2998

Kraus reduced the compulsory program and for two and a half months spent every minute of his free time on a project for the annual exhibition entitled Life 3.0 - in collaboration with Bianca Kennedy, who is in the fourth term of a course in media art. They constructed a small town called Stevia. In the year 2998 there are not only people living there, but also hybrid beings that bear the features of humans, plants and animals.

In Stevia there is a “Hybrid Museum” showing the works of fictitious artists - and a “Last Cinema” for people and hybrids who yearn for communal cinematic experiences. In the future foreseen by the art students there are hardly any real places where people can meet or get together, because they have all been virtually replaced by the “Cloud”.

From painting to animated film

Another element of the Life 3.0 project is a film that is made during the course of the exhibition. “For me the story is important,” says Bianca Kennedy. “ I used to paint, then I switched to photography, because I found it much more direct. It was during my studies that I hit upon film, when I was dealing the history of film and came across the stop-motion animation technique. Ever since then I have been totally wowed by it.”

Kennedy went on to say that one can learn the basics in the seminar on animated film at the Academy in Munich. If you want to learn anything beyond that, you have to do it on your own. At the end of 2014 she intends to go to San Francisco for a year with Felix Kraus to hone her skills in the field of animated film. Studying means studying privately and independently – it should at least stay like that if we are to prevent the German “free” Diplom degree from turning into a “regimented” Bachelor’s. 

Art education in Germany

If you want to study art in Germany you do not just need the German higher education entrance qualification, but also some evidence of artistic talent. This takes the form of the course applicants submitting a portfolio containing their work to a board of examiners. The various application processes differ: some academies invite applicants to an additional practical and oral exam, others expect applicants to introduce themselves personally to the professors. More information on this can be found on the websites of the various academies and art schools.

The cost of study at most academies is based on a single charge per term that varies depending on the town. In the state of Lower Saxony at the moment study fees are also being charged on top of the cost of the term. Many schools offer courses that embrace many subjects such as theory (maybe history of art or philosophy), interdisciplinary studies, project groups and workshops in which the students can learn about techniques like silk-screen printing, lithography or metal casting. These additional courses are partly compulsory, partly optional.

Many academies are already offering Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, at others, as in Munich, they are still doing the German Diplom degree. At many art colleges you can also take the Staatsexamen (the German final university examination). Not every academy divides its course into a foundation and main course, with a pre-degree, intermediate diploma awarded in between. In Munich, for example, the graduates are awarded their Diplom after the Diplom exhibition at the end of their course, at the earliest after six terms of study. The standard periods of study also vary from place to place.

Susanne Lorenz
works as an online journalist for the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio and TV) and as a free-lance editor in Munich.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
July 2013

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