© 2020 – 2022. 2chairs artspace

A talk with Sarah Schultz

Hi Sarah, nice to see you at 2chairs. You have done a lot of things on your professional path to your own artistic practice. Could you please describe your way step by step?

I grew up in Berlin - Kreuzberg in the bohemian Art scene. Since early childhood, it was clear to me, that I wanted to be an artist. It appeared to me that these people were full of visions and ideas, full of drive to change society in a positive way, and always exuded a touch of freedom and informality.

After school, I started working for a photographer specializing in a black-and-white lab and art catalogues. His studio was located near UDK and many artists and professors use the photography studio's services. During this time I photographed and experimented with shooting and developing pictures manually in the lab. I challenged materials and technology with extreme light and time experiments and was most fascinated by the random results.

Soon thereafter I studied computer graphics for print media and web design and temporarily worked in an advertising agency. Some years later I moved to Brandenburg and started to study art, philosophy and religious education for teaching at the Universität Potsdam.

I'm currently in my 13th year of teaching in a German public school in a rural context. Additionally, I organise professional development opportunities for art teachers in the state of Brandenburg. I teach figure drawing at the Volkshochschule Bad Belzig. During all of this I painted and I finally studied studio art with a focus on painting at the Akademie für Malerei Berlin. I'm currently enrolled at "Kontext Schule" a professional development opportunity offered by UDK Berlin, that focuses on the intersectionality of art and society.

In other words, now you're sitting on two chairs. What is a teaching part about for you? Can you call teaching the driver of your own artistic practice?

I started my teaching carrier in a school where most of the students were of low socioeconomic status. Teaching was hardly possible there. Most students had not experienced school as an institution that creates opportunities but rather prevents social mobility. Consequently, the students projected their contempt for society towards me. I felt like I was sitting between so many chairs. I was neither able to fulfil my role as a teacher nor was I able to build a meaningful relationship with the students. I was trapped. Additionally, the school management wanted to see good results. Everybody was pushing for their agenda. I was empathic with my students and yet was pressured to deliver the curriculum.

I found the work as a teacher to be dreadful in the first few years. I only survived in the school context to make money for my art. Gradually I realized that embracing the misery I experienced in the classroom could be made comprehensible by turning it into my subject matter.

I started to paint some large-scale formats with the blank and uncomprehending looks of the students that sat in front of me every day. Originally I had planned for this to be a short-term exploration. It was supposed to be a one-time thing to psychologically distance myself from it. But it was the beginning of a creative wellspring that is still bubbling up today. Luckily, I now also experience many positive and funny moments that become occasions for painting. However, my pictures rarely refer to concrete situations, but illuminate a more abstract level. I take a critical, artistic approach to education, so teaching is a means to an end.
That sounds like you find a lot of inspiration in the interaction with children and young people. Please tell us about your series "Educational institutions – what happened there and why?", from which two works are represented at 2chairs artspace.

I work with children, teenagers and adults. I'm a teacher and a student. There is so much to learn from everyone if you are ready. I prefer to see myself as a moderator, as someone who arranges learning opportunities and of course also has background knowledge. But what happens when the so-called lessons are actually unpredictable and depend on so many factors?

It can also be the case that the students simply don't get on board, either deliberately or due to a lack of being able to connect. As a teacher I have to be flexible mustn't feel personally attacked. It is an enormous challenge to remain professional at all times. What is happening there and why, on the one hand, sheds light on the main purpose of schools: wanting to educate people to become valuable members of society. Namely according to the tripartite principle based on the classes. Germany operates within a completely hierarchical system, which is outdated at its best. However, so much happens that is unplanned, interpersonal and, if you give the space for it, so much that is beautiful, funny and valuable.

It took me a long time to put it into words like that. Here, too, the painterly approach to the examination of the subject matter helped me. Society has evolved, but schools are lagging behind. The students notice that and don't feel addressed. The educated middle class, from which the majority of teachers come, do not know how to reach the children in order to empower students to become responsible citizens. The students are of the generation where the parents hide smoking pot from their children and the children choose what is eaten. It's a generation clash between teachers, in their 60's and students.
As a teacher, one can quickly get the impression that the students have less and less agency. I think that what they can do is simply not questioned.

It's not just about art; all teaching units are about coding and decoding. Signs and symbols are created for ease of communication but must be recognized by a large group in order to function. If society drifts further apart, and it does so despite political efforts symbols are circulated that are no longer understood by everyone. To stay with the models that appear again and again in my pictures: social media is a model of reality in which young people find their way around very well. The interpretation of emojis also always brings up different views. I'm having so much fun discovering this. Educational institutions – what happened there and why are there questions to which I am still looking for answers?
I am still searching for answers to what is happening in educational institutions and how students were able to become so disenfranchised.
You're a part of the educational system as a teacher and a student at the same time and understand both sides. Do you see ways in which the educational process can be improved?

We have to enable more participation. In Germany, the social origin is closely linked to educational success. This is where we lose so much talent. Many suggestions for improvement are generally known: starting with hardware, all books and consumables should be provided by the school and be able to be kept there at all times. It should be possible to offer food every day free of charge and in an uncomplicated manner, classes must be reduced in size and taught in teams.

With the help of teachers, students can undertake and carry out their own projects. Students should be able to choose their teachers and vice versa. At the moment there are forced communities for all involved. The great variety of different students from so many different countries and teachers, especially among the so-called lateral entrants should also have a place in schools.

Sarah Schultz, visual artist and teacher, sitting on 2 chairs
Do you remember when you decided to change your life and study art? What (or who) did support you in the decision? What was the most challenging for you?

There was no change because all my education dealt with art. I gained my experiences through trial and error. It be, If I had known that there is a big difference between a man studying to become an art teacher in the early 1980s and a woman and mother in the early 2000s, I might not have studied to become a teacher and could not have so many exciting experiences with learners.

The biggest challenge is to find recognition in the art market as a wife, mother and teacher. I, therefore, experience triple/ intersectional discrimination characteristics. That's why I'm so grateful to you for telling my story here. I would like to say that is of enormous support to me.

How can you describe your artistic method?

I love education and I love to learn, I really like to teach my subjects. I'm interested in so many things, philosophy, social sciences, history, and humans...all of this inspires me to create a new language of form. I am a painter, I simply start intuitively. I often only have a vague idea which gradually becomes concrete in the process of painting. I use the old masters. The history of art is full of symbolism that only the educated and initiated could decipher. Since that is my subject, I use classics from art history and reinterpret them and also invent my symbols, as in "Room With A View" to irritate and unsettle the viewer. The elephant's trunk in "Waiting" is also a strong symbol. In Hinduism, it stands for wisdom and new beginnings, but there is also a saying that there is an elephant in the room which means that a problem cannot be overlooked, but it is not addressed. Both in a school context. My pictures are often ambiguous and I don't have to convey a message. In the end, it has to be right for me. What the viewer sees is not within my power. But Im very interested in the views.

What medium do you like more and why?

My art inspires me to create teaching projects and vice versa. I have been painting and teaching continuously for the past 25 years. If I had a phase in which I painted less, I felt increasingly worse. Well, without painting it's not possible because here I make the criteria that I can follow or not. I decide for myself when I do what and how and can throw it all away again without justification.

There is always a different perspective when teaching. Working with people is incredibly rewarding. Here, too, something new is constantly being created. There must be space for everyone to contribute. As with dancing, one goes to the middle and performed free and cheers on those standing around and lets themselves be inspired. Teaching to bring out the hidden treasures in the participants is also an art form that I would like to further refine. But if I had to choose one thing, I would choose painting. I have gathered enough inspiration to continue working on the topic of education.

Where do you see yourself in a few years? What are your ambitions as an artist?

I hope that the connection between art and social development will become closer. This increases participation in both cultural and socio-political matters. That's what I wish for myself as an artist. More opportunities to stimulate discussion through (my) art (projects).
I also hope to spend more time on art and less on teaching in the classical sense. I hope to stimulate artistic educational processes.

I intend to establish a nude course in my art association and possibly produce new art books. and of course to bring many exciting projects to life, like this 2chairs-art project. I hope that my art will stimulate many people to think about our society and thus start a conversation. This will certainly result in new painting occasions. I find myself in an ongoing process of understanding, which is reflected in my pictures. I hope to have condensed my artistic point of view on this in a few years.

Hope that all your dreams will come true, good luck Sarah! Thank you for coming!