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An Example 
For C.J. and friends from Chicago U.S.A. and posted after a question at the now offline Forum [Typography] Also referred to at the AIGA website posting on Mentorship.

Tonight I've been thinking about your questions. These thoughts are ideas, not answers. You and your students might find some inspiration in them. They are based on my personal experiences and practice.

Motivation can only be established if we connect students with the subjects they study, the environment they live in and with themselves. Example: Among things, I've been teaching students photography for years. They went through a curriculum from absolute beginner to advanced students. Some students started outby bringing inHasselblad and Nikon equipment, while others only could afford a Kodak instamatic camera with nothing else but one shutter speed and no diafragm. A lot of theKodakowners usually made the most inspiring and imaginative work, just because theybrought into the proces moreability to look and see and love and get into what they were into: an assignment on making a documentairy about the street they lived in. This assignment is one of the jobs I give to students and trainees to make them get a taste of something. I say something, because it does not only give them ideas about photography, or maybe in your case typography, but also about life andtheir place in societyas persons whoare on the edge of going through some sort of initiationby developing a newunderstanding of something that seems so familiar, dull or of little value: Their personal realities.

Convincing students that they have a real value is a subtle task. Let's stay with the above example.

If you want to grow and learn and take your chances, you have to make mistakes. There is no other way. Its like with babies. If theywant to learn to walk they have to fall endlessly and step right up again, until the point has been reached that they can stand on their very own two feet.

People with a background that is full of harsh life experiences, usually have been growing up very fast. They hardly have had the time to Play with things and ideas as life was too demanding. Therefore such beings find it hard to enjoy the nature of research because they find it hard or impossible to make mistakes.

To help students to overcome this situation, we should sometimes use a magic trick to help them out. By travelling this road we can enlighten, from beginning to end,everybody who is involved. Example: One of my students had terrible troublewith finding a personal way to respond to the assigment above. In fact he was frightened to death to go out with the camera on the street. I told him this wasallright and that he should respect his feelings and his situation.I also told him totake care that he should get the best out of this situation by staying true to himself, his feelings, his fears and this situation. I told him to go and search for what I call, the gift inside the situation.

He then decided to make a sequence of portraits of himself in his bedroom, insidehis parentialhome in the streethe was living in. I knew even this was some sort of burden for him, because he lacked a lot of energy too. Now, when eventually the work was done and the footage developed, another thing happened. The filmproved to bedeveloped at a higher temperature than needed, by mistake. All details in his face had become black.

Of course he first hesitated to tell me. But then, when he told me this, I immediately understood some extra effort was needed in order to get him through the night. So, I helped himby printing the negatives on a very special piece of silver bromide photographic paper. Of course this did not change the disaster, but it helped to get more contrast in the image. The image now showed the contours of a young man, sitting in a chair in front of a wall. Very mysterious.

When the time to evaluate all the results of my students came, I aspecially gave praise to the results of this student. Some people now might think that this is some sort of lie or fraudulent act, but I tell you now why this is not the case:

If we, the students and me, were looking closer at this sequence, everybody had to admit thatit had a very, very strange beauty and quality. Not one of the students could exactly tell us why and therefore I started to tell them what my feelings were about these pictures, who had a strange fascination on me and all others involved.

While describing what I saw, it suddenly became clear to me that this work was not about wrong or right, day or night or any other dualism, but about something else. It was slowly and slowly becoming clear that these images were about the revelation of a hidden secret. A secret that had been reveiled by mistake.

Ina flash of understanding I suddenly saw that there could never had been a better portrait, of this student-artist as a young man, than this one. This was his secret reality. A man alone, sitting in a room, and being a person with a face as black as the night. Now, the details of his situation in life are strictly confidential, but you can imagine by now that this form of selfexpression, or selfrevelation,had absolute relevance to subject and assignment.

This example had very great impact on all of my students. By helping them to forget about their fears, to avoid perfection, they improved a great deal during the timeof this event and afterwards. In factit liberatedus all by givingeverybody involved, also me,aninsightin how it is to go beyond any sort of rule, or restriction imposed by others or by ourselves. This set us free.

All discussion about discipline, hard work or dedicationis irrelevant, if you yourself, as a teacher are not the living example. Furthermore: A lot of the usual ideas about discipline, hard work or dedication do not work very well. Why? Obviously because they focus, and thus direct energy,upon the idea that something is wrong about us. Now, education is a very precise instrument. It cannot be effective if it is not tailormade. The only way to turn this situation into a workable solution is to startby turning your students into fellow [re]searcherson their and our personal truths. Howcanwe bothachieve this?

In the ancient world the teacher, the real teacher, the teacher with a value for human beings,was described as a Mentor. A Mentor is a sort of empty mirror, a mirror in which the student can find his own image, eventhe image of himself he or shehas, until now, never seen before. What is this image? Such image isthe root ofhis or her Self, which means that the image we perceive in this mirror is absolutely True. It is not a false or desired image, it is a real or living image, that changes all the time along our lines of growth. A personal, sometimes hidden, but always enlightening truth.

The proces which I described above has a very simple point of departure: An assigment to make a small documentairy about the street you live in. The application and realisation of this assignmentis without any boundaries. Students were absolutely free to do whatever they liked. Some made a lot of work out of it and invested lots of energy, while other only made a few subtle images.

What I tried to do, all the time, was to make them, again and again, understand that there is no such thing as right or wrong, good and bad in design, artor in photography. The only objective I had and have is, that a student, and the teacher, must find a way to connect to their real meaning and values: theirtrue identity.

If such is not the case, if we want to be like somebody else, everything is lost. This is the reason why I always make my students the real heroes and stars of the story. Because they are! They might not know this at the start, or feel uncertain with such status, but my main objective for them is to develop a real sense of pride on who they are and what they stand for.

The only difference with others educators in the proces of helping students to find themselves,usually is... that I am one of the first ones who tells them, shows them, convinces them, makes them understand, connects them to and believes inwho they really are... The effect is enormous.

This examplehas become dear to us all and a lighthouse for the future.Iwishthiswill serve you all.

Go to The Education of a Typographer
Go to Huub Koch's Essay on Type in this Book
Go to The Full List of Contributors to this Book



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