het Theater Festival

María Acaso: ‘Art isn’t the privilege of the cultivated artist’

wo 09 sep 2020

Ways of Working with Art Thinking is an online talk by María Acaso in which she investigates the performative possibilities of education. Art and education are intermingled to the point that they become indistinguishable. Performance is vica versa an educational event in essence. And this is how it should be: the barrier between art and education needs to be knocked down.

Nina Cools

‘The online talk has nothing to do with the market of art.’ For Maria, art is not about objects but about the process of thinking that it brings into being. ‘The goal of Art Thinking is to generate knowledge in a different way, away from logical structures. This mechanism can give us multiple solutions to a single problem because different people will have different approaches. Through critical thinking we can achieve creative knowledge that isn’t easy to put in rigid categories. Art Thinking is not limited to artists but quite the opposite: everyone can implement this strategy into their lives, right here and right now.’

Sitting in a chair, quietly, and by and large being an impassive subject is not the way to generate knowledge. ‘This is why we need to implement Art Thinking into our classrooms. And not just as a strategy for art teachers, but also as a way to learn maths, languages and history. Teachers need to discover themselves as artists: every classroom is like a small theatre. Designing a classroom is like creating a play. We need the same tools, we need the creativity to make students into artists. If teachers understand themselves as performing artists, and see their students as artists, the whole thing will be inspiring. What artists make in the theatre, they can do that in school.’

Watermelon in class

Maria used to be a teacher herself and used to implement her theory of Art Thinking into the classroom. She explains: ‘One example of putting it into practice was that I would enter the classroom with a big watermelon in my hands and then put it on the floor. That’s all. Instead of putting the watermelon in the fridge at home, it is better if you bring it into your classroom.’ This act would disrupt the expectation of her students, who were all baffled for a moment. ‘Inserting a disrupting object, or whatever you think is strange, into a daily situation is starting to implement the theory.’ The disruption of everyday life causes estrangement and opens up the possibility to think about (or rather re-think) the habits that we undergo each day.

Now Maria works as head education of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. The Uruguayan artist and curator Luis Camnitzer, who inspired Maria’s theory and talked about the informal area between theory and craftsmanship (a.k.a. Art Thinking), held an exhibition in the Reina Sofia museum in 2018. ‘We decided to design a classroom in the middle of the exhibition and would have classes where students were taught at the same time as the public was visiting the show’, Acaso explains. ‘Most of the public would think: “What is happening here? Why are there tables and people here?”.

Even at home, Maria still puts theory into action with the education of her kids. ‘One time when they were younger, we put a lot of candies in the water during bath time. They had this strange moment of going to the bath with all these candies around. We would start thinking What are candies? Are they healthy?”, striking up a conversation about something in the core of our life, namely sugar. Anytime and anywhere, you can bring a disruptive object into a habitual situation and generate knowledge. It is really easy to do. But you have to allow yourself to do it. You have to have creativity.’ 

We are all artists

‘Crucial for this pedagogical shift is the realization that an artist isn’t the lone genius, as they are often portrayed, creating in their ivory tower. More often, the artist is a collaborator, surrounded by other people, working on different projects. We are all artists. Or rather, we should all strive to become artists. When we rethink what it means to be an artist, we automatically also change the definition of what it is that entails a cultural production. Anyone can make a cultural production. It is the theatre piece and the novel, but it is also the making of a meal, the designing of a garden. Art isn’t the privilege of the cultivated artist. Art cannot only be found in the museum. Waking up and choosing an outfit is a cultural production in sich. It is about colour and shapes. The definition becomes much more open.’ 

‘Theater institutions, such as Kaaitheater, have a crucial responsibility in bringing about this pedagogical shift. Theaters need to see and profile themselves as places of education, not just places of pleasure – although the two are interconnected. We derive pleasure from aesthetics and knowledge is connected with pleasure and entertainment. It is crucial that we invite teachers into the theatre so they can take home the experience and implement it into the classroom. Teachers need to start seeing themselves as cultural producers. We need to make education sexy again: it should be inspiring. The pleasure of knowledge needs to be rediscovered. We have to make schools more sexy.’


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