Do you know what your life’s mission is? A question I got asked by several people. This morning I listened to an interview by Grant Cameron (the link goes to a relevant book of his) where he asks the same. A more relaxed way to ask this is: what am I doing here?
I must have been around the age of 3 when I said to my mother “I want to create beautiful surroundings for people”. This has always been the sentence I remembered. The interpretation has varied throughout the years though.
During my earlier childhood, up until my teenage years, I believed I ought to be a landscape architect. This was a rather literal translation of my mission there I did see a landscape in my mind’s eye when I spoke to my mother. I still remember the scenery, in rough brush strokes.
During my secondary school years, it was a big struggle. Too many problems arose around me that kept me from even looking at myself. Basically, I felt as if I was in a survival mode. When I look back, I understand the importance of this period.
During these school years, I let go of my dreams and begun to conform to what others wanted me to be. The rigid school system did not suit me, and I could not accept it. Only when I tumbled out of these seven or eight years of misery, I fell into a much better environment: art schools.
There was a short intermezzo that I will deal with in another post. When I went to my entrance exam at the art academy in Rotterdam, I got my first, what I now call, road sign. An esteemed and known architect, with grey hair and probably between sixty or seventy years of age, oversaw one of the exams. We had to draw a series of wood constructions, three wooden beams ought to be joined together in various ways.
I vividly remember my solution. I drew one vertical standing beam with a (rusted and bent) nail in the top. On both, the left and right side were at a ninety-degree angle, the second and third beam. Each of the beams also had a rusted bent nail on the top hand. A rough piece of rope connected the left beam with the vertical timber, and, the right beam with the vertical timber. The result was a delicate and balancing construction that played with various forces.
I passed the entrance exam, and the architect took me aside. He told me: you should not be here, you should become an architect. He merely loved my solution and said it was rare at his age to see still an original approach. I went ahead anyway but got expelled from the institution a year after. I “should follow like a sheep, or leave” was what the adjunct dean told me. Funnily enough, it was the same adjunct dean who asked my favourite professor at the next art school if I would like to come and teach in Rotterdam. And so it goes…
After Rotterdam, I made a slew of poor choices – again. My short stint in Rotterdam however, had ignited this little spark inside me. Something to do with art or design was my way forward. I applied for the Gerrit Rietveld Akademie and got accepted. This was nothing short of a miracle as I had barely anything to show for. I think it was my sense of humour and my originality that was the reason.
Also in this part of the story a grey-haired man, Jos Houweling, tipped the scales. All of the competing maybe-students wore the typical artsy outfit, except for me. I wore a classic outfit with a tie. My portfolio consisted of some hastily, but well, made drawings and paintings of furniture pieces and abstract paintings. Not impressive to say the least.
Jos looked at me, looked at the material, looked at me again and asked me after some time: when is the last time you visited a museum? With a dead-pan expression, I replied: maybe a year ago. Which museum, he then asked. In all honesty, I said it was the Openlucht museum in Arnhem. He raised his eyebrows and asked, what is your favourite artist. To this question, I replied: Anton Pieck.
He had to laugh, and I started laughing as well. We both knew I didn’t give a shit about fitting in, toeing the line or take it all too seriously. Jos shook his head and said: go, you are through. The next round was easy as I had prepared what they asked me to do, and people liked me. But once more it was the humor or lack thereof as I love to say, which tipped the scales. I finally was in the right place. And it was for some time, but I had troubles to accept the sometimes (often) irrational argumentation by some teachers.
All in all, De Rietveld was my school at the time. I loved it and arrived early and often left at 22:00 when the concierge closed the doors. In all honesty, I cannot recognize what the school has become. From the outside, it looks like an über politically correct institution that acts like a large therapy group session. This is not what an art school ought to be. But the same has happened with most of the academia, in Finland as well.
And this is the right moment to finish this instalment of “Do you know what your life’s mission is?”. The conclusion so far is that I should follow my gut feeling and be myself. All is fine then. The problem was to follow my gut feeling and be myself.