Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Why Learn Art?

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."
  - Pablo Picasso

All children are naturally talented and creative, the problem is that too often their wings get cut by teachers, family and society striving to make them fit into artificial categories of good art vs.bad art, intelligence vs.ignorance, talent vs. non-talent, regardless of the harm that this does to their self-confidence and creative potential.

Especially for children between 5 to 10, creativity should be about experiencing different mediums, playing, having fun, making a mess and making mistakes.

Some kids will show skills in drawing, others in colouring, others in crafts, and others in understanding theoretical concepts – all are equally valuable, thus we must support each child’s unique interests, as well as nurture their natural talents and individuality.

Children’s development is also very different: some kids will be seemingly quicker learner than others, but learning is not so much in a straight line, and high scores do not necessarily define intelligence, intelligence is a lifelong pursuit and often requires time and practice, as well as life chances and opportunities. And academic success is nothing without creativity and out of the box thinking; most of those we today call “geniuses” in fact were often outcasts which failed at traditional education and standardized tests.

So why should kids learn art? Not so that they can strive to be the next creative genius, or fulfill the wishes and expectations of teachers and parents, children should learn art because it will teach them to see the world from multiple perspectives, be creative thinkers and problem solvers, because it can show them how to actualize ideas and how to navigate a future which is often precarious and constantly changing; and last but not least, because it is fun!

And while it is true that not all children will grow up to be the next Frida Kahlo, an art education will prove to be an asset to any career path: whether this will be in finding the cure for cancer, or a job that helps tackling the many social injustices of the world.

Friday, April 20, 2018

So You Want to Study Art, Design or Film in Switzerland? – Better Have a Great Portfolio Ready! By Amanda J. west

Before applying to any of the Art, Design or Film degrees in Switzerland or for that matter internationally, you will need a really top notch portfolio. A “Foundation Design Course” or “Gestalterische Vorkurs” is offered in many Cantons in Switzerland. It is a high quality year long program, during which an extensive portfolio is produced. The course is divided into four sections- Basics, Orientation, Focusing, and Extension.

Basics include drawing and painting lessons. Students are taught the different ways of working with plastic and sculptural materials and ways to deal with the perception of form and space. In the drawing and painting lessons, artistic-creative methodology is tested, and personal style is developed. Working with a sketchbook and logbook is an important part of the training from the start. This part of the course includes: Digital Media, 3D objects in Space, using metal, wood, clay, plaster. Animation. Drawing, Painting, Documentation and Presentation.  Art History, Screen Printing, Photography and Bookbinding.

In the Orientation courses students gain insights into the creative fields that deal with writing and typeface design in various optional courses that include: Product Design, Textile Design, Video, Illustration and Scientific Illustration, Graphics, Ceramics, Fashion Design, Photography, Interior Design, Digital Media, Jewellery Design, Typeface, Computer Documentation and Presentation, as well as technical theory.

In the Focus section students decide on their specialization. The choices include Animation, Video, Camera Arts, Digital Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Art and Media, Sculpture and design of objects, Textile Design, Jewellery design or Interior Design. The students research, design and work on independent projects in the chosen field. This strengthens ability and depth of knowledge before applying for a bachelor’s degree.

Extension is the last module where a deepening of insights is acquired through the production of an extended 3D project. The students are also assisted in the admission procedures for their desired University Study. To conclude the course an annual exhibition takes place.

Aargau offers the Foundation Course at the “Schule für Gestaltung Aargau” in Aarau, and residents of Aargau get a reduced price of the tuition fees.

The “Zürcher Hochschule der Künste” offers a “Gestalterisches Propädeutikum”- also partly funded for those living in Canton Zürich.

A popular choice for the Foundation Course is at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. More expensive for out of Canton Students, but the school of Art and Design has an excellent reputation.

All the schools offer open days during the year, and it is well worth it to go and have a look to see which environment you feel most at home in.

For most applications you will need to submit a portfolio in the January of the year of study. You will also have to do a drawing exam at the school once your portfolio has been accepted.

You can see what students think about the Foundation Course at Lucerne in this video:-

Once you have spent that year producing an amazing portfolio showcasing your talent- you can use it to apply not only to Swiss Universities, but to get into Art and Design courses all over the globe.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Amanda on Architecture.

Zaha Hadid the Iconic Woman Architect of our Time.

I cannot remember when I first became aware of Zaha Hadid, but I will always remember the shock of hearing of her untimely death in March 2016. An indomitable creative force smashing all the glass ceilings, she was a true pioneer and role model for women architects. I felt crushed for weeks following her death, and after reading all the obituaries written by her close friends, I understood the enormous stress she endured in paving the way for women architects, and the terrible toll it took on her health.

Zaha Hadid was born in Bagdad in 1950 and graduated from the famous Architectural Association School of Architecture in 1977.  Yasmin Shariff’s description of her in an article following her death brought home to me how strong Zaha’s spirit was from the start:-

“I will never forget the day I sat outside the principal’s office hearing raised voices. Zaha appeared, tears streaming down her face, angry and shaking. Her work wasn’t considered good enough and she stormed out of that office determined to “show them”, and show them she did – winning the coveted AA Diploma prize in 1977; the Pritzker prize in 2004; the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling prize in 2010 and 2011, and last year the Riba royal gold medal.”

Zaha’s buildings redefined our ideas of what was possible in architecture, yet she faced continual criticism in the media. Every positive piece written about her seemed to be countered by many others that cast doubt on her abilities. All women architects of our generation, I think can empathize with such hostile reactions, having had to face the same ourselves, albeit on smaller scale. Sadly, even other women gave her negative reviews. I found Lucy Kellaway‘s interview in November 1995 for “Lunch With the FT” particularly acerbic. Perhaps that is the time I really took notice of Zaha Hadid for the first time, working myself at that moment on a large hotel design and facing continual obstacles from all sides.

Kellaway focused on the way Zaha was dressed “Zaha Hadid looked all wrong”, and the fact that most of her work had not been built- not true- she had few buildings in the UK- but she had projects all over the world at the time. Kellaway did at least write one small paragraph that struck a chord. “She started to explain that what matters about a building is not what it is made of, or any of the details, but the space itself. “Good space transcends taste and values. It’s a weird, mystical thing. It‘s very difficult to achieve, but you know when you‘ve got it.””

Hallelujah to that!

To understand the genius of Zaha Hadid‘s buildings is to move through them. Technology was unable to convey the true quality of her work early in her career, but as CAD developed she was able to take us on journeys through her buildings. Since that is the best way to experience them, I have included some walk-through‘s for your contemplation.

Bee‘ah Headquaters in Sharjah. UAE  

The Dubai Lighthouse and Pier Project   

Changsha Meixihu, China

….and one from the practice itself in 2014 that reflects on their design philosophy in their own words.

In closing I include a quote from Hugh Pearmanarticle from the Sunday Times on 4 June 2006, titled “Iraquitect: Zaha Hadid commands the Guggenheim, but remembers her roots”

“Whatever you think an architect looks like, whatever you think an architect does, wherever you think an architect comes from, disabuse yourselves of those notions. And consider instead Zaha Hadid, the most extraordinary success story that this notoriously volatile profession has ever produced.

Women traditionally don’t rise to the top in architecture – not on an international level. Not in the stratosphere where Zaha now exotically moves, where a handful of global superstar architects is constantly airborne like some design equivalent of a nuclear deterrent. Women don’t get invited into that club. And as for a notoriously short-fused, allegedly tyrannical, hugely imaginative and sometimes sweetly charming woman from Baghdad of all places – no, that script would be turned down by Hollywood as just too inherently implausible. Besides, no actor on earth could play the mercurial Zaha.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Introduction to "Amanda on Architecture."

The concept of the artist that we have today, usually male, white, mad, divinely inspired by God and working alone, was constructed in the context of the Renaissance and the Italian city-state, in particular, in their need to politically establish themselves and their influence over other city-states. Art thus, was used as tool to display a city’s/region power and status, wealthy families such as the Medici in Florence, therefore, commissioned art not only because they loved and appreciated beautiful works, but as strong political statements.

Cities such as Florence, thus, became prolific centers for the promotion of artists as a way to secure the prestige and influence of a particular region.

Women, in this historical and political context, were not allowed to practice as artists, nor to pursue an education in the arts, those who did, were usually from wealthier families and dabbled in art as a hobby but not as a profession.

An exception to this was Artemisia Gentileschi - a Baroque Roman painter - the daughter of an established artist – Orazio Gentileschi – managed to become a professional artists working and making a living from her art.

Although today it is still difficult for women to become established in a field that for so long has been dominated by men, there are nevertheless an increasing number of successful female artists.

Yet, while I can relatively easily list female painters, I struggled to come up with names of famous architects; this is why I asked Amanda to write a blog about women architects.

An architect herself, originally from South Africa, Amanda currently lives in Switzerland. She teaches an evening class and is due to begin a course of 10 classes on architecture, as well as a workshop on urban planning.

In her blog “On Architecture” she discusses the work by Anya van der Merwe, and in particular, a project called Tree House.

When looking at this work, I wondered if the architects had been inspired by Gothic architecture and in particular the fan volts of English cathedrals and especially Exeter's multi- ribbed ceiling.

Yet, as much as I like Gothic architecture, I think that the tree house approach is perhaps more honest, as it provides a solution that tries to co-exist and blend the inside space with the outside environment, not to dominate it, diminish it, nor transcend it.

I also wondered what might be the challenges of a female architects working today; one challenge may be that they have no other role models than the narrow ones provided by history and the past. Another one may be how to assert themselves in a field that is already so strongly established. But perhaps, the real challenge for female artists and architects today, is not so much  how to fit in and strive into a pre-existing milieu, but is how to carve a new one, one that celebrate new methodologies and more harmonious and integrative ways of creating space, while at the same time allowing for multiple voices, ideas and perspectives to co-exist together.

Amanda on Architecture

Anya van der Merwe of Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects (VDMMA)

In my introduction to architecture lesson I talked about a house in Cape Town called Tree House, which was designed by VDMMA in 1999, and marked a turning point in the career of Anya van der Merwe, who is one of the directors of the practice. Anya was few years ahead of me, studying at University of Cape Town, and was one of the legendary women students of our generation. I studied at University of kwaZulu Natal, but even from so far away we were inspired by her bold and innovative thinking.

Tree House went on to win the UK Architectural Review’s International Competition, beating nine hundred other designs from around the world. In 2013 the SABC’s Top Billing featured the Tree House, with Anya and Macio giving a personal tour of the house.

In 2012 Anya was the first woman architect in South Africa to receive an AIA Lifetime Achievement Award for architecture.

Tree House remains one of my personal favourite house designs, because, apart from being so innovative in it’s structure, it also gently and beautifully fits into the “Spirit of Place” of it’s site. The canopy of umbrella pine trees provided a starting point in the design, and are referenced throughout in the structure.

The innovation in the structure of this house lies in the way the tree like columns support the roof structure, allowing the enclosing transparent steel and glass walls of the house the freedom to be placed independently from the main structure. Space can thus flow easily and the plan is able to take up a life of its own. The house itself becomes tree like, offering a canopy of shelter, and rooted into the ground, but at the same time bringing nature right into the spaces. The feeling is one of living in a tree and being one with nature.

For more information About Amanda Jane West please see: 


For more info on Amanda's 10 lessons course on architecture 
 and urban workshop - please see:

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Have it All

 "Luce Irigaray accepts that women do not have the phallus. But she counters this with her claim that women in effect do not need the phallus: women have something else: the two lips. Women have essence of being by virtue of their anatomy that has its own integrity, its two-ness which is always folding back on itself."
-- Frances Gray  in Jung, Irigaray, Individuation: Philosophy, Analytical Psychology, and the Question of the Feminine. 
The "we have it all" in this painting is used in a sarcastic tone, but on the other hand, it does also assert that women actually do HAVE it all! I think that as an artist it is important for me to express my point of view  in my work, as well as my political motives - if I didn't, I would be giving my power away. However, with the mirrors I also try to  keep the painting fluid, flexible and open to interpretation.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hand Painted Hearts ♥

I love these ...

 They are available for purchase both at JArt Studio-Gallery as well as online: