Art schools are exceptional places. The combination of euphoric, forward-looking creative energy and a pinch of impetuous anarchy that can only be found there is an incomparably valuable treasure. The classes make up the art academy’s core—they are its golden treasure. Its heartbeat is governed by the freedom of ‘artistic teaching’—an irritating term for some, even an elusive mystery, but for the art academy it is an indispensable prerequisite, and yet always proof of the exceptionality of this institutional form.
‘We don’t set assignments.’ This sentence by professor Judith Samen is directly aimed at the core of artistic teaching: ‘What we do is create a free space in which people are free to decide what they do.’ (Prof. Martin Schwenk). An art academy should open up a space for its students in which artistic processes can develop. Its task is—as Winfried Virnich (professor at the academy from 1997–2021) says—to provide that ‘protective, framing and also demanding space’ in which ‘confrontation with one’s own desire is possible.’ Preserving, shaping and constantly improving this protective space is the most important challenge that the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz faces.
The primacy of artistic teaching revolves around the class. Each class is under the direction of an artistic professor. This means that artistic teaching in an art academy is strongly influenced by the class teacher as an individual and role-model. The class is a shared studio, workshop, exhibition space and place of exchange. This exchange is institutionalised in a weekly seminar. Here students present, analyse, discuss and think about freshly created works as well as future projects within the class community; this is where attitudes towards oneself and one’s artistic work can mature. We are proud that this class system has also been anchored in the Landeshochschulgesetz (State University Act) since 2020.
A glance into the past shows that the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz evolved in a short time from a craft-based art department of the University to an art academy structurally oriented towards the other 23 German art academies. In the process, the struggle for the greatest possible autonomy—the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz is part of the Johannes Gutenberg University, while almost all the other art academies are autonomous institutions—has taken on a high priority. With approx. 180 students and 14 professorships (11 subject classes, 1 art theory, 1 art pedagogy, 1 foundation class), the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz is currently one of the smallest in Germany.
The main strengths of the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz lie, on the one hand, in its concentration on artistic subjects, for which it has been able to retain the diploma structure, and, on the other hand, in the close exchange between the theoretical subjects of art education and art theory on the one hand (a subject in which the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz has the right to award doctorates) and the practice-based classes on the other. This reflects a lively theory-practice relationship that is only possible in an art academy. The two closely interconnected degree programmes in fine arts and art education, which are offered here on an equal footing, give the art academy its unique character. For graduates of the education degree programme, the experience of artistic thinking—and the fundamental diversity of artistic knowledge and activity, which is what studio-based studies at an art academy are all about—results in an invaluable basic professional qualification. The development and shaping of aesthetic discourses is a fundamental social task of art academies; by the same token, it must also be carried into schools.
The Academy of Fine Arts Mainz’s philosophy is based on two principles: supporting its students in developing high-quality contemporary artistic approaches and proactively presenting their works to the public—it serves both as a sanctuary and a bridge. The high intensity of the teaching as well as the extensive exhibition and lecture programme are proof of this. Following this commitment, the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz strives to be one of the most important forums for the discussion of contemporary art and culture in Rhineland-Palatinate.
This ambition is also reflected in the recent unification with the renowned Künstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral. In 2021, the Künstlerhaus—previously an institution run by the Rhineland-Palatinate Foundation for Culture—was placed under the responsibility of the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz as far as content, budget and administration are concerned. This means that from now on, the famous residency in Bad Ems is just as much a subsidiary of the Academy of Fine Arts as the academy is a partner of the Künstlerhaus. This is a unique alliance that gives both institutions a singular position in Germany, promoting their international reputation and emphasising the exceptional nature of the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz.
Martin Henatsch, Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts Mainz