Universiteit Leiden

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How an elective at the Academy of Art enriches your studies

Students who also want to develop their artistic talents can take a year-long art class – Practicum Artium – at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. ‘I can express my creativity and am learning to approach subjects in a visual way.’

As you enter the imposing building on Prinsessegracht, the artistic vibes are almost palpable. Artistic creations – from photos to installations – are everywhere and students are hard at work in studios and workshops.  For many a Leiden student it is a very welcome change: the most important tool is not a textbook, but a paintbrush, camera or design program. And an assignment can grow into a work of art in an exhibition.

This academic year over 50 Leiden students are taking a Practicum Artium-college credits) at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK). They can choose from four art classes: Drawing Dimensions; Painting: Crafting Meaning with Colour; Photography: Visual Conversations; and Graphic Design: Conducting Narratives. From March 2022 students can once again  register for an art class in the next academic year. To do so they must send in a portfolio of their work and an application letter. The second round consists of an interview.

Looking in a different way

Liza Swaving, the Practicum Artium coordinator at KABK, explains the benefits of the course. ‘University students learn to look at objects in a completely different way than they are used to. Last year, for instance, we had a student on the photography course who was dealing with gender in her university studies. With us she studied gender in a visual way rather than simply consulting academic sources. She made a photo series and a video about the topic. Another student made a photo series about fishing and did fieldwork for it. He went very early in the morning to visit fisherman on their boats because he really wanted to understand their work and do justice to it in his photos.’

Iris Molenaar

Depiction of mental health

Anthropology student Iris Molenaar agrees about the benefits. She took the Graphic Design course last academic year and this year has chosen Photography. ‘For me it’s a great combination: studying at the University and taking a course at the Academy of Art. Here I get to express my creativity and learn to approach subjects in a visual way. That also helps in my Anthropology degree. For the Graphic Design course I designed an exhibition. I chose the narrative of working from home during the pandemic, and used photos of scenes of working from home. For Photography I’m now working on depicting mental health and have taken photos of hands trapped in plastic. Artistic images are a different way of introducing the audience to a social problem. In class we also consider topics such as power relations in front of and behind the camera. Photographers have power because they can decide on and manipulate the picture. What does that mean for the people portrayed? That is an important question that is also asked in Anthropology.’ 

Interdisciplinary mix 

Students from both the University and the Academy of Art take part in these Practicum Artium classes, says Swaving. The Academy students don’t necessarily have more experience because a course such as Drawing Dimensions is not part of their regular programme. ‘Students find the interdisciplinary mix of programmes, cultures and interests really valuable. They discuss each other’s work each week and the different perspectives are really useful and fun.’ 

Creating a joint exhibition

Alongside Practicum Artium Leiden students can also take lectorates at the KAKB for which, in contrast to Practicum Artium, there are no admission requirements. The ‘Exhibition Research Lab’, for instance, where they learn how to design and curate an exhibition. Swaving: ‘On the one hand, they learn the theory about creating an exhibition and, on the other, they create their own exhibition: they make their own works of art, write the texts and organise the opening. That also produces surprising results each year.’ 

Text: Linda van Putten
Photo above article from a blog by Wilke Geurds

The Royal Academy of the Art The Hague is the oldest academy of art in the Netherlands. The Academy’s predecessor, the Confrérie Pictura, was established back in the 17th century, in 1682. The intensive collaboration between Leiden University and the new Academy of Creative and Performing Arts began in 2001.

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