Dr. Prof. Gabriele Oberreuter holds a professorship for art history at the Alanus University of Arts and Social Science. As her student, I was amazed by the enthusiam Mrs. Obereuter would talk about all forms of art and the many exceptional stories she would tell us about the background o the artworks. She is also engaged in organizing interdisciplinary symposia, connecting the theoretical and practical approaches in art.
What makes me happy? That's quite a complex question. What first springs to mind, is that both art and my profession make me happy. I have been able to keep or maintain a childlike enthusiasm, which allows me to acutely observe and impartially be drawn to things, particularly within the realms of art. In these instances, I am able to disregard everything I have learnt about the observation and the meaning of art, and allow a different quality of experience to take precedence. I carry this enthusiasm, which allows me the pure joy of the rediscovery of things, as if I were experiencing them for the very first time, both through my private life as well as my profession. Every lecture I give, encourages me to reengage with a given topic in a new and different way. I am currently revising the period Antiquity for the umpteenth time, for example. Fortunately I was able to photograph some interesting things during my last holiday in Rome, which I hope to include in my next lecture. My conscience will not allow me to teach the same lecture twice. In this way, every lecture I teach holds new information, understanding and focus with regards to my preparation. Each lecture is the first of its kind- like a premiere.
And then, of course, there are one's private pleasures. The opportunity to meet or encounter people who have travelled a similar path through life to me, makes me very happy. Meeting people...in fact, just the process of meeting, in itself, can be very exciting. In recent years, I have found a lot of happiness through meeting friends, or even strangers, within the context of the performing arts. In theatres or at concerts, for example. Although it can, occasionally, be very difficult to persuade oneself to leave the house, in hindsight, it is always a very exciting and enriching experience.
Happiness is surprise. Happiness in itself cannot be engineered, one can only create environments and possible frameworks to support/ encourage happiness as a result. Nature also brings out deep feelings of joy and enthusiasm in me. This enthusiasm for life and wish to share it with others however, is not only present within the context of my profession, but a characteristic of my entire life.
One's understanding of home, both cognitively and emotionally, is very subjective, and thus, very dependent on each individual. I have realised that, unlike most of my friends and acquaintances, I do not consider one specific place as my home, one's place of birth, for example. I do not feel the same need to return to or regard the place I was born, as home. I was born in Rheinland, but grew up in Westfalen. My mother came from Rheinland and my father came from Sauerland. Through my mother's influence, I have always considered Rheinland to be my home. I have now lived here for many years, and realise that I don't feel unconditionally bound here. If the circumstances are right, it is relatively easy from me to feel at home anywhere. For this experience to be successful, I need to feel comfortable within my surroundings and trust the people who I am with. Naturally the environment in which one finds themselves (by which one is surrounded) influences ones feeling of home, however, I believe that it is through people and the atmospheres they create, that home is defined.
I am not a person who wants to live a drastic or very restricted kind of life. I like to surround myself with beautiful things...like flowers...things that make me feel comfortable and content. It's important that there is no tension. For me, feeling at home means that I feel accepted just as I am.
Memories are, of course, also very important and influential. we carry them with us throughout our lives. I have noticed that, from about the age of 40, one seems to begin to reminisce more often, to look back and share past experiences and memories with one another. I have two siblings with whom I have a very close and loving relationship. I think that exchanging memories of the past as well as past experiences, plays a big role in how and where one feels at home. When I visit my sister or my brother, I immediately feel comfortable, even though I don't visit them very often. This is simply because we have many shared memories and past experiences. Even though memories are very subjective things, and we sometimes remember the same situation from very different perspectives or in very different ways...they are an important aspect or contribution to one's feeling of home.
If I look at my life from a bird's eye view, like looking at it from a window of a helicopter, it becomes clear that certain events or facts have shaped my path and choices. I am the oldest child, for example, and I spent the first three years of my life as an only child. Experiences like this are decisive, and frameworks such as these impact the way in which one lives life. It is difficult to reflect upon this by oneself, but I'm certain it was very influential. Ultimately my mother was the determining factor as regards my choice of profession. After travelling a divers set of paths and lots of hard work during my studies, which included long periods of research, she suggested that the pursuit of an academic career would contribute to my overall happiness. I later began to doubt this choice because I am a very lively person who likes to learn and experience life through practice, and I found myself cooped up in Libraries, lost in books. My mother's support was probably very influenced by the fact that she did not have the opportunity to follow an academic career herself. Consequently, however, my path seemed to lead directly in this direction. As a result I spent a lot of my time at different universities and research institutions. What I attribute to my ability to react, is that I did not continue to work in the archives as an 'Archive bee', like so many others with whom I studied. That was never something which really excited me. What became increasingly attractive to me, however, was the challenge and ability to share my understanding of art with others. The fact that I could finally combine my passions within the context of my profession is, for me, a very important aspect, which shows how crucial areas of my life came together to form a new path.
I have done a lot of research around the area of failure. To further penetrate this area of research, I designed and ran a workshop. This allowed me to further reflect and deepen my understanding of this concept. I find it very interesting and exciting that it is precisely those moments, which trip us up, which can be the most constructive, if we don't allow them to permanently hinder our progression. I consider the path which brought me to where I am today, a professor at Alanus University, and shaped who I have become, to be an extraordinary stroke of luck. I had sufficient qualifications to teach at any German University, and one naturally tends to be drawn to the big Universities which hold a lot of influence and status, and at that point Alanus had only just become approved by the state, but out of pure curiosity, I decided to do a sculpture course with a Graduate from Alanus University, and that's how I ended up here.
There is something which has been a kind of constant throughout my life. This is, that I never restrict myself to a concrete aim, instead I allow myself to be affected by things which I come into contact with. Allowing curiosity to lead the way, is something which has hugely shaped my life. It has enabled me to accept and combine my very tangled past experiences to arrive where I am today. Perhaps that's why I fit so well here, at Alanus, because although my path as such has been completely academic, the way in which I followed it was actually quite artistic. I try not to allow myself to be restricted by conventions, and actually didn't do what one would expect from an art historian. I only realised later, that art history is quite a conservative profession. I do feel committed to a certain set of values, but I am not conservative in the sense that I restrict myself to old things...Instead I have a childlike sense of curiosity, and I am always happy when I can give into my curiosity and when I find likeminded people who play along.
I don't live life according to a five year plan of action. I try to live in the moment, and for that one also has to have a certain degree of trust. I realise that my curiosity cannot thrive in a restricted or safe environment. There's that saying: "There is no path, the path emerges as one walks it". I have experienced this in my life.
That's tricky... The greatest day of all...something that would give me a lot of happiness...it fits quite well together with what I mentioned earlier, with regards to the principle of surprise. I'm currently looking at a poster, from the last semester, for a lecture about Beuys. This lecture made me unbelievably happy and left me completely perplexed. It started very slowly, nobody really seemed to show much interest in Beuys, but after the first few sittings came the first presentation. The two speakers had prepared Beuys's "Zeige deine Wunde" so beautifully, and put so much of their own understanding and reflection into the presentation...That really was a great day!! It was quite overwhelming...I felt so lucky and honoured, that the students had taken my impulse and openly challenged themselves...Before that point I was beginning to wonder if I was being at all understood or not...That really was an amazing day in my life!! After that moment the rest of the seminar was a highlight...One sequence of dreamlike sittings after the other. I let go of the controls and just allowed myself to be blown away.
I think it really is that moment of surprise, when something very special happens, that touches ones soul, that transform ordinary days into extraordinary days.
Gabriele's question: Have you ever had an experience, with any form of art, which deeply moved you?