Monday, March 1, 2010

Franz Cizek: Liberating the Child Artist

Franz Cizek's working with his children in the Juvenile Art Class

Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Dr. Franz Cizek was one of Vienna’s best known pedagogues of progressive art education. His moniker as, “the ‘father’ of creative art teaching,”1 was not immediately bestowed on the artist, teacher, and child psychologist, since it took years of diligent study and practice to give credence to his methods as a legitimate way to foster self-expression in children. His approach to teaching was minimal, and strikingly different than the rigid and skill based programs of copying and tracing that were offered in primary schools at the time. In his Juvenile Art Class, a two hour Saturday Program for students ages 5 -14, Cizek approached art making by creating a child friendly environment where formal instruction was non existent and the work was based on nurturing the creative tendencies inherent in all children, allowing them to freely explore their own ideas through a range of materials.

Cizek also expressed a profound admiration and respect for children’s artwork, considering their expressions to be of the purest nature. In short, Franz Cizek’s life work was to provide a free (both financially and psychologically) studio environment where children could revel in self-discovery. He was not making future artists, but allowing children access to their personal creativity. Ruth Kalmar Wilson, who was a young student of Cizek’s, went on to become a textile designer, recalling, ‘Cizek’s class was not directed at all to creating artists but, rather, to unfolding of the artistic personality of each individual.”2

It is worth noting the premise of what made Cizek’s methodology so remarkable and how he came to devote his life work to the study of children and the way they learn. Cizek was born in 1865 in the town of Leitmeritz on the Elbe River in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). When he was 19 he moved to Vienna and studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1885 Cizek rented a room with a carpenter’s family with many children. The young children loved to visit Cizek’s room, where he would give them drawing materials and encourage them to express their ideas. Without instruction and in this friendly atmosphere, Cizek witnessed a joyful self-discovery as these youngsters loved to make art. Cizek was truly impressed with the directness and purity found in these drawings and upon further study he learned that children, the world over, drew in very similar ways when they work in an unrestrained atmosphere working from their imagination.

During his own university study, Vienna was a hotbed of artistic activity. He was friends with many of the Vienna Secessionist artists and architects of the day; Otto Wagner, J. M. Olbrick, Koloman Moser, and Gustav Klimt were fellow artists. He shared with them his research and the work of his young students, and they were fascinated by the authentic expression found in these untrained illustrations. They encouraged Cizek to start his own school, and as a result of this encouragement, he soon applied to the educational authorities to begin his own practice. In his application he had stated a most simple mandate, “Let children grow, develop and mature.”3 The authorities did not immediately accept such a simplistic mandate, but with time and further development of his program, Cizek was allowed to open the Juvenile Art Class in 1897.

The doors to the Juvenile Art Class were open without charge to the children of Vienna, to work at their own free will. Children were interviewed and selected by Cizek, but not for their artistic promise or social standing. It was a place where children were respected as fellow artists. There were about 50 students in attendance each Saturday. Cizek had teaching assistants from his university classes at the School of Applied Art (Wein Kunstgewerbeschule), of which Erika Giovanna Klien was one. These younger artist/educators acted as assistants. Some would specialize in a specific media, be it embroidery or printmaking. Children were encouraged to explore a variety of materials: drawing with chalk, or pencils, cutting paper collages and silhouette cutting, wood and plaster carving, modeling with clay, embroidery, crocheting, etching and wood block printing and tempera painting. As Cizek would tell the children, “From every material, something creative can be made.”4

Wool Embroidery from Cizek's Juvenile Art Class

designed by a 10 year old boy, sewn by a 14 year old girl

Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

Gretl Hanus age 14, from Cizek's Juvenile Art Class

Cizek also discovered the process of linoleum block print, commonly referred to as the linocut. Linoleum was a fairly new material used for floor covering made of linseed oil, cork and wood dust and attached to a fabric backing. This was a highly affective material for young children to carve, making it easier to cut into the pliable surface than the traditional wood block. As a result of Cizek’s experimentation with the children, the success of the Linocut as an art form. Embraced by the Secessionist printmakers, the method expanded and traveled to Germany and France as the newest printmaking vogue of the day.

Ine Probst age 14, Linocut from Cizek's Juvenile Art Class

Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

The details surrounding the first meeting between Klien and Parkhurst are yet to be uncovered, but there must have been an immediate understanding between the two, as Klien’s belief in Cizek’s teaching philosophy was startlingly parallel to what Parkhurst espoused in her educational practice. They each placed emphasis on freedom in the classroom, nurturing a healthy degree of self-direction in students, and allowing the child to be guided by his or her own pace and process; all were fundamental to both methods of teaching and learning. This common foundation may have been the reason Parkhurst brought Klien to Dalton seeing the promise of augmenting the breadth and depth of the Dalton Plan through the arts. Both women recognized the importance of fostering creative thought and imagination in children.

One can imagine the young Erika Klien as a promising yet malleable artist in search of her own artistic voice. Soon after she began her studies at the Vienna School of Applied Art, she gravitated to the excitement and wisdom of Franz Cizek. She entered his course on the Theory of Ornamental Form where she was introduced to Cizek’s second great artistic contribution to the art world, the development of the short lived, but compelling, movement known as Viennese Kinetism. The term Kinetism was derived from the Greek root "kinesis" meaning movement, but artistically the roots were certainly connected to French Cubism, Italian Futurism, and Russian Constructivism. Kinetism represented the dynamic and bustling flow of a modern world.

Klien was one of the young artists captivated by this new spirit. She quickly became one of Cizek’s most gifted students and incorporated his theories of Kinetism into her own drawing, illustrations and paintings. Klien also discovered her professor’s enthusiasm for working with children and became equally devoted to teaching young children, assisting Cizek in the Saturday Juvenile Art class. She became Cizek’s trusted protégé representing his methods in numerous schools and conferences throughout Europe. For Klien the love of teaching and art making were inseparable, and she engaged in both throughout her career. In 1929 Erika Giovanna Klien sails for New York, carrying with her the hope and promise of artistic recognition and fervent optimism of bringing the Cizek teaching method to new territory.

1. J.P. Anderson (1969). Franz Cizek, Art education’s man for all seasons. Art Education, Volume 22 Number 7. pp. 27 – 30.

2. Peter Smith (March 1985) Franz Cizek: The Patriarch. Art Education, Volume 38 Number 2. pp. 28 - 31

3. Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

Printed in Austria by Fredrich Jasper

4. ibid

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