Learning by teaching: Alex Koenigsberg talks being a new artist while pursuing art education

Alex Koenigsberg is a current junior at the University of Illinois where she is studying art education and hopes to become a high school art teacher. As someone who took her first art class as a high school senior, Koenigsberg understands all too well what it’s like to make mistakes but persevere nonetheless because of her passion. Her own art utilizes a lot of vivid colors, and she is learning a lot about herself in her path to being an art teacher.

Q: How did you get into art?

So I was 12 when I started this academic route. It was all I cared about and all I wanted. My life was very hollow and I was very unhappy for a very long time. And I ended up getting rejected from the Ivy League schools that I’ve done everything to get into. I was like, “I’m not going to college.” I had given up on myself a little bit, went to treatment for some mental health stuff, and came back. When I came back, I had this spontaneous moment of, “I want to take AP art instead.” It was the first choice I’ve ever made for myself—for my happiness. I went into this class with basically no skills at all. The class was kinda just make whatever you feel. And it didn’t matter that I wasn’t technically skilled, because I was still able to make a bunch of really cool stuff. I really picked it up. It was one of those, “Oh, okay, this is what I’m supposed to do.” I was like, “Oh, it’s so obvious.” This doesn’t feel hard. It doesn’t feel like work. 

Credit: Alex Koenigsberg

Q: And what got you interested in art education?

I really do like and get along with kids. I always felt that I felt the judgment of, “What are you going to do with art?” I was like, “I can make a career out of this.” This will be fun, it’ll make me better, it’ll help me grow. Over the course of my education here, I’ve really fallen in love with it. My first time student teaching was spring semester of last year, and I had a fucking blast. I was like, “This feels good.” It feels good for me to help children make artwork. It’s so healing and so soothing to me. I knew that that class was going to answer the question of, “Can I be a teacher? Do I even have that in me? Can people trust their kids with me?” I haven’t looked back since; I haven’t questioned it at all.

Q: Has your interest in art education made you look at your own art any differently?

I feel like I’m very stubborn and unwilling to change or adjust my practice. But I do [look at it differently]. I ask myself why I make certain choices. When I’m painting, I ask myself, “Could I explain why I’m doing this to a kid? Could I explain why I’m choosing these colors? Why I’m putting them in these places? Could I make this helpful, could I make this a tool for other people or not?” But mostly, I feel like I’m very, very set in my ways, and I’m just gonna do the paintings the way my instincts tell me to. Teaching is easier if you know what you’re doing. And the only way to know what you’re doing is to make a bunch of mistakes.

Credit: Alex Koenigsberg

Q: Shifting to talking about your art, how would you describe your style? Has it changed over time?

No two pieces of mine connect, and I’m very big on the use of color. The most important part of it to me is that the colors are fun. I would describe my art as vaguely representational sometimes, but very reliant on spontaneous use of color and stuff like that. Now that I’m taking intermediate oil painting, I’m trying to really make more sophisticated artwork because a lot of my stuff is just sort of, it doesn’t really send a message or anything. So I’m trying to make it more like this would not look out of place in a gallery setting or a person’s house. A lot of it is that it’s fun to look at.

Q: So you think art has to have a certain meaning?

Sometimes it can just be, “This painting is about how this thing is beautiful.” Like, “This painting is about how this sunset is beautiful.” But I think that making conceptual work can be important, and I need to push myself to do that. I don’t really put any thought into them. I mostly just put feelings to them.

Q: You say colors are a big part of your art. Can you tell me what you like about and why you like to incorporate these bright colors in your work?

When I first started, my first experimentation with painting at all was using these neon, liquid-based acrylics. And I would just make these crazy neon, bright, same three colors. And I was really, really excited by how those colors just sort of come at you. But then that kind of spoiled me for other paints. Nothing else is that neon, and you have to create the illusion of that luminosity through other colors through proximity. If I want a yellow to really pop out, it’s not going to unless I put it next to colors that compliment it or create this optical illusion of brightness. I started with very obnoxious colors, and I never really wanted to go back. But the real world, you gotta bring it back a little. I can’t only use those three colors. It’s not sustainable.

Credit: Alex Koenigsberg

Q: What have your classes been like as someone who started getting into art just a few years ago?

I have never enjoyed sucking at something so much. I love that this has been so difficult for me. For me, when I’m trying to make something, I’m so scared to be bad that I sometimes don’t even bother. But you’ve got to bother. That’s the whole point. And then if it comes out bad, and that bothers you, that’s because you love art.

Q: Has your late start to art helped as you’re thinking of becoming an art teacher?

I learned something about life and myself. I learned that it’s not really about where you start, because we all start. You all start at step one, that’s the only place you can start. We can’t shy away from things just because we haven’t done them yet. Everything that you do is something that at a point, you haven’t done yet.

Find her on Instagram at @alex.blankets.

Credit: Alex Koenigsberg

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