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“Knowledge gained at school along with all my other experiences come together as a mosaic.” | Global Art Forum speaker Amir Berbic on his school learning.

Global Art Forum is Art Dubai’s critically-acclaimed annual transdisciplinary arts conference, which combines original thinking and contemporary themes in an intimate, live environment.

Following on from last year’s theme of automation, Global Art Forum 2019 unites a diverse cast of global minds – from renowned curators and critics to educationalists and entrepreneurs – under the theme of “School is a Factory?” to address some of the urgent challenges and opportunities facing education today.


In the lead up the two-day summit, its co-directors Victoria Camblin and Fawz Kabra asked some of this year’s speakers a few fun questions on their unique educational paths, if school prepared them for real life and just how optimistic they are about the future of education.

Amir Berbic, a designer and professor, shares his thoughts on the importance of education and moderation of technology:

Describe your first experience using technology at school.
I don’t think it occurred before high school. I was involved with design and desktop publishing of the school’s yearbook and newsletter—using a typesetting software called Pagemaker.

Where did you first learn about art?
I was fortunate to grow up in an artistic household. My father is an artist and a designer and our family was always surrounded by creativity. He did not push my brother and I to follow in his footsteps but when we expressed interest to pursue artistic careers our father was supportive. But he made sure we understand that art is serious work.

Amir Berbic, School photo

Who was an important or formative teacher in your youth and what made them special?

My mother is an excellent teacher. Very thoughtful and patient. She would explain the material enough for her students to then take over and be independent. I like to think that I received some of my talent for teaching from my mother and my skills as a designer from my father.

As a student at University of Illinois at Chicago, the Study of 2D form with Professor Philip Burton was a profound experience. We would work with basic geometric shapes to study visual composition. He would come to each student’s desk and move the shapes with us, carefully revealing new relationships among elements in a composition. It was a spiritual act. It taught us that design is a process of discovery, of knowledge waiting amongst the basic graphic elements and forms found in each project. As a teacher, I have done similar exercises with my own students.

Did school prepare you for “real life”? If not, what did?
Education plays an important role in preparing us for life. By that I don’t mean just preparing us for a profession or “real world” but also to be good citizens. School is crucial but many other things contribute to how well we are prepared—our upbringing, the communities in which we live, our life experience.

Would you trust a robot to teach your child?

I am skeptical of robots but I am open to trying it. I am open to technology being an integral part of education—let’s just be mindful about when it benefits learning and when it doesn’t.

Has the discipline you were taught at school followed you into adulthood?

I am quite disciplined. I am not sure if this was taught or if it’s a reflection of my personality.

Were you a good student or a bad student?

I was a good student.

What did you have to unlearn after school?

I am not sure if I had to unlearn anything. Knowledge gained at school along with all my other experiences come together as a mosaic. Education in Yugoslavia was strong but quite didactic. Adapting to more open educational system in the US was a shift. Ultimately, I think I benefited from having experienced both approaches to learning.

Given the choice, what would you have done differently in your educational path?

My educational experiences were varied across cultures, and across educational systems. This allows me diverse perspective, which is healthy. I also actually never left school—this is the privilege of being an academic—I am continually on an educational path. One thing I wish I did as a student is learn more foreign languages.

Do you apply anything you learned at school to your current occupation?

Much of what I learned and experienced in school is valuable, not only as directly applied knowledge in a profession but in shaping my view of the world.

Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future of education?

As a professor I am continually inspired by new generations of students and this sustains my optimistic outlook. At the same time, I am concerned about the cost of education. In the United States, for example, college students are graduating with huge debt. This creates enormous pressures and impacts the way they view the value of education. If a big price-tag is attached to every course they take, I fear that students will develop a transactional relationship to education— they will feel like customers of a service. I am also concerned about the pressures that arts education faces. There are fewer and fewer arts programmes in elementary schools and high schools.

Describe your ideal school environment.

A school accessible to all, one that aims to build a more just and equitable society; a school with a diverse student and faculty body; a school that values creativity, arts, and humanities.

Amir joins Global Art Forum on Thursday March 21, 4:45-5:45pm, for “SCHOOL IS THE COMMONS?” a discussion with curator, editor and writer, Natasa Petresin-Bachelez and hosted by Global Art Forum co-director, Fawz Kabra, on how the concept of commons as a space of collectivity and community can create new ways of learning and sharing of experience.

Global Art Forum is open to the public (including non-ticket holders) and free to attend. The Forum is supported by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

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