‘We Teach You How to Survive As an Artist’: JR Is Teaching a Free Class in Paris Next Year to Train Artists in the Practical Side of the Business

Special guests could include Naomi Campbell, Emmanuel Perrotin, and Takashi Murakami, he says.

JR at his exhibition "JR: Chronicles" at the Brooklyn Museum on October 2, 2019. Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images.

The street artist and photographer JR learned the tricks of his trade on his own, but now he’s preparing to share his hard-earned knowledge with aspiring photographers—for free. The artist announced on Instagram that he’ll be teaching a new course, titled “Art and Image,” at the École Kourtrajmé, a film school in Paris founded by his longtime friend and collaborator, French director Ladj Ly.

“He started the film school there and I am starting the art school,” JR told Artnet News. The year-old institution is located in the suburb of Montfermeil, “in the exact place where I pasted my first photo,” of Ly holding a camera like a gun, JR said, recalling how he used to take photos on the sets of Ly’s short films, while Ly would film the street artist at work.

Currently in its first year, 36 students are enrolled at the École Kourtrajmé. JR is raising the money to take on an additional 12 students in the new year for his photography course, which is scheduled to run from January to July.

Leica is donating cameras, and all students will receive a stipend for lunch and subway fare. (If the school is successful, JR hopes to pay for future students’ housing, but the initial cohort will be responsible for their own accommodations.)

JR, <em>28 Millimètres, Portrait of a Generation - Ladj Ly</em> (2004). Photo courtesy of JR.

JR, 28 Millimètres, Portrait of a Generation – Ladj Ly (2004). Photo courtesy of JR.

Applications from prospective students are due November 29, and must include a two-minute video and up to 10 images. Candidates must be over 18, but do not need to have any photography training. Artists trained in other mediums, such as painting or drawing, are also welcome to apply. So far, nearly 100 applicants have sent in their materials.

“It’s not a photography school. It’s not a school of how to become a better painter or a better sculptor,” JR said. “It’s a school where we teach you how to survive as an artist.” So while there will be a few classes on the history of art and photography, the vast majority of the curriculum will be about more practical matters such as how to work with a gallery and to sign a fair contract, how to retain the rights to your work, and how to promote it.

JR says his photography lessons will focus not on as photography as art, but as a way for artists to document their work and exhibitions. “When you know how to photograph your own work,” said JR, “then you can share it with galleries, with museums, and on social media.”

This practical nature of the training is personal to JR, who says he “didn’t even know how to make a PDF” when he got his start. “At the beginning, of course, I made many mistakes because I knew nobody—but I think maybe I learned faster because I had to.”

Students will also have access to JR’s many high-profile friends and collaborators, including his studio manager, Marc Azoulay, artists like Takashi Murakami, and possibly even Naomi Campbell, who JR told the Le Parisen he wanted to have model for the class.

“If you look at everyone I’ve been working with, you can assume I’m going to give them them a call to come and teach,” JR said, citing Pace Gallery president Marc Glimcher, musician and art collector Pharrell, and Kathy Ryan, photography director of the New York Times, as other potential guests.

JR's Casa Amarela (Yellow House) in the Morro da Providência neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo courtesy of JR.

JR’s Casa Amarela in the Morro da Providência neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo courtesy of JR.

The anonymous French artist is known for his large-scale pastings that have transformed sites such as Ellis Island’s abandoned hospital and the Louvre pyramid in Paris. Currently, JR is the subject of a mid-career retrospective, “JR: Chronicles”—his first major show in North America—on view at the Brooklyn Museum through May 3, 2020.

Since 2009, JR has run Casa Amarela (Yellow House) in the Morro da Providência neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, providing art classes for children between the ages of five and 14. (Celebrity guests such as Madonna and Sacha Baron Cohen have taught workshops with children there.)

“The school is there to show these kids anything else but the crime and violence that surrounds them,” JR said.


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