Paris, 1946. Arno Stern is offered an educator role at an institute for war orphans. The young man of German origin emigrated first to France and later to Switzerland, and experienced the deprivations of refugees during the Second World War. At the end of the war he returned to France with his family and acquired French citizenship. With deep intuition, at the Parisian institute he had the children paint in a unique and one-of-a-kind installation never seen before. In 1949 he arrived in the Saint-Germaine-des-Prés district and inaugurated an atelier he personally named Closlieu – it went on to become the celebrated Académie du Jeudi. Thus was born the first Closlieu, according to what we know today.

A unique and multi-faceted personality: neither scientist, nor trainer, nor art teacher and yet all these things together – as well as being an ethnologist, communicator, semiologist, explorer and much more -, Stern has the opportunity to dive deep into the observations made in the atelier through very enriching journey. From the jungle, to the desert, to the woods and in contact with the indigenous populations of Mauritania, Peru, Nigeria, Mexico, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guatemala and New Guinea, Stern’s intuitions and hypotheses become certainties. He can demonstrate that everyone shares a universal code, expressed through the game of painting and its specific ways of doing it: the gesture that takes form in the Closlieu reveals a unique manifestation in its own way.

Stern names it Formulation: a complex, original, structured and universal manifestation of the self which is later studied by a new science – the Semiology of Expression.

Formulation happens if the following are into place: a protected environment; the presence of fellow adventurers  – not just spectators – who welcome the experience in its non-communicative intent; the figure of the Praticien, the “conductor” of the Closlieu: not a guide, not a master, not a recipient, but rather a “servant”. The child’s first marks on paper correspond to a language that was born even before words, a universal code that comes from Organic Memory, that is generated from his first two years of life, from which we cannot rationally draw.

Stern trained thousands of practitioners over the years and participated in many conferences and given hundreds of lectures. He led courses at universities, training centers, museums and cultural associations. Ateliers have spread everywhere in the world, serving a very wide range of people, of all ages, beliefs and ethnicities: Stern’s ateliers are set in the most diverse places, from schools to cultural institutions, from pediatric centers to hospitals, in large cities as well as in rural towns.

For those who do not yet know the magical place created by Arno Stern, it is characterized by a few fundamental rules only: it is a closed, quiet and vibrant room, an intimate and sheltered place, where the child, the adult or student paint freely, without judgment or imposition from the teacher, but for the sole pleasure of painting. Absolute, spontaneous expression, brushes in hand, the child calmly concentrates, transforms the white paper into pure expression. He concentrates and acquires strength and confidence in a synergetic game, under the discreet, loving, attentive and never interfering guidance of the Praticien. He, the servant of the painting game, plays a fundamental role: he is at the service of the Expression of the Formulation.

We activated our Closlieu at My School Ticino in 2018. The Atelier was first set up by our Practicien Chiara Gervasini – currently supported by other colleagues – and it’s seen many children pass through and grow within it over the years. Included in the educational programme of our My Baby and My Child sections, the Atelier is open to everyone (young and older, external parties too) upon request during after-school hours. Closlieu-Atelier Stern Gift Vouchers give family and friends the chance to experience the magic of this place. For more details, please contact our My School Ticino Team.

“They told you that the best wins and that you must want to be the best. To win, you need to conform, run the track towards triumph. You have come to believe that only praise, compliments and good grades count. You made a drawing you hoped others would appreciate. You didn’t enjoy making it, but then again you were told it doesn’t matter, because no one does, because only the distress of the result remains. You haven’t always succeeded. This made you believe that you are not among the best. So you envied – a little – those who achieved excellent results. In this race for success, you have forgotten peace. You have become so dependent on those who judge you that you can’t even imagine an action without a measurable result. (…). Since you have become a consumer, you believe that it is necessary to innovate, change, experiment with various experiences. You have been taught that “repeating” equals “boredom”, therefore you jump from one thing to another, never settle. You have been taught to consider all things and you feel shame if you leave something behind, if you miss even one of the fashionable options others experienced (…). You were like that too when you arrived at Closlieu. Very uncomfortable, utterly insecure, with no rules. No path to follow. Freedom scared you.”

Arno Stern

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