I recently got an email from a parent asking me what it was like to study in Florence. I thought this was a good question. I get it frequently so I am addressing it here. My experience came from both the Angel Academy of Art and the Florence Academy of Art. These are both very traditional schools deriving their teaching techniques from 19th century Academies. Rather than give you an overview of these schools, I am going to digress a little on studying art in general. Both of the academies mentioned above have websites which explain their curriculums excellently.
Being an artist is like belonging to a niche market. It’s like selling a specific type of model train, or collecting and selling antique clothes. You are your own boss. Learn to be sure of yourself and your abilities.
No one is going to lead you by the hand and show you the road to becoming an artist. You have to find the right school for you by yourself. Even if you come from a town where you are the only aspiring artist around, this is ok. All the academies you will ever need can be found on the web nowadays. Your first priority is to browse them. You may find www.artrenewal.org
helpful if you aren’t aware of any.
What kind of painter do you want to be? Are you comfortable with spending weeks or months on a single project, or are you more of an all prima painter? Do you like 30 bright colours on your palette, or do you prefer muted tones? Allow these preferences to guide you. Visit different schools and try to catch them while they are in session to see what the atmosphere is like. Choose carefully.
• The proof is in the pudding- Choose a school where you like the work the teachers teach and the students produce. You are your paintings.
• Michelangelo and his contemporaries were 10 when they entered the workshop- So what are you waiting for?
• You cannot listen to everyone- Don’t go buy a book on Picasso just because someone told you he was the best artist that ever lived. What do you feel? Go study who you like. This is not art history, instead of learning about every major movement you should be discerning and start picking out the artists you want to emulate. Besides, history is writen by the winners, right?
• Don’t be misled by the term Realism- Painting is not actually about reproducing exactly what you see. It’s true we have Madame Tussauds for that. You are actually interpreting nature. How? Well you are going to be figuring that out for the rest of your life…
Now for something completely different! When you do find the school of your dreams, plan to enroll for the complete duration of the program. Ateliers are built to introduce students to difficult concepts in increments- To leave early is truncate your education. Surrender your ego to your instructors, if they say study Bargue, Ingres, and Bougereau than do it. There is a reason for everything; the best students are usually the ones who have taken directions well. When you leave school you should have a solid foundation under you, and then it’s up to you to start experimenting and creating art.
Painting is right for you if you want it to be. A lot of people say things to me like “woah, I could never have that patience”, “I can’t even draw stick figures/circles, strait lines..etc”, and “I have absolutely no idea how you are doing that”. The thing is I can’t even draw convincing stick figures myself! And when I need a straight line I use a ruler. No… it’s not cheating.
My little sister is in charge of drawing each family member a cartoon for their birthday. She is wonderful, mature and witty at it. Naturally enough, when it was her turn to receive a birthday card the family turned to me, the artist, and I made a horrible botchery out of it. Do you know why? It’s because I never practice cartooning. If I did I would be better at it.
This is the same case for painting. No one is born with the innate ability to draw or paint- it has to be developed. You might say “well yeah, this is obvious...” However the natural painter myth is widely held. It’s not that I am against it, art is mysterious without a doubt and I do not mean to diminish anyone’s accomplishments. It’s just that you shouldn’t let this myth discourage you.
• Painting is 10% talent and 90% hard work
• The more you put into your studies the more you will get out of them
It’s true you need patience to be an artist, but is not as much of a grind as you would think if you are completely devoted to it. I myself consume audio media while I work. I have listened to the equivalent of mounds of classic novels. Music holds me in its sway at other times; I slip into its trance like the Taltos of Anne Rice. Painters are like the ancient alchemists. Our critics would say, “That has already been done”, “Move on” or “You will never be as great as (fill in artist)! Why bother?” The thing is we think we really can do better and that we have something to offer the world. A friend of mine once said to me “You are like a Stradivarius. You will keep getting better and better. How lucky you are to know what you want to do in life, that this is all you must do.” That is kind of what it is like. You explore new ideas while fine tuning your performance all the time.
So we painters work on paintings monumental and small, pouring into them hours of our precious lives. Each works to his or her own tune. And yes death is over our shoulders, but just like he is over yours. Perhaps he plays a particularly beautiful tune for us.