Kara Lysandra Ross is the Director of Operations for the Art Renewal Center (ARC), and is the daughter of Fred and Sherry Ross. At her young age she has become an expert in 19th century European paintings, with a specialization in Victoria Art and French Academic Art. She is currently researching and writing the catalogue raisonne on Edmund Blair Leighton. I thought it would be very interesting for you to hear from this intriguing young woman who is responsible for all the day to day management of ARC.
So what is the Art Renewal Center? It is the largest on-line Museum on the internet, with hundreds of thousands of high quality images of all the known works of the greatest painters and sculptors in human history, cross referenced to the largest encyclopedic online art reference library of historical texts, essays, biographies and articles.
I have always heard that the best way to detect a counterfeit dollar bill is to be so familiar with an authentic one that a forgery becomes obvious. That lesson seems to hold true for most things. I often tell my students to not only look at but also study the work of recognized masters. By doing that, in time inferior work will become quite obvious, and we’ll know what is required to bring our work to a higher level. Oftentimes students are making judgments about their own work based on the inferior work of others.
Since we’re not always able to view the great works of art first hand, the Art Renewal Center brings those works to us in the form of high-resolution photos. These images can be an indispensable resource for us who strive to be better painters. The idea for ARC was formed in 2000 by a group of artists, art collectors, historians, and enthusiasts, and is chaired by Kara’s father, Fred Ross. Since that time the Center has expanded greatly in scope and influence.
I first became involved in 2004 when I entered the First ARC International Salon and won first place in the landscape category with my painting, “After a Brief Shower”. Since then I have participated regularly in their annual on-line competition. I consider it a valuable and important competition because it is international in scope and an excellent way to judge one’s progress against the best. If you want to give it a try, now is the time. Deadline for entering the 2013/2014 Salon is 15 January…in just a few days. In order to make it easy for you, you’ll find the details and link to prospectus at the end of this post.
It’s with great pleasure that I now bring you the first of this two-part interview with Kara Lysandra Ross.
When did you become Director of Operations for the Art Renewal Center and what are your duties? I became the director of operations shortly after I graduated college in 2006. I had started off my college career with the intent to be a music major. I grew up in a home surrounded by great paintings and found I missed those paintings more then I had anticipated and decided to become an art history major instead. As Director of Operations, I handle all the day to day management of ARC and work to expand its influence in the art world and the world at large. I oversee all of ARC’s programs and report to the ARC Chairman, my father, Fred Ross.
You grew up in a home surrounded by fine art? What was that like? Yes I did. Growing up it felt normal to me; why wouldn’t it? It was all I knew. It did make having friends over during my grammar school years a bit more nerve racking to my parents, what with having paintings from ceiling to floor in every room. I was a wild child and liked racing around the house with my friends down the narrow corridors of the home I grew up in, an 1887 Victorian. However, no one ever damaged a painting. I think most children have an innate understanding of the intrinsic value of such things. You may have seen my short blurb when I heard that the Indianapolis Museum had acquired a Bouguereau painting my parents used to own? “I just heard the news about the Indianapolis Museum acquiring the Bouguereau, Reve de printemps. My parents used to own that one. It hung so that I could see it through my bedroom door hanging in the main upstairs hall from the time I was born to the time I was four years old. I remember coming back from day care and it being gone when my father sold it. (I was not informed ahead of time.) As the story goes, when I got upstairs, saw it was gone, and was told it was not coming back, I cried inconsolably. My father said if he knew I was going to be that upset he would not have sold it. I think that may have been when he started taking my art opinion seriously. Anyway, I have no doubt it has affected me deeply and impacted who I am as a person today. Exactly how, I cannot say for sure, but I do know I am better off for being exposed to it. It brings me great joy to look at the paintings still today. Many of them I have a nostalgic relationship to, mostly the ones I was raised with such as Gaston Bussiere’s Joan of Arc, Jules Lefebvre’s Fleurs des Champs, and of course William Bouguereau’s Au Bord du Ruisseau, which makes me think of my father every time I look at it since it was always his favorite painting in the collection. When I left for college I missed the paintings so much that I decided to switch my major to Art History.
What’s the most difficult task of directing the Art Renewal Center? The most difficult task is multi-tasking. Having relatively few staff members, we are a large organization. We get a lot of visitors, many with questions. We host two international events, our Annual ARC Salon and Annual Scholarship Competition. We keep an active exhibition page and have over 100 ARC Artists/Living Masters who deserve proper recognition with ongoing events to be broadcast through ARC to its 5,000,000 yearly visitors as well as staying in touch and promoting works of other like minded organizations.
What’s been your most enjoyable experience as Director of Operations? Getting to help shape the future of the art world.
How would you summarize the ARC philosophy? I would say that the main core of the ARC philosophy is that the definition of art has been over expanded to the point where the word ”art” has lost its integrity. When any object can be placed on a pedestal and called art, when anything is art, then nothing is art. Anytime you have a definition that expands to encompass everything, then it ceases to have meaning. The ARC philosophy does its best to define what art is. There is of course a difference between craft, decorative art, fine art, and good and bad art, and places of grey where it is perhaps hard to draw the line. This of course makes some people angry. They tend to say things like “who are you to say what is or is not art” but if not us then who? We have stepped forward with scholars and experts, to try and bring respect back to the word and create a sensible type of definition, broad as it may be. Someone had to be the first to publicly state that the “emperor has no clothes”. Shark parts in formaldehyde are not art, they are at best an educational science tool; statues of the Virgin Mary made out of cow manure is not art, they are just disgusting; putting bags of trash in the center of a museum and calling it installation art, does not make it art, they are still bags of trash. It is like trying to call an apple an orange; just because you say it is, doesn’t make it true. Art is an integral part of every culture, having the power to shape nations and civilizations; the word art is something that should be respected, not just given frivolously. We focus on realism because it is the universal language and the only form capable of expressing and communicating without words the depth of mankind’s experiences.
What sparked Fred and Sherry Ross to create the Art Renewal Center? It was actually a group of scholars. When my father got his first internet connection in 1997, the first words he searched, not too surprisingly, were “William Bouguereau” The first thing that came up was Brian Yoder’s Good Art Group. Brian Yoder is part of the ARC Executive Committee, and our webmaster as well. The Good Art Group consisted of several artists, scholars and passionate lovers of realist art. It was through this group that the idea of the Art Renewal Center formed. In addition to the heavy involvement of Brian Yoder, some of those in that initial group are currently on our Board of Advisors such as Kate Williams, Allan Banks, and Iian Neill. Iian built the initial ARC Website from the ground up. Juan Martinez was also in that initial grouping. My parents Fred and Sherry Ross were the ones who backed the project financially, but ARC was a group effort. My father was voted as Chairman in one of the initial meetings and the rest is history. They started researching schools and pulled other artists in such as John Angel, Daniel Graves, and Stephen Gjertson. Steve and my Father even met with Ives Gammell shortly before his death and he was supportive of the project. My father actually received a letter in the mail from Gammell shortly after he had learned of his death. It must have been one of the last things he mailed out.
Why was the name, Art Renewal Center, chosen? Well, ARC’s mission is to renew the appreciation of classical art and the training methods of the old masters. The founders also liked the idea of ARC being a safe guard for classical art and the Contemporary Realist Movement, much like Noah’s ARC was supposed to have protected the animals of the Earth during the great flood.
The Art Renewal Center has achieved phenomenal growth in a very short time, why do you think that is? People love figurative art and realism in art. There has been a large void in art education for this type of painting; this includes the majority of 19th century art, the contemporary realists of today, and to a lesser extent the art of the old masters as well. When people see the type of work we promote at ARC, they respond very strongly to it. We received an e-mail not too long ago from a gentleman who said he started crying when he saw our ARC Living Master’s Gallery. He did not know anyone could paint like that anymore. We promote schools where proper training is taking place, and this also helps a lot. There are thousands of art students out their who want to learn how to create realist art, and unfortunately most university and college programs do not teach it properly or more often, not at all. When today’s students are interested in becoming artists, they are not thinking they want to learn how to throw paint. In 2006, when I was graduating from Drew University, one art major’s selected senior project was to tin-foil a wall…supposedly demonstrating the accumulated knowledge of her art studies. I cannot imagine what her parents thought, after most likely spending thousands upon thousands of dollars, the end result of their daughter’s studies being that she was able to paste tin foil onto a wall. Or, perhaps even worse, having taken on thousands of dollars in debt and acquired no real skills on which to base a career. There is a large demand for traditional training and education among students seeking to become serious artists, and the ARC website gives students information on those schools, where they are, and how to get in contact with them.
Have you received art training? Are you a painter? I was a studio minor in college, but it was mostly horrible modernist garbage training. I knew it would be like that, but since I had already decided to make ARC and writing my career, I thought it was important to get first hand experience on how crazy most college programs are today. I did also take a couple good courses with Timothy Jahn who now is an instructor at the Ani Academy. I do not consider myself an artist, but I do like to dabble in it from time to time. How could I not, being surrounded with it my whole life? I also think it gives one an extra, or at least different, appreciation for the art. It also trains your eye as a scholar. I was thinking about taking another course or two soon, actually, if I can make the time.
Did you experience any push-back in school because of your love for traditional art? All of the studio art teachers that I took classes with, for the most part were modernists. I remember specifically in my print making class, the teacher holding up a fully finished church interior next to a simple squiggly line resembling the outer contour of the human face and saying, “Now class, can you see why this drawing (gesturing to the squiggle) was so much harder to achieve then this one?” (gesturing to the church interior). He went on to say, “Look how much this person captured in a single line where as this other artist needed hundreds of lines.” I remember thinking how backwards it sounded, as if I was Alice through the looking glass. I had a later interaction with this same teacher, when the students were asked to submit works for a competition, and I brought in a still life I had done at home. The response from the teacher (head of the art department by the way) was that the judges are only interested in serious art. If someone is looking for representational oil paintings they can just order them from here…(He gestured to an ad he kept pinned to the wall in his office advertising one of the mass producing Chinese oil reproduction companies.) I asked him if he was seriously telling me he could see no difference between a Bouguereau painting and a cheap copy, to which the reply was something to the effect of…they are basically just the same thing. In my mind nothing could have proved how uneducated he was and how unqualified he was to be a teacher, let alone being head of the department.
The history department was somewhat better, and of course the teacher, who was qualified, knew about the old masters. She was also the modern art teacher but was actually a big fan of Bouguereau and just loved it all, so she was very happy and open to debate in the classroom, which is the way every classroom should be. She believed modern art was great and was willing to defend her position in open debate. I disagreed with her reasoning, but I respected the willingness for open debate. As a 19th century specialist, I was particularly offended by the 19th century course, which only spent one day on the non-impressionist section of the period, i.e. the bulk of the period, and only that in the context of saying that the academic painters were painting for the bourgeois and that they used mostly black paint to create their shadows. Cézanne, on the other hand, was the first to use color to create shadows, which was so brilliant. I had to laugh out loud because it was a complete lie. I fortunately had the opportunity to bring the class for a tour of my parents’ collection. I made sure, as my father was giving the tour, to point out a Bouguereau painting we used to own of a little beggar girl with mountains behind her. The shadows of the mountains were the same color blue used in the example the teacher gave in the classroom of how Cézanne was the first to use color as shadow. I told my father to mention how the 19th century Academic artists used color as shadow and to point out the date of the painting.
You worked at Sotheby’s for a while, what was that like and what key lessons did you learn? It was a great experience and I loved the internship. It is high intensity, multitasking type work, not too different from what I do now as far as the feeling. There was never a dull moment. I was lucky enough to work in the 19th century department; everyone there is really knowledgeable and loves the art. My only complaint would be that the elevators in their current location are far too slow for the high paced New York City life style. As far as key lessons, I did rearrange all of our reference material to match how Sotheby’s does theirs. I also learned that I like that type of high pressure work.
Thanks, Kara. We look forward to the continuation of this interview next week.
Only a short time left to enter the 2013/2014 ARC International Salon
Deadline January 15th, 2014
This will be our 10th annual competition in which some of the best contemporary realist artists in the world compete for recognition, cash prizes, and a chance to have their work seen by some of the more than 5,000,000 annual visitors to the ARC website, as well as in other reputable venues.
This year we will have press coverage in six magazines; Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine will be publishing an article on the top winners of the 2013/2014 Salon. In addition, Plein Air Magazine will be giving out a special award to one artist to be featured in their magazine. Also, for the first year ever, American Art Collector Magazine, Western Art Collector Magazine, American Fine Art Magazine, and International Artist Magazine will all be giving out awards as well. ARC Director of Operations, Kara Lysandra Ross, will write an article on the top winners for the Epoch Times, a large international newspaper that publishes in 19 languages.
The Best in Show winner of the 2013/2014 ARC Salon competition, in addition to $8,000, will be awarded with a fully produced and released video DVD produced by Streamline Art Video showing a demonstration of their technique, an interview with the artist, and a profile of the artist’s work as a key featured part of a DVD on the ARC Salon.
This year we are offering $61,450 in cash awards, though with purchase awards sometimes being well above the minimum stated, the total amount is often much higher. For example, in last year’s competition, paintings valued at over $200,000 were purchased. Participants can compete and win in 7 categories, Figurative, Imaginative Realism, Landscape, Still Life, Animal, Sculpture, and Drawing.
To view the full prospectus, click here.
Art Renewal Center website
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE