“Traditional skills are necessary for developing a foundational base for the artist to work from. It is craftsmanship that opens the door to effective self-expression.”
My interest was peaked concerning Classic Realism…(I like that term, by the way, as defined by Michael John Angel in last week’s blog)…several years ago when the Classical Realism Journal was first published. From there I discovered the Twilight of Painting by R.H. Ives Gammell, and that opened my eyes considerably to what could be when it comes to the proper training of artists.
In this three-part interview with Michael John Angel, Juliette Aristides, and David Hardy, I am hoping to define Classic Realism, its origins, its resurgence, and its importance to all of us.
Actually, I’m not explaining anything. All this is wonderfully done by these three living masters. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, I encourage you to do so before continuing. (Part I)
And now, Part 2 of “Classical (Classic) Realism”
I’ve heard some teachers refer to classical training for the artist as a “resurrection of the humanist spirit in western art”. What is meant by that?
Angel: I may be one of the people you are quoting here. Abstract art generally turn away from the world of people and doesn’t concern itself with the nature of Humankind, except for how to grab its attention. Representationalism concerns itself very much with the world of people and how people view nature – hence Humanism.
Aristides: I take it to mean that the figure is, once again, returning as a central subject in art. It is not only a shift in content but it represents a big philosophical shift as well.
Hardy: Art is returning to the speaking about the human condition and to the miracle of existence within which we find ourselves. Much of western art for over a century has devoted itself to such things as visual engineering and conceptual involvement.
What is your definition of art?
Angel: Art is wide; life is narrow (to paraphrase a Latin aphorism); this also is too big a question. I will say, though, that I believe a painting or sculpture should conjure an emotion in the viewer (it can be a mild one, or strong, lyrical or dramatic) and give the sense of the Eternal behind – the Specific.
Hardy: Art, like love, is more easily described than defined. Both could be expressions of the human soul, the human essence of being. But defining it? I leave that up to the experts.
How would you define beauty?
Angel: I wouldn’t even try. Beauty is much too wide a subject.
Aristides: The discussion about “what is beauty” has been going on for millennium. Any attempt to define beauty would be an act of hubris on my part – (however, that never stoped me before – so I will give it a shot:) Beauty in art is a reconciliation of opposing elements into a harmonious unity (between design, content and execution).
Hardy: Like trying to define love, defining beauty in words is beyond my powers. Identifying examples of visual beauty is more in my line.
What distinguishes classical training from other types of art instruction?
Angel: One has to learn specific skills in order to draw and paint realistically (there’s that word again!). These skills – how to make an even tone, how to measure, how to mix paints, how to create colour harmonies, how to model the illusion of form – can be taught, and are taught in the modern ateliers and academies. The state-run schools believe, rather naively, that art requires only passion and that the teaching of skill inhibits creativity. It is also true that many instructors in the state schools haven’t been taught well themselves and have no idea how to draw. There is a great (true) story of a life-drawing instructor in the Art Institute (I think) in Chicago, some years ago. It was nearly Christmas and most of his class had left for the holidays; he decided to draw along with the remainder of his students. After half an hour, he had made an awful mess and said, “This is harder than I thought!”. The life-drawing instructor in a prestigious university had never drawn the figure before.
Aristides: An Atelier is a studio run by a working artist (not an educator). An atelier provides a time-tested, progression of curriculum over period years – so that students reach a high level of technical proficiency. Drawing is taught first, then painting. Students often spend half days with the life model and the other half in their studio. In short it is a skill based traditional form of art education which places its emphasis on the student emerging as a fully trained artist able to open a studio of their own.
Hardy: Classical training involves the sharing of understanding and building of skills that constitute a visual language about reality. This is normally done in small classes with individual guidance. Advanced students in my Atelier when interested, are taught traditional procedures using layered glazing.
Why are we seeing such an interest in classical training for the artist at this time in our history?
Angel: People have always wanted to learn how to make representational drawings and paintings,and they always will. Fashion within the Art Establishment is starting to swing more and more towards Representationalism, and the new “Realists” are getting to be more visible; people are astonished and delighted to learn that this teaching is available to them. I cannot tell you how many letters and e-mails I receive, telling me that the sender thought that representational painting was “forbidden” today!! We are the avant-garde, and we are starting to have a voice – 45 years ago, when I was studying under Annigoni, there was only him, Gammell, signorina Simi and the Russian academies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg (there may have been one in China); now there are hundreds (thousands?) of good schools.
Aristides: We are living in an important time and need every tool available to fully express ourselves. One way that has been historically achieved is by looking back at our cultural legacy and building on it.
Hardy: Because we are maturing beyond rampant rejection of establishment ideas inherited from five hundred years of evolvement and refinement. We are recognizing the stupidity of believing “if it is new it must be better.”
Daniel Graves, founder of The Florence Academy of Art, also a living master and leader in the training of artists, talks about many of these same topics in a paper he wrote titled Tradition in the 21st Century.
He explains the difficulty of recapturing the “tradition” of past centuries. “Why can’t we produce Leonardos today? I do not believe it is just because we lack technical knowledge and expertise. I believe it is because there is something in addition to the technique that is also part of the tradition…the essence of the tradition. Given that we do not want to just repeat the work of past centuries, I think one of the great challenges we all face is that of discovering what we are going to paint and sculpt. The narratives that artists tapped into for centuries, the timeless stories from mythology and the Bible, seem less meaningful to people than they once did. To merely record the surface appearance of “reality” has never been the province of painting, whose language is far deeper. From the beginning, artists have painted, sculpted and drawn things that had meaning for them, and the images they have left behind are a living testament, a record of their consciousness on earth.”
Next week, Part 3, and the conclusion of “Classical (Classic) Realism”
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE