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September 09, 2006

Classical Art Training

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Exciting news from The Classicist: the arrival of a new new-traditionalist fine arts academy in Manhattan, The Grand Central Academy of Art. The GCAA is the creation of the wonderful ICA&CA (Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America); its operations will be directed and overseen by the brilliant painter Jacob Collins; and its core program will be an intense three-year training period in classical and realist techniques. I'm thrilled to note that the GCAA will also offer weekend and evening classes for amateurs and duffers -- that would include me!

James Panero interviews Jacob Collins here. "I have a lot of respect for French academic painting," Collins says daringly. Another nice passage:

It seems that, in the twentieth century, a lot of energy went into dismantling traditional art forms. I don't particularly love that. Whether it was good or bad, this spirit has definitely wound down. So much of the energy of Modernism came from the electricity of breaking the pieces of the art object apart. I'm certainly not claiming that there are no pieces, but that now, in Traditionalism, it's about putting the pieces back together.



posted by Michael at September 9, 2006


This IS exciting, Michael, though it was clear that it was coming. Where else COULD art go?

The figure of Diana that's the little icon for the Classicist was on auction at Sotheby's this month -- might still be available. It's a version about three feet tall, valued at $20,000-$30,000.

What will be personally interesting to me is what happens to the field of "Western art" or "cowboy art," which are not quite the same thing. A number of fine illustrators with classicist training became redefined as "Western artists" simply by changing their subject matter. They joined classicist artists from the past (Moran, Bierstadt, the Santa Fe people) and then the CAA group which was a selection of artists working with the idea that the real energy came from historical accuracy and actual experience in Western activities like herding (excuse me -- "droving") cows, which is why so many Western artists ended up in historical society museums rather than art museums. Art talent and technique was not so important. Now it appears that either those less well trained artists will be dropped out or will separate again. A lot of lives depend on which way it goes, which in turn depends upon which way the art buyers go.

I love this painting of an alley. Part of the reason I have such an affection for BBC movies is that they are able to frame ordinary local bits of garden and street into real beauty. When I get the two Western art magazines (Art of the West and Southwest Art) I go through noting entrances, flights of stairs, and other such subjects -- not just because of them being picturesque but also because these "threshold and transition" points of architecture have what Eliade called "valorization" -- they have power.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 9, 2006 12:10 PM

Thanks for the link to ICA and CA. I didn't know there was such an organization.

If only some billionaire would commission them to re-build, as exactly as possible, the original Pennsylvania Station. Thus could we undo the worst act of urban vandalism in American history.

Posted by: Rick Darby on September 9, 2006 5:12 PM

While I am very happy about the renewal of realist art in the US, the type of work coming out of these atelier-type schools leaves me rather cold. There is a nice article on Jacob Collins in this month's issue of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. In it, I find that Jacob Collins is related to some big bangers in the New York fine art world, and even to the infamous Meyer Schapiro. His work is technically very good, but he isn't even on my radar for contemporary realists I pay attention to. It just goes to show how New York-centric the art world/art media world really is.

My criticism of the classical realist movement in general is that most of the work is really stiff and dead-looking, and it seems to be all about copying stuff really closely. There is a lot less skill involved in that than you might think. It saddens me a bit that this is the movement that is getting the most attention these days, probably due to the involvement of collectors like Fred Ross, who started the Art Renewal Center and the web museum www., and the desire of the New York speculators/collectors to create a new round of art valuation inflation/speculation. I don't expect the big money to finger the best contemporary painters. They almost never do.

One other problem I have with the contemporary realist movement is the emphasis on any other culture but our modern one--American Indians, rural chinese, women dressed in victorian clothing, nudes, flowers, loafs of bread, etc. The only people in the realist movement that actually paint contemporary America with sensitivity and a sense of joy are the landscape painters. I look forward to the day when those as yet unknown artists emerge from this realist movement to paint our people and our time. I know it will happen, but don't experct the press or big money to realize it until well after the fact.

Compare Jacob Collins' work to Richard Schmid's work. Schmid is by far the better painter. But Richard Schmid will never get the prices or attention of a Collins becasue he is not a New York insider, and sells his work in the western art market.

Good news. But the best talent will still be wandering in the hinterlands. Thanks for the links.

Posted by: btm on September 9, 2006 6:37 PM

Lest people are grieving that Western painters make less money, here are results from the most recent Coeur d'Alene Art Auction. (They specialize in Western art.)

Terpning's "The Stragglers" -- $1,064,000
Terpning's "Search for the Renegades" -- $1,456,000
Carl Rungius' "The Family" -- $952,000
Tom Lovell's "The Iron Shirt" -- $420,000
N.C. Wyeth's "Two Boys in a Punt" -- $896,000
Frederic Remington's "An Apache" -- $1,456,000
Diego Rivera's "Vendedora de Flores en Xochimilco" -- $1,232,000.

My source is the latest issue of "Art of the West." Of course, I would not be entirely sure that these are "real" prices. For one thing, it's not stated whether the amount includes the auction fees.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 10, 2006 1:27 PM

btm: I entirely agree with your assessment. I've never seen the point of this "is it real or is it a bedding catalog?" aesthetic. Mimesis is fine and dandy, and it's good to see it back in business. But with mimesis the artist should make a point or create an emotional effect or embody a worldview, not just photocopy reality with nicer lighting.

I hope someone takes all this training and makes some actual art with it.

Posted by: Brian on September 10, 2006 5:13 PM


Painters like Richard Schmid are not "western painters". They may sell their work in those markets, but they don't make anywhere near the money as the painters you listed above. I personally have no interest whatsover in the "western" genre of painting. I only have a small interest in the western art market becaues of painters like Schmid who sell their work in it.

I did notice that Terpning has finally sold a painting for a million dollars (now two). It doesn't surprise me one bit. As far as I'm concerned (and I only care about two things, the quality of the work, and the fact that a really good painter can make a living at what he does exclusively by selling his work) he is an overrated shadow of painters like Nicolai Fechin, Richard Schmid, JC Leyendecker, and a whole host of of others whose work is not similarly valued. I gave up a long time ago trying to match dollars to artistic merit.

I don't like Terpning's gooey hagiography of the american indian. Or Martin Grelle's, whom I guess the well-monied rubes have deemed to be his successor. The work is well (not outstanding) painted junk, in my opinion, and I have seen his originals too. In fact, I am beginning to hate the whole genre. You should compare Terpning to the great work of the original Taos painters, who may have lacked Terpning's slickness (I think they were BETTER technicians), but whose real honesty and enthusiasm for the people and the time outstrips this Cowboy Hat Salon painter by a long shot. I mean, the Taos painters painted the indians as they REALLY lived at the time! That's why their work is so much better! Those indians don't live like that today! They live in trailers and houses, wear jeans and t-shirts. Todays painters just can't make it work without the funny costumes. To me that means they are inferior, and I stand by that judgement.

The well-monied rubes, with their gallery and auction house flunkies, are one of the worst things ever to happen to the art market. I saw one well-monied rube paid $135 MILLION dollars for the work of a DEAD painter! How much of that could have supported the careers of other talented painters? See, these dips don't know anything about art, they just buy brands. They don't know what investing is or means. It means you put something in, not just take something out. It means you don't always win. And for the life of me, I can't understand why the people with the most money are the ones least likey to risk a SMALL portion of it. I mean, they waste an awful lot giving it to charities which essentially support those who are ridiculously irresponsibe with their lives, and 99% of the time will continue to be so after the charity has been rendered. But they have no money or time for productive talented people. It all makes so much sense. Give the money to the unproductive, the salesmen, the middle men, not the producers. Focus on the past, not the present or future.

I am greatly suspicious of the newfound interest in realism, and I fully expect them to crown mediocre "geniuses" whom they will prop to the heavens, while the real geniuses will languish in the shadows. I don't see why they wouldn't. The last time the elites favored living geniuses was before the creation of the gallery system, aution houses, appraisers, investment advisors, academics, and so on. All these intermediaries do is distort the process. I mean, how do you get people to fork over tens of millions of dollars for Mark Rothko crap? You have to set up a sea of "experts" who will use modern advertising techniques to fool the well monied-rubes and speculators into buying it. It appears the entrenched system is having a harder and harder time inventing new modern art "geniuses" to hype to well-monied rubes and speculators, hence the switch. In other words, for me and you, we think that qualiity is making a comeback, but its just a new product line, not a committment to quality on the part of the Fine Art Investment Industry.

The number of educated art lovers who collect art is far smaller than the number of art purchasers who name themselves collectors. I am ashamed that I live in a time where talented painters languish while a sea of money wielded by fools chases mediocrity and hype. This should not be so in the greatest country, in the time of its greatest prosperity. It is a horrible legacy. All I can say is thank God great painters continue to paint in spite of the lack of attention and support, monetary or otherwise. I don't expect the situation to change, as long as the distorting influence of the money-grubbing intermediaries continues, which will likely occur forever more. Its how it all works, how the evil seeks to suppress and destroy the good. Its just the world we live in, I guess.

Posted by: btm on September 10, 2006 10:30 PM

One quick note. Of all the painters Mary mentions above, only one is a living artist, Howard Terpning. He is 77 or 78 years old, I believe. Richard Schmid, whom I mentioned, is 73. I am a lot more interested in painters in their 20's and 30's being able to make a living than ones in their 70's. Not that the older guys should be starving, but that having younger people starting out their careers being able to just work at one job and have a family is to me more important than someone being fabulously rewarded in the waning days of their career, or after they have passed on.

Posted by: btm on September 11, 2006 8:09 AM

Dear btm, we are in deep agreement.

1. Terpening (I misspell it on purpose so he won't find it by Google.) is predatory, cynical, and merely painting from photos. He comes to a rez, flatters everyone, gives out a few prints with the implication that they are the equivalent of paintings, gets people to pose in 19th century get-ups, and leaves with a false air of having been sympathetic and insightful. Then he goes to the next tribe and does the same thing. His real money is from the print industry. "Art of the West," which is largely promotional, predicted and then celebrated the 2 million dollar paintings, which makes one wonder how much they participated. Certainly a LOT of Terpening ads.

The "Western" genre can be seen as imposed from without, defined by galleries and dealers and media, or as created from within by the artists' choices of subject matter. In the first instance, it's pretty fluid and depends on what's in the back room. In the second, which is more likely to include the youngsters, it's largely from the heart but often uninformed artistically. In the first, it's a sort of variation on "tulipmania" when the craze for new flower bulbs drove the prices into the stratosphere. In the second, it's more like rodeo -- love of the event plus the hope of making enough money to buy a ranch or whatever. These two points of view have always been in art -- and probably other related fields like writing -- and always will be.

The Taos painters (whom I mistakenly called "Santa Fe" -- shame on me -- that's a whole different thing) were amazing and show what transplanting very well-trained artists to a whole new subject field can do when the match is excellent. Something like that happened when the Connecticut illustrators moved to the West, but more ambiguously.

True enough that the more money people have, the less they tend to really understand about art. This is partly because they've spent so much time making the money that they've had no time to spend learning about art and partly because people with an eye on the money are very quick to push their own point of view. I think there is a HUGE need for people who can teach art concepts quickly and with integrity. I'm appalled at the number of people with the title of "art curator" in Western historical and museum institutions who know little or nothing.

But artists are not blameless nor are they all hard-working and productive. Some don't get breaks or aren't paying attention when they do, some attack their colleaques in truly frightful ways, and some are their own worst enemies.

Schmid is praiseworthy for coalescing a real community of artists and supporting their growth.

Now, if you want to talk blameless, how about discussing artists' wives?? LOL

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 11, 2006 12:10 PM

I am currently on the road and only able to sporadically connect to via dial up so it is difficult for me to participate fully in this thread, much as I'd love to. As someone who is deeply moved by "that Rothko crap" and spending time with a collector of abstraction (among other genres) I can say he is, as are many collectors with similar taste, incredibly knowledgeable about art and art history. 80% or more of the art and artists in any style are generally fair to poor at best, including "classical realism" and abstraction.

That said, The Harlem Studio of Art [] is another atelier style, classically oriented, school established in November 2002 by artists Judith Pond Kudlow and Andrea J. Smith offering a similar program.

Posted by: Chris White on September 11, 2006 7:54 PM

Interesting, I just found this on google.

I have some experience with these atelier programs. I also have experience with some big name 'modern artists', the biggest probably being Koons..... or rather, his workshop. I doubt Jeff himself knows much about me. haha.

I can see where btm comes from, asking when they'll start actually painting about something, instead of just "copying" what they see.

I have to stop at "copying" though... you'll never hear any 'atelier' talk about detail or copying. I dont know why the idea of "copying" comes up when someone sees a realistic drawing... but ateliers really dont focus on "technique" or "detail" like people seem to think they do.
I suppose, like anything else, if you havent experienced it you wouldnt understand, but they focus on vision and understanding of visual perception. The paper or canvas itself isn't important-- Michelangelo could paint the Sistine Chapel with mud and a broom if he really wanted.

I actually see more "modern" artists focused on technique than "classical" artists. I'll gaurentee Nelson Shanks never worries about his technique, its second nature to him..... but the big name modernists I met are always worried if the technique is good enough... even if it's not a realistic painting.

I was really surprised by that-- totally backwards from what's expected.

But about making paintings "about" something, instead of just "copying" what they see:

I think it's a reaction to modernism. Modernism was (pretty much) all about "what the painting is about" and not focused on making something aesthetically pleasing or accurate "technique"-wise. So guys like Jacob Collins are going the exact opposite route-- focus on technique and aesthetics and less on what the painting is about. It's their natural reaction to modernism.

But I highly doubt the next generation of realists will be that way. I myself have been called a "modernist" for my ideas... even though I'm (trying) to paint realistically. (I still have years of study left.)

Also, I think a lot of it looks stiff because they only know one (incomplete) set of ideas. "Rendering" itself doesnt make something look stiff-- otherwise every photograph would look stiff, since the drawing and modelling is perfect in a photograph.

In my opinion, some academic artists look stiff because the academic ideas broke apart in the early 20th century; you have sight sizers and non-sight sizers, mass drawing and linear drawing; artists who measure and artists who don't...... each atelier instructor got just a fragment, whereas guys like Rockwell, Annigoni, or Gerome had the whole package.

Before I went to any ateliers I thought it was all just "classical realism." After jumping around to different ateliers it's crazy to see how none of the ateliers are alike. No two teach the same thing---- yet they all come from a similiar lineage, and you can trace their lineage with their philosophies.

I can just talk to an atelier artist, without knowing where they studied or seeing their work, and immediately know if their lineage traces to Dumond, Bridgeman, Annigoni, or Gerome. (It's all about the ideas and concepts-- not about their technique. Their philosophies are what produce the "technique", not their hands.)

There's also the fact that, even in ateliers where the students attend 40 hours a week, the students dont fully dedicate themselves to truly understand... they just do the required projects to progress through the program. They dont question what they're recieving, or wonder why other ateliers teach conflicting information, and so they dont desire to understand other ateliers ideas.
So not every artist (i.e. very few) coming out of ateliers are skilled like Shanks or Collins-- the instruciton is there, but not everyone has self-motivation. No program can equip students with that.

So yes, I think the next generation of atelier artists will definately expand upon the last. The majority will just take what they learn and be lackluster clones; but there will be a few who take it and build upon it to stand out. It's only natural.

That's just my 2 cents. Have a good day everyone.


Posted by: KP on September 22, 2006 8:11 AM

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