Ancient vs Modern Art Education

“Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame”

Gustav Mahler (Composer)

Fra Filippo Lippi - Head of a woman
Fra Filippo Lippi – Head of a woman
The position of apprentices in medieval craft guilds may not be as romantic as imagined!

In some cases, when a young person became an apprentice, the transaction more closely resembled their being ‘purchased’ than educated. They would be expected to fulfil the most tedious of jobs in the Bottega (Italian for Guild) before graduating to assisting the more experienced practitioners. In Italy the apprenticeship lasted between 3 to 8 years. The Guild issued professional and ethical standards upon their members. Upon completion of reproductions of masters works, the apprentice would graduate to ‘journeyman‘, a skilled worker. Only after evaluation can a journeyman be admitted to the guild as a master and train new apprentices.

For more information on these archaic systems one may be referred to the book Materials, Methods, and Masterpieces of Medieval Art By Janetta Rebold Benton

Standard University Education : Prospects

These days education in the arts has been formally enfolded into the standard state-approved education system which issues ‘qualifications’ that mark that person as competent.

However, data obtained from the 2016 US Census Bureau American Community Survey combined with date from the Institute of Fiscal Studies established that this system of training in the arts is so acutely faulty that those pursuing fine art degrees may in many respects end up financially worse than those who skip university altogether.

What is astonishing is that if that number is indeed correct, college grads with a fine arts degree are far worse off than the average high school dropout in the labor market. Even the lucky ones who do have a job are worse off. The rest are not only unemployed, but probably drowning in student-loan debt.

Source – Zerohedge

This is greatly because it does not equip people with the requisite skills to create skillful work, market their work, and survive in the world.

The Independent Art School Paradigm

The independent art school paradigm implies a number of things

  • craft, material technique and philosophy based practice
  • exposure to a diversity of philosophy and techniques and teachers
  • the ability to select school upon perceived value and skill of teachers, not based upon historical reputation of state university or locale
  • training in the arts is of value at any time of life, not just immediately upon leaving high school
  • flexibility of timing and locale
  • training by practising artists who have real life experience, not people who qualified from university and immediately embarked on teacher training

For both aspiring artists and families supporting the aspirations of their kin, it may be worth considering these factors. It is likely these factors that have lead to the expansion of many independent art schools within the past decade.

Apprenticeship and Mentorship

Gustave Moreau - Tattooed Salome
Gustave Moreau – Tattooed Salome

The philosophy and literature of art during the 20th century weighed itself heavily toward an extreme of the vision of artist as radical, itinerant individual, rebel, and individualist. Whilst these traits are indeed concentrated within the visual arts, a vital component of Transmission has been lost.

When Gustave Moreau was approached by students, he encouraged them to study the Quattrocento, the Italian term that means “four hundred” for the years belonging to the fifteenth century. It was one of the most important periods of European art and culture. It includes the early renaissance masters Giovanni Bellini, Mantegna, Titian, Giorgione, Botticelli, and Leonardo Da Vinci.

The approach taken is to ‘learn how to learn’, and to ‘see how to see’. From these pathways we follow into the heart of the perennial tradition of sacred art, as it was transmitted from ancient times, through the renaissance, William Blake, to the pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists, Gustave Moreau and Jean Delville, and even informing some of the great masters of painting of the 20th century that belong to a lineage ignored and buried by the conventional art history books.

This lineage includes Ernst Fuchs, HR Giger, Mati Klarwein and Robert Venosa. Through ‘passing on the flame’, this lineage from ancient times is preserved and developed.

Apprenticeship means taking a sustained period of time to assist and learn from a teacher. Mentorship involves learning the principles of holding space and helping to hold a learning environment thus learning to transmit the principles of this lineage oneself.

“The career of painter is a true Priesthood… paint is… The language of God!” Gustave Moreau