An Interview with Artist/Teacher Dana Levin, One of ARC's First Scholarship Winners
One of the first things Dana told me was that her students, as well as many additional young artists that she has the opportunity to speak with (the Rhode Island School of Design is just minutes away) come to the Art Renewal Center for a sense of security, knowledge and even comfort in their quest to master the classical realist tradition. "These young artists view ARC as a primary and official source of information on what is happening in the art world when it comes to the Realist Movement.", Dana said. Dana believes that ARC's strong presence and continued growth gives their commitment to classical realism affirmation in the present and also offers them hope for the future of realist art. Levin told me that students have come to her through ARC's listings of approved ateliers and schools and that conversations and references to the ARC site occur on a regular basis. Dana explained to me that ARC both validates and informs the students' philosophical beliefs and adds credibility to their endeavors. "It is important for these young people to have a philosophical bedrock on which to stand in order to handle some of the stress they are bound to encounter in a college art world not usually favorable to the atelier method of training." ARC offers them a real sense of community.
Dana told me that "just today a junior at the Rhode Island School of Design came to visit my studio because he wanted to be a classical realist artist and at RISD he wasn't able to receive the kind of instruction he needed." His professors discouraged him from going down that path and did not know how to instruct him.
A critical moment for one of her students, a talented 20-year-old, was when he was asked to do "drip art". This is a term given to the Jackson Pollock approach to art. Her student, at this request, had had enough and left Massachusetts College of Art to join Dana's atelier.
Dana explained, "There is a terrible frustration when studying at most art schools or in a university art department because you are not being taught basic drawing skills which are the foundation of any kind of representational art. Its as if two-dimensional representational art no longer has a place there. Students who are interested in becoming a realist artists are left out of the system and graduate without the skills necessary to begin a career as an artist. College is a great financial expense and one should graduate with some skills to earn a living. There are specific standards in classical or academic art by which to create and judge the quality of work. These skills are taught not in traditional colleges and universities, but in ateliers. Modern art, which is the focus of most BFA and MFA programs is subjective and this makes it difficult to set standards."
Dana further explained some of the humiliations her students reported to her after leaving other venues of art training. Students who were interested in learning how to really draw were told by their teachers to, "not give up the idea of a day job," or as one teacher so rudely said, "I should take that pencil away from you!" From this student's apparent talent, the comment was pure jealousy. Dana went on to say, "It sounded to me like the teachers did not know how to teach. They would say that the student was untalented when in fact I believe it was that the student had an unskilled and untalented teacher." So, as Dana sees it, why put yourself through this expensive and humiliating ordeal if you know in your heart that what you want to do is paint like the masters?
Dana, herself, knew she wanted to be an artist at a young age. At 14 she began her formal training by attending a competitive summer fine arts program called Belvoir Terrace in Lenox, MA. In high school she went to the well-known New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. Upon graduation she continued her studies at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago where her accomplishments earned her an early graduation with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. But despite these accomplishments, Dana knew that she had much more to learn if she wanted to truly master the skills necessary to achieve her vision as an artist. So Levin moved to Florence Italy to study under the tutelage of master painter Daniel Graves at the Florence Academy of Art. Here Dana was finally fully immersed in the atelier method of training on a fulltime long-term basis...and was taught the methods by which the techniques of the European masters have been passed down from teacher to student for generations. "At first the intensity of the program was almost overwhelming. It was exhausting!" But in short order she knew she had finally found what she had been looking for. "I was surrounded by art and craft and a commitment from everyone around me on the deepest level to learn." The energy, once she acclimated, was intoxicating. In 2001 Dana won a scholarship from ARC in the first Arc Scholarship Competition. On completion of the three-year curriculum she was asked to join the academy's teaching faculty and she accepted. Dana taught at the Florence Academy for the next five years and discovered that she both enjoyed and had a gift for teaching. Levin takes pride in being part of a lineage that connects her to Jean-Leon Gerome, The Boston School Painters, Edmund Tarbell, William Paxton, Frank Benson, Ives Gammell, Richard Lack and her own mentor Daniel Graves. In 2005, back in the states, Dana founded the New School of Classical Art (NSCA) "dedicated to providing visual artists with the tools necessary to communicate ideas though representational art of the highest quality." The NSCA is located at 545 Pawtucket Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 02861. For more information on her school and curriculum go to www.danalevin.com or call 401-575-1030.
With the support of ARC and the growing numbers of students and properly trained teachers at ateliers around the United States and in Europe, Dana has seen a definite increase in respect for realism. "Many galleries are now looking for new artists who paint realistically. Even galleries that have been primarily in the abstract art market want some representational work in their repertoire of offerings.", Dana said. Dana believes that this is because some of the prejudice is dropping away and also because many younger well-to-do collectors see abstract art as old and tired and are looking to realism as a fresh new way to collect art. "Of course, the public must now be educated about this kind of painting and taught how to differentiate between the ordinary or superficial and the deep and meaningful representational art. We haven't had much to choose from until recently, so our aesthetics need to be developed...this is true for the artist as well as the public." Dana explained. The fact that respect for realistic art is gaining acceptance in art galleries as an alternative movement should be very encouraging to all young artists who want to learn the classical atelier method. "An artist has the right to wonder and worry if he or she can make a living at their art," acknowledges Dana. One of Dana's students had the chance to ask the master painter Jacob Collins if he could ever hope to make a living at his art. Jacob Collins told him if an artist does good work, it will be noticed. ARC agrees with this assessment. As Dana told me, "the classically trained artist of today doesn't need to take a defensive stance." Realism is a viable and truly modern alternative to those other "art" forms. "Galleries are much more willing to look at realist paintings today and even need them in their galleries," affirms Dana. The work of ARC, committed artists, and all the teachers and students at all the ateliers who have persevered in the perpetuation of the classical realist tradition, can take credit for this enlightened and contemporary view of realism. Dana Levin is one of the heroines in the fight that is bringing the appreciation of realism back to us.