Past for Inspiration

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Past for Inspiration

From Eric Alexander Santoli

Published before 2005


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"'Antiquated Views': what it is like to be a young artist today who looks towards the past for inspiration"

As I began my college career, I also made the best possible choice for a young artist and decided to keep a journal close at hand. I am passionate about writing and have always tried to express my love for a style of art which is sometimes not so popular among a younger crowd. I started the journal as a rather naive person concerning the arts. The training that I had prior to my acceptance at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts involved Saturday morning class at an old art studio in my town in Northern New Jersey. The atmosphere instilled in me a love of the past and a special consideration for true craftsmanship. I studied oil painting with Diana K. Gibson, who has always been an incredible painter, teacher and friend. She taught me that oil painting is best done in Northern Light, just like artists of the past. I started painting, after having drawn my entire life, and immediately wanted to learn everything there was to know about this mystical and fascinating medium. The art institute where I began had Rembrandt's self-portrait hanging on the walls alongside great Velasquez's and Vermeer's; great inspiration for a young mind to feed off of.

I should also mention that I was always brought to museums by my parents as a child; my brother and I would soak up the experience at the museum and then fall asleep in the car on the ride home. Thus, I always felt at home in old libraries and museums. Of course, I am very lucky to be so close to New York and all the accessible work at so many great institutions.

I was accepted to the Pennsylvania Academy once I finished High School and could not have been more excited. The Pennsylvania Academy is a truly amazing place; it is America's oldest art school and Museum, from 1805. It was here, from a friend of mine, that I learned about great sources of information, such as, The Art Renewal Center. I became instantly fascinated by artists of the past from an aesthetic and technical point of view. I read account of the proper way to mix rabbit skin glue and how to apply an oil ground. These aspects of art entranced me, but most of my academy classmates thought it was not very stimulating. I couldn't understand, why would this art academy, with its long tradition not be filled to the brim with Rabbit skin glue users; of course, in the larger sense, as technicians of oil painting.

I studied one painter in particular who is a favorite on the ARC website: William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). "What a brilliant painter", I thought and still do think even as I am writing this. His technique was superb, and his Victorian ideals satisfied me on an aesthetic level. I studied him and would only get looks of dismay when I said his name and spoke about him at school. "Boogeroo, he's not that good." I understand full well that his work is full of saccharine cherubs and beautiful idealized women, but the truth of the matter was that he was a prolific craftsman who cared about everything that he ever touched. He painted without any mistakes and produced images that anyone could be proud of. Even Cezanne speaks about this, saying that he was able to capture images from his head and put them down on canvas very well. His images speak to me in the 21st century because they have the timeless quality of masterpieces. They say that he is all about surface, but I argue that a painter who doesn't care about his surface only can, as Ingres said, "...betray the eye."

I wanted to learn about his slick surfaces instead of learning about the gestures of Matisse. My tastes for modernity were not blossoming as well as some of my friends at the Pennsylvania Academy. Of course, I am still so very young (only 22), but I feel a great passion for the past. I enjoy many activities outside of painting, including extremes like skateboarding. But, I have never found anything as gratifying as reaching for an ideal of beauty by using a technique that has been crafted since the Renaissance. Bouguereau says to "Reach for your sense of ideal beauty, even if it kills you."

I believe that Bouguereau was a supremely fine artist, but in my mind, he is closely equated with an artist who I also greatly admire: Norman Rockwell. I love the Golden age illustrators because they practice a very old academy technique of creating an image: sketches from imagination, followed by countless studies and an underpainting all working up to a final finished work. Readers of the ARC's website have a wealth of knowledge that I took full advantage of as a student. Old painting manuals and texts about other great artists like Solomon J. Solomon who are now getting recognition.

I am writing as a young adult in modern times who has simply fallen in love with these great artists and, as a result, I have gained knowledge of art history which has helped lead my career. My time was spent mostly in the library at school and has given me the patience that is often times difficult for many young adults to acquire. Libraries, writing, and painting are the old practices that keep me on track and I hope I was able to show a little bit of my view as a classical art student.

My study of Latin in high school has given me a great motto "Ars Longa, Vita Brevis." Art is long, life is short. I am striving to learn as much as I can about the art that is in this quotation and I believe it relies in a formula of hard work, practice, careful study and appreciation for the past.

- Eric Alexander Santoli