Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Academic Methods, Part 2: Russian Art Academy

There are several different approaches to an academic art education. Yesterday, Michael John Angel of the Angel Academy of Art presented his teaching methods and philosophy.

A somewhat different approach is offered by Professor Sergey Chubirko, who teaches at the Russian Art Academy, which is also in Florence, Italy.

Rather than try to summarize Professor Chubirko’s method myself (I have not visited his school) or to presume to draw comparisons to other academies, I thought it would be helpful just to look at his drawings and to ask him a few questions about the thinking behind his work.

Gurney: Do you draw what you see or what you know?
Chubirko: I try not to copy unconsciously what I see. The most important point about the model for me is that the model must be inspirational; it must provoke my imagination for the creation of an image.

That is why I never start drawing before I see clearly the image, which I would like to show, through the model. Knowledge of anatomy and the laws of form are certainly necessary as they help me to work independently and to render my thoughts freely and quickly.

Such knowledge must be automatic so that it does not distract, does not bound imagination and, at the same time, introduce independence to the hand. This is the automatic skill that provides an artist with freedom and fluency when he works. An artist should only care about “what” to express not about “how” to do it.

Gurney: How does the knowledge of anatomy shape the way you interpret what you see?
 Chubirko: For academic drawing, knowledge of anatomy and the rules of the form need profound studying at the initial stages of art education. Such knowledge should not be ignored as, for instance, knowledge of the alphabet cannot be ignored when one wants to learn to read and write.

When we learn to read and to write we start with A, B, C, after that we put letters into syllables; later we learn how to compose simple sentences, then finally – complex sentences. And, as soon as we have learnt to express ourselves freely in complex sentences, we do not need to go back to the alphabet again. We do not think about letters any longer because they are just tools for a very creative process of reading and writing; for expressing our thoughts and feelings.

Same is in drawing. Knowledge of anatomy and the laws of form is just a tool necessary for an unlimited work of imagination and creation of the artistic images.

Gurney: What do you change when you draw?
Chubirko:  Selection in drawing is very important and this is the artist who selects what to show and what not to. Any model always has in itself the essential and the supplementary, secondary things.

The aim of the artist is to see what is really important and to emphasize it. The author’s selection in this case should be convincing for the viewer.  That is why when I am drawing a live model my personal vision as well as the image I would like to create is much more important than a model itself. Every model has its particular features, which, in fact, define artist’s choice of the main and the secondary points.


I am very grateful to Sergey and Irina Chubirko and Dorian Iten for helping me to learn more.
For more information, check out the following websites:
Russian Academy in Florence
Sergey Chubirko portfolio
Academic Methods, Part 1: Angel Academy
Atelier Stockholm: Sight Size and its Disadvantages
More discussion and examples of Russian Academy & Repin Institute work


Charles Valsechi said...

I cannot speak with 100% certainty, but I am not sure that the Russian Academy in Florence is connected to the original and currently active school in St. Petersburg Russia. Both show off the same drawings which I find strange.

James Gurney said...

Charles, you're right. I didn't mention the Repin Institute in St. Petersburg, because it's a separate institution from the Russian Academy in Florence. However, Mr. Chubirko did graduate from the Repin Institute in 2000 and later did postgraduate work and teaching there.

Brenno said...

James, would you say that the painterly vs. sculptural distinction would apply here between the two academic approaches? Or would that be overly simplistic? I am also trying to think of the transition from drawing to painting in each of the approaches... In the first approach (Angel's), it seems that drawing is clearly there to instill a "painting" mindset from the start. Is it possible, based on what you know and on your contact with the Russian tradition,to conjecture/say a bit about how that transition would take place in the second (Russian) approach? Huge question, I know. But also, for me, hugely fascinating. Thanks for the post.

Unknown said...

This is really a great read for me, thank you. I just started trying to cram the basics of anatomy and form into my head and it began to get discouraging. Then, reading this alphabet analogy really brought it together for me. I know I still have a long way to go, but it doesn't seem so overwhelming when I think about it this way.

Thanks again, this whole blog is a goldmine for learning!

bval said...

another great selection. Interesting to compare the visual output of the two schools. Seeing these and the ones from Angel make me wonder about the time spent on the pieces...I mean in most of the life drawing classes I took, an hour and a half was along pose! Are some of these a week long-what about the Angel academy? Certainly inspiring if not intimidating.

Charles Valsechi said...

The Russian tradition doesn't teach a transition between drawing and painting. Unlike the angel academy, students at the Repin Academy draw and paint from day one. The link I posted to the thread shows how these students paint. Some tight some loose, everyone develops a different aesthetic preference. The drawings have a goal of reconstruction, studying planes and sculptural form, where at the Angel Academy it seems largely based on copying.

It seems to me the Repin Academy is more based off of a Repin and Serov type of alla prima painting, where as places like the Angel Academy are more in the vein of Bouguereau and Gerome.

These words are based solely off the research I have done and people I have spoken to.


Anonymous said...

Great questions. Its exciting to think that there are schools and artists like these today. Makes me feel like we are in a renaissance - just so great!.

Brenno said...

Thanks very much for this, Charles. The two lineages (Repin/Serov/Chistyakov vs. Gerome/Bouguereau) make total sense. It's interesting, too, that in their alla-prima style Repin, Serov, and their teacher Chistyakov were in a way reacting against the dominant academicism of the time... A curious thing if one realizes that Repin and co. are now considered as the founding fathers of the current Russian academic tradition. This is a fascinating topic, with a fascinating history. Thanks for pointing me in a fruitful direction!

Damon Taylor said...

Very interesting read James. His knowledge of musculature and the way muscles interact with each other is quite incredible (even if he is working with models. Very inspiring.

Charles Valsechi said...


Anytime, glad I can help. I have been trying to absorb anything about the Russian tradition I can. I simply love their paintings. I recently found out about Serov's academy in Moscow where one of my favorite landscape painters, Levitan, came from.

Hopefully, after I finish off my degree I can study at the Repin Academy and bring that back to the US.

jeff said...

At ateliers such as Angel the poses can be for very long, you can have the same pose for 14 weeks or more.

This is the only way to do a really well informed drawing.

It seems to me that both schools are doing long poses. An hour is just getting started.

Off the Coast of Utopia said...

Poses at the Angel Academy last anywhere from 5 minutes to 60 hours (spread over 5 weeks).

Erik Bongers said...

No matter how much I like hyper-realistic drawing and painting, I get a bit of an overdose of classic China and flowers with that 3rd movie.
Where's the creativity, the humour?

It would be hard for me not to phush the edges of the assignment to paint china with flowers, and come up with a urinal with thistles.

Johan said...

I just love the comparison with the process of learning to read and write... so true!

I've not seen the movies (can't stream video here at work :p) but I agree with Eric that contemporary American realists tend to choose subjects that lean a lot more towards the classical subjects painted in the 19th century and earlier, and that these subjects do not represent the time in which the artists live in a most optimal way...

There are exceptions ofcourse (David Kassan, to name one)but some stuff look so overly classic it's really not representative for today's world. In that aspect I agree with my teacher at my local academy, who says "A realist painter should represent his current time, not the past".

David Still said...

It's a small world, and the art world is even smaller! When I was in Atelier Stockholm, one of the teachers were Cesar Santos, that studied at Angel's alongside Dorian Iten. (The other teachers had been in the two other classical ateliers in Florence that are very similar to Angel's) Now, when I'm studying online in The Art Department, Dorian Iten, who's now studying at the Russian Art Academy in Florence, is my teacher!

James Gurney said...

All great comments, thank you, and sorry I'm in too short on time to respond to each of them.

David, yes, it IS a small world, with relatively few master teachers keeping the flame alive. There's a fairly finite group of really dedicated teachers: Angel, Chubirko, Iten, Freitas, Collins, Parrish, etc. who are totally committed to researching the past and figuring out how apply it to the present.

Moose said...

His comments are absolutely fascinating. I had a bit of a 'lightbulb' moment when he talked about anatomy and being inspired by the model rather than simply copying. Thank you so much for interviewing him! I would like to know if there is anywhere I can read more from Professor Chubirko, short of moving to Italy? (not that I'm opposed, though my family might raise a few eyebrows...)

James Gurney said...

Moose, I've added a couple of links at the end that people have recommended to me, and they continue the debate the points further.

Zegna said...

There is also the possibility that there’s really only one lineage and that one of these two schools... ( i won’t say which one), is simply a modern interpretation based on bad evidence. All of the famous artist mentioned above were more or less thinking along the same lines ;-). Genome was ABSOLUTELY NOT copying.

Zegna said...

Hi James! Maybe you can add a link to Sergey’s new website? :-). Right now if you type his name into Google a number irrelevant pages go to the top, so it’s important that people start sharing his real link:

Zegna said...

Also, Sergey has no affiliation with the Russian Academy in Florence... I would recommend removing their link from this interview...