From 2008 to 2011 I was a student at Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy.
Founded in 1997 by Michael John Angel and Lynne Barton, it’s one of the comparately few classical-academic art schools or ateliers in Europe; classical-academic meaning a traditional approach to teaching art, similarly as it was done in 19th century ateliers. The focus is not on the creative process or on art philosophies and theories, but on the craftmanship of drawing and painting, following a fixed program.
The goal is to teach the student the mastery of craft – drawing and painting techniques, and seeing - to give them a fundament on which they are supposed to develop their own artistic vision after they have finished the three-year-program. In this sense, the school does not „make” accomplished artists or teaches „art” itself, but teaches technique and craft that anyone can learn. For a fine artist or illustrator who wants to focus on creating lifelike, representational paintings, this is the basics. This is why you will find beginners and advanced students alike here.
The program starts with pencil drawing exercises to copy lithographs of Charles Bargue, an exercise in seeing accurately. Then students proceed to copy two casts in charcoal, and three more casts using oil paints. Each of these projects usually takes several weeks or even months, as it is demanded to reproduce the seen object as accurately as humanly possible. There are also figure drawing classes every day; and since a live model requires slightly different seeing and copying (or „interpreting”) skills than the copying of stationary plaster casts, it becomes quite clear here how well a student has actually learnt to see and to control their medium.
In other words, copies of Bargue lithographs and casts look pretty much the same in any student’s work, for the eye is trained to become a camera, but in life drawing one can see an artist’s personal „style” and skill shine through. And to me personally it is becoming clear that all students in my group have improved their figure drawing significantly within one year.
The teachers are professional artists and very dedicated to teaching. At each project drawing or painting session, as well as during life drawing – at least twice a day – every student receives feedback on their project as they work. The critiques are very thorough, the teachers focusing on each project individually and telling the student how to make it better. I’ve had several a-ha!-moments as I revised drawings according to the teacher’s input. There is always something new to learn, and it can be a fascinating experience to discover these things. Here at Angel Academy of Art, I have made several drawings and paintings at a technical level that I (and my family!) thought was beyond my capabilities; and now I feel much more confident in traditional art techniques and even can tackle similar projects on my very own.
Of course the program requires hard work and dedication from every student. But one is very easily motivated not only by their own aspirations but also by seeing the work done by other students, and even watching them draw. Furthermore, the friendly atmosphere of the small school makes it a nice place that I like to go to on a daily basis. The academy has two studios, one in Via Fiesolana and one in Via San Niccolò.
On the school’s website www.angelartschool.com you can find examples of student work and information for applicants.