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What is Traditional Art & its Importance for the Painter and for Society

Traditional art is art that is part of a culture of a certain group of people, with skills and knowledge passed down through generations from masters to apprentices. But on my “art world”, the academic environment, when we speak of Traditional Art, we are often referring to what we call Classical Art: the ideas that emerged from the Renaissance and Illuminism about what art should represent to society. These ideas emerged on the Renaissance, but lasted long after, until the 19th century. and these ideas and concepts are directly connected to Academicism. Academicism is the method of professionalizing art education, designed, formalized and taught by European art academies, starting on the 16th Century. There is in the academicism the appreciation of renowned masters, veneration of the classical tradition, and the adoption of concepts collectively formulated, that had, besides a aesthetic character, also ethical origins and purposes. And it is about these concepts that I propose to speak. At least, the concepts that I understand, and believe in. But, in short, the term Classical Art refers to, basically, all kinds of art that existed before Modern Art, before the Modernist Movement.

Artistic truths that may have been unchallenged in the past, are today immersed in a fierce ideological battle, and unless a defense is made for their persistence through the centuries to the present day, the market will happily leave them aside. The ‘artistic truths’ have been changing. Our idea about what is art is changing. But, anyhow, being the Art something with as purpose to make us think and reflect, as I have said before, I bring up the following issue: The generations from the 21st century are particularly vulnerable to the temptations and distractions that pervade our daily lives, being them television advertisements or the seductions of the internet, or others. There is little space left for reflection, and the "rest points" where we find solace are increasingly hard to find. And in a world where people live their lives in endless rush, and one may not find enough time to enjoy life as he would like to, we need to stop and think. We need, more than ever, this time to feel and reflect. We need to go back to understanding what beauty is, and how we can bring it to our lives. The same way we watch a movie to "forget about the world" for a couple hours, the art (or other kinds of art, since cinema is art) could to give us the chance to do the same, to reflect on points and topics important to society and our lives today. To speculate, perhaps, on how we can live better.

Art matters because it provides us the opportunity to stop the march of time, to be in front of ourselves and recognize what we have become. And the great Art is designed to express and deal with authentic emotions, but for the world's foremost authority on aesthetic issues, Professor Roger Scruton, much of the work produced in recent decades short of this wildly accepted standard. On the 20th century, the modernist movements had big influence over the global conscience about art. Different views on beauty, or maybe about the usefulness of beauty on art, emerged. But well, the way that "things appear to us" can radically change the way we see the world and thus the degree to which we value what is presented to us.

The artists of today seem to be more concerned about doing something that is unique in itself and not something with which they relate. Before, in their passions and affections, through their triumphs and tragedies, the great artists captured the human condition in its raw form, undiluted. But virtues of the classical art, including the ability to paint, have been neglected in recent decades.

But why the classical art is important? What is the role of Classical Art in a world that, apparently, moved past it, leaving it in the past?

We can even extend the questioning, also asking: what is the difference between realist painting and a photograph? If we already have photography, why we need realistic painting?

I, Rafael, reiterate what said swiss painter Alan Lawson, that “the picture instantly captures a set of color values, but the painter must decide for himself what is emphasized or neutered, all the while adapting the work to light changings, or tone changings. While, for example in a portrait, a photograph captures just a momentary glimpse of humor, a painted portrait is meant to convey a cumulative temper cumulative revealed over the course of a sitting. Not that the picture is not able to capture a set of feelings, but the painter’s ability to capture it is directly related to his abilities with the brush and techniques.

Basically, it means that the painter is subjected to, not only choose the topic of the artwork, but also decide how it will present itself, by "editing" it, so to speak, but doing it during the creation process. May it be a portrait, a landscape or a still life. Furthermore, there is, on a canvas, a distinguishable ‘handmade’ feel. There is, whilst observing a canvas, an opportunity to admire the artist's skill to turn little piles of paint on a palette, in an image to be appreciated.

But the importance of such distinctions only matters if the average viewer is willing to see them. It is within the old reign that art creates its meaning. Art suggests a way of being, and invites us to live within its sight. It creates a place where we want to be, a place we inhabit simultaneously while we strive to get there. And, regardless of the used technique, the viewer who looks at a work of art should look at it and feel some emotion, learn something from it. Even if one knows nothing about the style of the work itself - impressionism, realism, naturalism, etc., nor can name the techniques used, the admiration itself and the sense of connection are still more important to the artist. If one is not able to identify, looking at the work, the battles fought by the artist during its construction, the appreciation of the skills and expertise of the artist is always well appreciated.

Painting well is hard. And the traditionalist painter tries to paint well to better convey emotions to fellow humans. We cannot deny that is it much easier to identify with a classical work of art, that displays a realistic aspect of life, than to a modern abstract work. It is a wildly accepted truth. So, if the human world needs connection, and beauty, and reflections, that makes traditional art very important. And painting realistically is very hard. Many people may not know how hard and demanding it is the training to become a realist painter, and then the life of a realist painter after.

All the great names of classical naturalistic/realistic/illustrative painting, had, if not the same, one very similar training to the one we have in the Florence Academy of Art, and other Academies. In past centuries there were no public academies, with students paying tuition, but there were royal Academies, founded and maintained by the kings and courts. People learned the craft of painting either by being taught by masters in their own studios or by being accepted into one of these academies, which was something very hard - one really needed to be good. And as there was no photography, the Painter was much more appreciated. People wanted good painters able to represent them in a picture for posterity, or able to illustrate stories, history, landscapes or ideas, in beautiful ways. So most of the big names we hear today went through this process I am going through today, and had a similar lifestyle. The artists were considered intellectuals in society, since the time of Academicism, and indeed, we are always studying, researching, thinking. Perhaps nowadays it is easier to make any bullshit on a canvas or wall and call yourself an artist, but for this kind of art we do here, some things are required, like intellectuality itself. There is a demand to the classicist/naturalist painter for some degree of knowledge (historical, technical, cultural, etc.), which I find absolutely right. I might hate the Baroque, but I need to know why it existed, its influences, what kind of art was produced and by whom. Otherwise, how can I compare what I do to what has been done, how do I know where I fit, or how to use past knowledge to make my work stronger and more meaningful?

But for these reasons I understand that there is much to learn, much to study. And that, in fact, to be a painter is a lifestyle. It requires sacrifice and effort. But I believe this kind of art to important to all mankind. Art is essential to the world. We must be humans, not machines. And therefore the skills of an artist, who can make us feel more human, should be valued. The artist's skill is a gift, and it should be cherished. Even in times of crisis.

With that in mind, perhaps the words of M. Hoffman in 1939 are still relevant today:

“It is easier to buy than to sell a work of art these days. The artist cannot live without the necessities of life; a beefsteak is just as good for a poor painter or sculptor in an attic as it is for the banker-perhaps even better, only it is more difficult for the artist to procure one. The idea that good art flourishes only when its creator is starving is a worn-out fallacy.

If the art patrons had not the had the courage and imagination to stimulate their own contemporary artists to heroic efforts, and be their moral as well as financial backers, where would we turn for many of our inspirations and museum collections today?

The artist, being a highly sensitive human being, is much affected by the attitude of his public, whether he is willing to acknowledge this fact or not. When a creative mind feels that there is a responsive understanding or need of its work, it is automatically stimulated and encouraged. The fact that a creator feels his work to be of essential value to someone for whom he has respect, that he is believed in and expected to produce better and better results, is a great moral stimulus.

When the recent financial crash struck our country, the stratum of society which was affected immediately and lastingly was the art world. Art becomes “de luxe” and is therefore branded as unnecessary. Even music is considered a luxury by those who do not realize that its magic influence may uplift us and give us new hope. It may take a long time for a country to realize the actual value of its art production, but gradually the sense of loss in this field of the spirit has to be reckoned with. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’.”


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