Dr Great Art Podcast, Episode 40: Goya's Anti-Academicist Speech. Goya's amazing speech to the newly founded Spanish Art Academy School. He was invited to speak to them as he was well-respected and was interested in helping other artists learn. Yet he had a profound dislike and fear of Academicism. Not only one of the best artists of all history, but was an independent and socially critical thinker, although he was court painter. Academics are scholars, and he and I are not criticizing them or their practice, rather AcademICISM, which is the worship of the Academy, the belief in Rules for Art and Creativity. And that these can be memorized.
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Dr Great Art Podcast 40
Goya's Anti Academy Speech
Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 40th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.
My artecdote this time is Goya's amazing speech to the newly founded Spanish Art Academy School. He was invited to speak to them as he was well-respected and apparently was interested in helping other artists learn. Yet he had a profound dislike and fear of Academicism. He is not only one of my favorite artists of all history, but was an independent and socially critical thinker, although he was court painter. Academics are scholars, and he and I are not criticizing them or their practice. AcademICISM is the worship of the Academy, the belief in Rules for art and creativity. And that these can be memorized.
In the academies, certain "classical" art models were and are identified and enforced as prototypes artists had to study and emulate if they wished to succeed. Academicist art, in whatever form, has thus inevitably come to be linked with the power-structure and the power-relations of society and its artworld(s). Academicist art contains a hardly veiled regulation of values, usually having some relation to the maintenance and reproduction of social power, even if only within the artworld, yet this may reach into the educational system and government, especially as younger academicians are usually recruited from the ruling classes. Goya, in this speech presented at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, he expressed his concern about the future of art, urging the freedom of the artist, which should not be narrowed by a set of rules.
There are here incredibly long sentences and some odd and questionable choices of vocabulary by the mores of our time, but granting that, he has some deep insights that still ring true. He gave the speech in Madrid 14 October 1792. Please make direct analogies to our time (substituting Minimalism of Conceptualism for Greek statues and 'lived experience' for Nature with a capital 'N' and so on). You will be surprised.
Now I leave the floor to Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.
ADDRESS TO THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF SAN FERNANDO REGARDING THE METHOD OF TEACHING THE VISUAL ARTS, 1792
MOST EXCELLENT SIR
Fulfilling on my behalf Your Excellency's order that each of us explain what he thinks opportune about the Study of the Arts, I say: That the Academies should not be exclusive, or serve more than as an aid to those who freely wish to study in them, banishing all servile subjection of the primary school, mechanical precepts, monthly prizes, financial aid, and other trivialities that degrade, and effeminate an Art as liberal and noble as Painting; nor should a time be predetermined that they study Geometry, or Perspective to overcome difficulties in drawing, for this itself will necessarily demand them in time of those who discover an aptitude, and talent, and the more advanced in it, the more easily they attain knowledge in the other Arts, as seen from the examples of those who have risen highest in this aspect, who I do not cite since they are so well known.
I will give a proof to demonstrate with facts, that there are no rules in Painting, and that the oppression, or servile obligation of making all study or follow the same path, is a great impediment for the Young who profess this very difficult art, that approaches the Divine more than any other, since it makes known all that God has created; he who has most closely approached will be able to give few rules concerning the profound operations of the understanding that are needed for it, nor explain why he has been happier perhaps with a work where less care has been taken, than with one of greater finish; What a profound and impenetrable arcanum is encompassed in the imitation of divine nature, without which there is nothing good, not only in Painting (that has no other task than its exact imitation) but in the other sciences.
Annibale Carracci, revived Painting that since the time of Raphael had fallen into decline, with the liberality of his genius, he gave birth to more disciples, and better than as many practitioners as there has been, leaving each to proceed following the inclination of his spirit, without determining for any to follow his style, or method, putting only those corrections intended to attain the imitation of the truth, and thus is seen the different styles, of Guido, Guercino, Andrea, Sacchi, Lanfranco, Albano, etc.
I cannot omit another clearer proof. Of the Painters known to us of greatest ability, and who have taken the greatest pains to teach the method of their tired styles (according to what they have told us). How many students have resulted? Where is the progress? the rules? the method? From what they have written, has any more been attained than to arouse the interest of those that are not, nor cannot be Artists, with the object of more greatly enhancing their own [that is, the Artist's] works, and giving them broad authority to decide even in the presence of those versed in this very sacred Science that demands so much study (even of those who were born for it) to understand and discern what is best.
It is impossible to express the pain that it causes me to see the flow of the perhaps licentious, or eloquent pen (that so attracts the uninitiated) and fall into the weakness of not knowing in depth the material of which he writes; What a scandal to hear nature deprecated in comparison to Greek statues by one who knows neither the one, nor the other, without acknowledging that the smallest part of Nature confounds and amazes those who know most! What statue, or cast of it might there be, that is not copied from Divine Nature? As excellent as the artist may be who copied it, can he not but proclaim that placed at its side, one is the work of God, and the other of our miserable hands? He who wishes to distance himself, to correct [nature] without seeking the best of it, can he help but fall into a reprehensible [and] monotonous manner, of paintings, of plaster models, as has happened to all who have done this exactly?
It seems that I stray from my original subject, but there is nothing more necessary, if there were to be a remedy for the actual decadence of the Arts but to know that they must not be dragged down by the power or knowledge of other sciences, but rather be governed by their own merit, as has always been the case when talents have flourished: then the despotic enthusiasts cease, and prudent lovers are born, who appreciate, venerate and encourage those who excel, providing them with work that can further advance their talent, helping them with greater force to produce all that their inclination promises: this is the true protection of the Arts, and it has always been shown that the works have made the men great.
In conclusion, sir, I do not see any other means of advancing the Arts, nor do I believe there is one, than to reward and protect he who excels in them; to hold in esteem the true Artist, to allow free reign to the genius of students who wish to learn them, without oppression, nor imposition of methods that twist the inclination they show to this or that style, of Painting.
I have given my opinion in response to Your Excellency's charge, but if my hand doesn't govern the pen as I might wish, to explain that which I understand, I hope that your Excellency will excuse it, for my entire life has been spent in attaining the fruit of that of which I am now speaking.
Thanks for listening. Podcast number 40.
Goya's Anti-Academy Speech
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