To set the tone here in Valdehouse I’m using an old, bitter and frustrated classic.

I wrote this text several years ago, at a time when I was very angry and lonely. A year or so had passed since I left the art academy where I got my training, and by this time I had a thing or two to say.
Reading it now is good fun. At times it’s hard even for me to understand what I was trying to convey.
Thinking back on my school years, in some weird way, I think they might have been the best part of my life. Working harder than ever, in a culture very different from the Swedish one, with all the expectations, and the hopes I had for my future…
By now in my memory it’s all magic.

This fire spitting young man feels foreign to me now, but he sure is ambitious and funny.


why the negative feelings towards the so-called academy? (a brief simplification)

on mechanical ponies they rode to the battle of the mind

where there was once the notion that their lances were too small, there was now the never ending struggle to convince a hostile world that theirs were the biggest.
they thought they looked like they had what was required to conquer the she-beast. indeed they were convinced they had what was needed to spread superior seeds and save humanity.
they built walls of arrogance, ignorance, and of pride. they used lifelines of technique and tradition. they drank from the old well of knowledge which they thought was reserved for their race only.
but even with, or because of, appearance, walls and knowledge,
they looked at the finger that was pointing, rather than to where it was pointing.
for that was a place of love and humility.
and their nature was such that they would only be able to venture there at great personal sacrifice. they had all already sacrificed far more than was sustainable.

these were warriors living in a parallel universe.

This school…
It is what it is. But what is it? What do you get?
The package does look very impressive. Increasingly so when tuition fees rise every year.

I spent a bit more than three years at an American academy of art in Florence, Italy. I graduated from their three year painting program. I was granted the opportunity to teach for a year.

They claim their goal is to provide the highest level of instruction in classical drawing, painting and sculpture. Curriculum and teaching method supposedly derive from the “classical Realist tradition, rooted in the Renaissance, and revived by the major Realist academic ateliers of the 19th century”.

After having been left confused and disappointed by experiences at art schools in Sweden, I had high expectations after what I saw as the honour of being accepted to this apparently serious institution. With a feeling of awe I embarked on what was to be a guided journey towards isolation. At first I was very susceptible. In my first conversation with the very intelligent director, he gave me the first display of his remarkable talent for telling people exactly what they want to hear, -“We’re actually not teaching art. We’re teaching control”. I was overjoyed. Readily I took it to heart. But it would turn out to be the ultimate lie. I was to be disappointed again. My heart broken.

Step by step I quickly advanced through the increasingly difficult projects presented to me. Being a young angry man I thrived in the competitive atmosphere at the school. Thinking back, I was the perfect impressionable little soldier.
After having mastered the basics, and first after having managed the difficult task of gaining for advancement necessary approval from one or two tricky egos, after two short years my self-confidence was boosted yet further when I was asked to teach. The experience of teaching was going to be very valuable for me.
But I was to understand that I would never fit in at the school. I would never really be accepted. Of talent and ambition I had more than anyone could wish for. The reason for my alienation in the community was my shyness, my poor ability to express myself verbaly, and the maturing of my artistic expression, which somehow was unacceptably out of line with the rigid direction of the program.
Today I take great pride in that my voice / my style could develop at all in the environment that the school presented. Although I believe I was held back to a large extent. More so as I rose in the hierarchy.

When at the hight of my love for the school and what I was doing there, I was told that I wasn’t following instructions and that I wasn’t fitting in ( -“people look at you strange” ), that it would be best if I left, I was devastated. After two years of hard work it came as a huge shock to me.
The director of the painting program at the time let me have it. Their champion / their most promising artist / the best teacher whenever it suited him, seemed to not be able to get along with people who wouldn’t put their nose up his ass. First when I dared attempt to open up a dialogue and try to convince him of my devotion to learning what they had to teach, did he find it suitable to drop the bomb.
I was very upset. The next day there was a pathetic attempt at soothing relations. Supposedly the suggestion that I should leave was only his personal opinion, and not that of the top dog.
I stayed on at the school.
It took me a few years to understand that that director had been right, it would have been best for me to leave. Time spent elsewhere would have been far more stimulating for me as an artist of my time and background.
Specifications of what I did wrong will surely seem insignificant and quite strange to anyone outside of the school. Adding modern elements to still lifes, experimenting with colours, being independent and not always following senior students… All still within the confines of realistic interpretation. Although sour, all would have to be accepted if I could only distinguish a clear picture of what it was they were trying to teach, and how I violated that more than any other individual.
Without that the school turns into something very ugly.

The grades they hand out at the end of every trimester is a joke. The choices for scholarship recipients are often questionable. The winners of best drawing, best painting etc, is nothing but confusing.
What you hope will be an education where you learn to develop your expression, may very well turn out to be more of a demanding test of character.
Knowledge gained and the experience of teaching hardly compensates the lasting pain of having been lied to. I was promised to be taught control in craftsmanship, nothing else. That’s what I payed for. That’s what I devoted my time to. I was told by the director that he, and no one else, would help me find my true self, and my true honest expression.
Far from getting that, I had to try to objectively learn as much as I could from under a fuzzy ideology ignoring much of recent history and aggresively denouncing todays artworld.

Being an artist there is rarely financial security. Pursuing it as a career is a gamble.
When running a school where you invite people to study, people who have accepted the challenge, and are willing to put huge amounts of money and time at stake, you at least accept the responsibility to respect them for what they are and to give them what they’re paying for. I saw this responsibility repeatedly being taken very lightly. At this school respect was something you earned. But not the good ol’ way through showing respect and being honest. This was a pretty isolated elitist society. Male dominated. Darwinian. Politicaly challenging. Much of the instruction was given by assistant instructors, chosen because of their talent. Many of them lacked any understanding or interest in pedagogy. They often seemed to lack an interest in what they were hired to do – instruct. Sadly that went for some of the permanent faculty as well.
Your place in the school was determined by how talented you were, how well you confined your talent to the confusing ideals and tradition, and how good you got along with the people in power and their loyal friends. Being rich, having the right / important acquaintances may have also greatly enhanced your position and prospects.

My attempts at fitting in in that community today serve as a yardstick to how low I can go. I feel ignored and disrespected by them, and I take that as a good sign. Only now, one and a half years after leaving them, do I feel like I’m beginning to drop the suffocating rules and philosophy I was inspired by while there. I’m a recovering art student. My friends will be pleased to see a return to form, a return to my true expression.

In what kind of environment do you want to grow?

Would I recommend this school to anyone?
Would I do it again?

/Valdemar Lethin

“In a school of fine arts, it is one’s duty to teach only uncontested truths, or at least those that rest upon the finest examples accepted for centuries.”

H. Flandrin

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