(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Month: September, 2014

Accademia dell’arte update

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how I went to the Accademia delle Belle Arte to find out about their non-degree course and all I could find out was that I had to take an admission exam.

Well, that’s done now, and it wasn’t so bad.

The terror of it, of course, is in not knowing what to expect. I’ve found that this is a frequent tactic of intimidation in Italian schools. It may be partly a function of the fact that the people who run the administrative offices aren’t professors themselves and so either they don’t know what’s going on, or they want to throw their weight around. I don’t know which. But typically secretaries in state schools are a severe bunch, at least until you get to know them.

I didn’t sleep so well the night before the exam.  I wasn’t nervous about the drawing, but I couldn’t imagine what they’d have us doing from 9-4:30, and wondered whether they’d allow us to eat, or to take our phones into the room, etc. Because in addition to being known for having super-long exams covering an enormous amount of subject matter, Italians are also known for cheating on said exams and administrators are known for taking extraordinary measures to prevent said cheating, which of course generates workarounds so that the cheating just crops up in some new form. That’s why I could so easily imagine a scenario in which no one was allowed to take anything into the room or leave it.

In reality, what transpired was something I’d done many times before, a perfectly normal drawing session from the model. Newsprint would have come in handy for warmups, but the proctors allowed me to take an extra sheet of paper and so I was able to do a couple of extra sketches before ascertaining the model’s proportions and settling into a composition I liked. I just had to have each paper signed on a stamped seal and to turn in all the sheets (again, very Italian!). It became evident during the session that everyone was pleased with my work, so I didn’t worry about my drawing after that. I just kept working for about two hours until I had made a drawing that I liked, for the fun of it. After all, when was the last time I had an opportunity to work from a model?

Before I left for the day, I asked about the art history exam: “Do you think my Italian language skills will be a problem?” The guy behind the desk responded, “Have you ever heard Chinese? I don’t think you’ll have a problem.” And in fact, I noticed that a large proportion of the students taking exams (though fewer in my section) were in fact Chinese. I talked to one of the girls who was waiting near me and she’d only been here for three months. She didn’t understand what I said in Italian even when I spoke very slowly and simply. I have yet to figure out why there are so many students from China, but it’s interesting.

The only other English speaker I met was an older woman from Australia. She was married to an Italian and had lived here for twenty years. She said that she’d been trying to get into the program for years, but had never gotten as far as the exam. The first time they wouldn’t let her try out because she didn’t have a birth certificate. After that, she was blocked because she’d graduated from high school at 15 and started taking college courses. On the other hand, one Italian woman of my age had been taking night courses at a liceo artistico for two years. In Italy, you can apparently go to high school at night, and at any age!

I also found out why there were so few students taking the exam, and most of them were older: liceo students are automatically admitted.

So, back to the art history exam: This morning they had us wait outside again, then let us in, then changed our room, and after that they had us wait some more. Then they told us that the professor going the examining would be in at 10:00. It was about 9:30. One woman rolled her eyes and went out to take a walk. I talked to a few of the people I’d met yesterday, and some of them were very nervous, even the Italians. I wasn’t.

Five minutes after the announcement of the 10:00 a.m. start, I heard someone say, “Let’s get started,” and they called my name. (This comes of having a surname that starts with an A.) I went up to the desk, thinking about the Mannerist to Baroque transition in Florence. The man behind the desk smiled and said, “So, we’d be very glad to have you join us. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve done before?” So I told them I had an art degree from the US and once had a portrait business, but I’d been a stay-at-home mom for years. Now I wanted to get back into art. This seemed to satisfy them, and they told me a bit about how the program worked. I’m glad they did this, because it gave me the opportunity to clarify some things, and I found out that the program offered more opportunities than I had previously thought, such as an etching class and art history lectures. And that was it. There was no art history exam at all!

There should be an official posting with enrollment in a few days. So, now I just have to decide if this is how I want to spend my mornings pretty much every weekday this year. It’s not a job, but it might lead to one if I use it wisely.


Here’s a photo I took of my exam drawing, some time before I finished it. Among other things, I decided that the eye socket was too compressed and enlarged it.

New film project

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 (Above: Film stills from Imago Cristi)

As promised, here is a bit more news about Alberto and Sarie’s creative projects. Last year I posted about Sarie acting in Alberto’s film 1245 AD, a movie based of local medieval history. He eventually had to put it on the back burner, because it became impossible to schedule the local re-enactment group for the crowd scenes. Alberto had been working on that film since he was seventeen–all through the end of high school and conservatory, so naturally he was very reluctant to let go of it. But not long afterwards, he had come up with about three other ideas for films, all of which were less difficult to arrange logistically.

The movie idea that finally took off was an adventure film, Imago Cristi, based on a historical account of a 16th Century pilgrimage.  Alberto’s character, Leonardo, is a mercenary and prodigal with a mysterious past. At the time when he’s hired as part of a convoy to transport valuable cargo over the Alps to Cardinal Borromeo, he is cynical and without hope. But something happens along the route that will change his perspective permanently.

Sarie has a small part in this movie as well. But mostly, it’s a film about swords and derring do. I know this because we’ve been ordering enough historically accurate weapons to stock a small armory.

I’ve also been working on some story boards for the film. I never heard of film storyboards before Alberto asked me to do some. I’ve had a hard time accepting the fact that you can’t get too wrapped up in how each drawing looks, artistically-speaking. The point instead is to do a schematic diagram of every single shot in the film and show how the camera moves.

Incidentally, about a week before the filming, the film crew lost access to the space they were going to use for the tavern. At first there was wailing and gnashing of teeth as they tried unsuccessfully to juggle the actors’ schedules for a different day. But then they got permission to use an even better location! (The one you see in these photos.) After that, Alberto had to quickly redraw all the storyboards to work for the new space. So ha! That’s what I get for being too finicky about my drawing!

The filming finally took place in Lanzo, about an hour outside Torino, Friday before last. Below I’ve posted a few behind-the scenes photos of the filming. All of these movie projects, needless to say, are filmed on a shoestring, using volunteers. But Alberto sets extremely high standards for historical accuracy and cinematography. And he’s very determined to finish this one. Stay tuned or join their Facebook page for more news!

(Behind the scenes, below: 1) Alberto looks worried as Sarie gives his wig a haircut. As you can see in the next photo, it turned out fine! 2-4) Merrymakers improvising for the tavern scene. They aren’t really drinking wine. When they are drinking anything, it’s vinegar, which they then have to spit out! 5) One of the original story boards, from about the third page into the tavern scene.

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(All photos except story board were taken by a member of the film crew.)

Mountain concert


Last weekend the old Baroque group Aurea Armonia, in which Sarie and Alberto met, reunited with a few other instrumentalists and combined with Eufoné (incidentally, the choir in which Alberto’s parents met) to perform several Baroque pieces, including all of Bach Canata 140. Sarie and Alberto both had considerable instrumental solo parts. The concert took place in Corio, a small town about an hour outside of Torino near the mountains.

Sarie and Alberto have been doing quite a lot of concert traveling lately, as well as a lot of other creative activity related to early music and film, so I’ll try to do some more posts about these soon. Meanwhile, I particularly liked this concert because it was nice to see the old group reunited under the tutelage of Eufone’s Alessandro Ruo Rui, and I liked the cozy feeling of being there on the first crisp fall evening in the mountains. It takes considerable effort for me to attend these concerts, since I still don’t have a driver’s license, but when I’m able to arrange a ride, I always find it well worth the effort.

(The first photo above is of the main church in Corio. Below are three photos of the rehearsal and then one of the final concert. The original four members of the Baroque group, including Sarie and Alberto, are on the right. The three rehearsal photos below were taken by Aldo Mattea.)


In which I walk through the mine field of logistics for the sake of art…

Once again I’ve let this blog go dormant for a while, even though I really like writing. The reason is that I wasn’t satisfied with merely posting photos all the time, and yet I wasn’t ready to reshape the blog into something new yet.  My thoughts are undergoing one of those caterpillar to butterfly moments (I hope, haha!) and who wants to see all that gooey mess inside a cocoon?

Anyway, I’ll give a short update, and then we’ll see what comes of the blogging:

Last week I walked into the Accademia Albertina delle Belle Arte di Torino (the local art college) and stood in line to ask for some information about their non-degree figure-drawing course. Their site said they were taking enrollments through October. What followed was a typical Italian bureaucratic exchange: I got no information whatsoever about the course except that there was no teacher.  Instead, they informed me that since I didn’t have a diploma from an Italian liceo artistico (art high school) I would have to sit for the entrance exam. And incidentally, this was the last day to sign up for it–the last hour, in fact. The exam would last from 9:00-4:30, take place on September 17 (this Wednesday), there was an oral art history component, and of course they told me nothing about what either component would entail.

So, knowing there was no use in arguing with the humorless woman behind the counter, I went out to the street and asked directions to the nearest post office, filled out my bolletino and paid the exam fee, filled out the admission exam form, and stood in line again to submit everything. After that I went across the street to the art store, bought a variety of soft pencils, charcoal, and a pad of newsprint, and went home.

Since then I’ve been trying to get myself back into the habit of fitting quick gesture drawings onto large sheets of newsprint. I’ve done a couple of more detailed drawings as well. Since I don’t have a model, I’m having to use art books instead. And naturally, after such a long studio hiatus, I get distracted easily by all the other work I have to do. But I’m keeping with it. Taking up figure drawing again is sort of like starting to run again after getting out of shape; It makes me extremely tired, but after I work for about an hour, I feel great!

Am I worried about the exam?  Not really.  I’m more worried about the logistics: Getting myself up and over to the Accademia at 9 a.m., working for that long without coffee, and not knowing what’s allowed in terms of lunch and bathroom breaks! But if a former portrait artist can’t pass a figure drawing exam for local high school students, those high schoolers must be pretty darn good, and I should want to be in the class all the more next year, eh?

And the art history oral? Well, if I can’t convey something of my love of painting, as seen across time and geography, to the jury, then that probably says more about my Italian language skills than my knowledge of art history. That is a real possibility, but there’s not much I can do about it between now and Wednesday except look up some art terms. For both exams, it helps that I don’t have any idea what the expectations are, so I’m sort of walking into the experience like a child.

Anyway, I had to decide everything so quickly that I’ll just have to take the exam and figure out the rest later if I pass. I don’t even know for sure whether I want to take the class yet, as I don’t know what the hours are and what the course costs! I had simply been thinking about starting to paint portraits again, and thought that a figure-drawing course would both get me back into shape and introduce me to other artists in the city.

So, as usual, the order is: Do the bureaucracy, submit myself to the experience for which I underwent the bureaucracy, and then figure out what the heck is going on. And last of all, perhaps a couple of years into the experience, I might know whether it was worth it. That’s pretty much the opposite order from what people think is wise in the US, but in Italy there’s really no use fighting it.  In Italy, wisdom means learning to live well even when things are out of control.

18 September: I’ve added an update here.