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.


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