Insight's first alumni article: Tanya attended classes for many years;
|Tanya Russell, Principal
her father was the leader of the Guildford branch of the School in the UK. Tanya's artistic training was, unusually, an apprenticeship with her parents. Already established as an artist herself, in 2000, she founded The Art Academy, to give young artists a thorough training without losing their enthusiasm and talent.
The Art Academy
Tanya Russell, London
Watch clip of the Art Academy
What does the Academy teach? How is it different to other art colleges?
The Art Academy is unusual because unlike most art universities we teach skills. Skills give you the tools to express yourself, so that you are able to choose what to say without being limited in how you say it. Some of the best professional artists available teach our students, for more time than almost anywhere else, 26 contact hours a week on the Diploma course.
At the Academy we balance creative and professional development with traditional and contemporary technique classes. In 2d classes you can learn basic painting skills, or develop your understanding of abstraction and the language of varied 2d materials. 3d skills include sculpture, ceramics, wood, stone, contemporary materials, plastics and fabrication materials and performance and installation work. We now also hold '4d' classes in our digital suite, which include film making and digital photography techniques.
Art is only appreciated by people and through the language of art, people can
be inspired to help others, and all that exists in our world. Art is no different to speech; words spoken with heartfelt meaning, passion and clarity are very powerful. It is fundamental to me that artists speak about what they know and care about. It takes huge amounts of care and thought to give each individual what they need, as everyone and every situation is different; this requires a nurturing community.
I hope that the Art Academy might influence mainstream colleges to adapt their focus back to running courses with more tutor contact-time, teaching of skills, professional understanding and individual creative vision. And I would like The Academy to make every person who comes through the doors: students, staff, tradesmen etc. a tiny bit richer when they leave than when they came.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
The biggest obstacle was my complete lack of knowledge in almost every area, but this was also the most fun and still is - I learn so much every day. I do not really do anything and I am not really an expert in anything. My main job seems to be like a conductor keeping together all the amazing people with huge skills doing what they do best. I am so grateful to everyone who has helped over the years.
How is the Academy placed now?
Next year we expect to have more than 100 students on courses lasting a year or more, and we now fill over 1,575 places on shorter courses, all after only 15 years! We have a wonderful team, who've really pulled everything together in spite of the recession: growing the Academy's turnover 14% last year and an even higher 22% this year from our short public courses. What
this means is that we can help more people from different backgrounds on our certificate courses. A huge number of our alumni are now gaining commissions, having exhibitions and winning prizes.
You did an apprenticeship with your father? How would you describe your own art?
Looking at the mainstream art colleges, I was disappointed with the work produced, so I decided to do an apprenticeship with my parents. There are great benefits in this system; I really learnt how to work hard and how to survive as an artist. I learnt fundamental skills and developed a strong style to move forward professionally. What apprenticeship cannot give is a more rounded education, including academic understanding and the opportunity to study and understand much broader techniques and ideas in art. So the Academy tries to combine the best of these two worlds.
In my own practice I do public and private commissions in a similar vein to my parents, but more recently I am developing my work following my own interests. Animal well-being is my greatest interest and I have been doing commissions to raise money for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and am also developing a body of work around animal welfare, animal suffering and the beauty in nature.
How has your experience in the School prepared you for founding and developing the Academy?
In the School, people give freely and work at things with such amazing mental stamina and focus; this was a real inspiration for me growing up. Setting up
the Academy has been tough emotionally at times. It's sometimes easier to dwell on mistakes I make, so I have to be quite tough with myself in moments of self-doubt and personal neediness. After 35 years in the School, I have complete confidence that if you completely surrender, the universe gives you what you need. I have a permanent feeling of immense gratitude and an enjoyment of continual new opportunities.
Studying philosophy as I grew up gave me a never-ending love of enquiry. Art and art education are wonderful for this; there are never any complete and right answers - just constant fascinating questions and debates that spread a little light here and there.
I have to thank the School for its huge support over the years, both for me personally and in establishing the Academy, without which it would not have been possible.
What's your vision for art in the coming decades?
It is said that after the industrial and then digital revolutions, the next big
step is the creative revolution. Ideally, creative thinking will power people to be more intelligent, humane and creative in developing and caring for our whole world. All this can only happen if art education is again given the attention that it needs.
If I ever get fed up in the office, I go and walk around the studios and speak to the students. Seeing the amazing work they are doing and hearing them say how it has genuinely changed their lives, makes it all worthwhile.