The Alma Mater of Russia’s Artistic Elite

Anatoly Bichukov

Article: 
ART SCHOOLS OF RUSSIA
Magazine issue: 
#4 2007 (17)

Among Russia’s educational establishments that train professionals in all kinds of art, the Moscow State Academic Art Institute named after Vasily Surikov (Surikov Institute) rightly occupies a leading position, alongside St. Petersburg’s State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture that is named after Ilya Repin.

The Surikov Institute traces its origin to the Moscow College of Painting and Sculpture (MCPS) founded in 1843 under the auspices of the Moscow Art Society. The traditions established at the MCPS and the Russian Imperial Academy of Art formed the basis for the theoretical and practical aspects of the curriculum at the Surikov Institute. Every year our Institute teaches about 600 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students from Russia, the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and some other foreign countries. The students learn the basic of classic painting and drawing, oil painting and sculpture, and the humanities; from 2001 they have studied architecture as well.

The main objective of the Institute's teaching staff is to provide the students with professional training, ensuring that they acquire necessary skills and level of craftsmanship. The students are taught the ABC of pictorial art step-by-step - from academic drawing and composition, the basics of oil painting, understanding such concepts as form, volume and space, to more complex artistic goals. The instruction starts with lessons in drawing gypsum objects, still-lifes from pre-arranged sets of objects, then continues in human figure drawing classes, where students learn to create pictures of nude models, portraits and genre compositions. During the required six years of study, after the two foundational years, two semesters each, the students may specialize in different types and genres of art, choosing mentors among the professors. Starting from the third year they study under individual professors, heads of departmental units, and workshop directors. This is a period when the students become artistically emancipated, polish their skills and develop their individual styles. Besides the core artistic specialties, the institute also prepares unique specialists in restoration of paintings and sculptures. There is a preparatory department for those willing to prepare for the entrance exams, provided they have the proper skills and talent.

Every year, based on the results of entrance examinations in major subjects, the Institute enrolls 100 new students. As a rule, prior to matriculating at the Surikov Institute, most have received an undergraduate-level art education at different educational establishments in Russia.

The uniqueness of instruction at the Surikov Institute is predicated both on loyalty to the realist traditions of Russian art and to academic schooling, and on the highest level of the teaching staff. With our student body of 600, we have 20 full members and 8 associate members of the Russian Academy of Art, 21 People's Artists of Russian Federation, 33 Distinguished Artists of Russian Federation, 39 full professors and 24 adjunct professors, 46 Doctors (full time and visiting) and Candidates of Science in Arts and Humanities, and the winners of Russian state prizes and international prizes. Perhaps no other educational institution in Russia or, for that matter, in any other country can boast of so many top quality professionals for a student body of 600, and this is the reason why the level of training provided for future artists, architects and art scholars at the Surikov Institute meets the highest standards - and why the Institute, fitting every criterium, provides excellent spiritual, aesthetic and artistic instruction for new generations of talented artists, and ensures the continuity of the great traditions of Russian artistic culture.

Since its very beginning of the Surikov Institute, its teachers have included prominent figures of Russian art, brilliant practicians and theoreticians, and superb art scholars. It would suffice to name just a few distinguished names in order to give an idea of how influential our Institute is among professionals both in Russia and elsewhere. The list of those who founded the Institute and helped it grow include: Igor Grabar, Alexander Deineka, Vladimir Favorsky, Matvei Manizer, Dmitry Mochalsky, Konstantin Maximov, Boris Degtyarev, Mikhail Cheremnykh, Yevgeny Kibrik, Viktor Lazarev, Mikhail Alpatov, Yury Kolpinsky, Klavdia Tutevol, Nikolai Andronov, Pavel Bondarenko, Lev Kerbel, Oleg Komov, Mikhail Baburin, Vadim Ryndin.

Today the Institute's professors include Tair Salakhov, Dmitry Zhilinsky, Vladimir Tsigal, Mikhail Kurilko-Ryumin, Valentin Sidorov, Hugo M. Manizer, Vladimir Panov, Alexander Rukavishnikov, Mikhail Pereyaslavets, Evgeny Maximov, Vladimir Telin, Oleg Savostyuk, Nikolai Solomin, Mikhail Kiselev, Ivan Lubennikov, and Tatyana Nazarenko; and distinguished and famed masters of the middle generation: Aidan Salakhova, Alexander Teslik, Anatoly Lyubavin, Sergei Prisekin, Sergey Ossovsky, Raisa Lebedeva, and Alexander Suvorov.

These individuals are not only acclaimed artists and art scholars, creators of brilliant works of art and theoretical studies, but also superb teachers whole-heartedly devoted to their calling.

This can be mentioned with pride in the year of the 250th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Arts headed by Zurab Tsereteli - a person possessing unique talent and rare industry, and thinking on a grand scale. As President of the Academy, he devotes much attention to the young, to the development and improvement of instruction at the art institutions of higher learning in Russia, and provides invaluable support to the Surikov Institute as well.

With active support of the Academy of Arts, the Surikov Institute established the department of architecture, whose first class graduated in 2007; the Institute was granted additional resources, and its financing level was raised; its international contacts and cooperation with international art schools were broadened; and exhibition activity received a boost. In other words, the Institute received the best possible resources needed for improving all forms of its professional activity.

The great French writer Anatole France once said emphatically that "two monsters were dangerous for art: the artist who is not a craftsman and the craftsman who is not an artist" - this incontestable truth was and remains the cornerstone of art training provided for new generations of painters, sculptors and graphic artists at the Institute, and because of this we have special requirements for our students, as to what they become at the Institute as both professionals and human beings. We strive to develop in our students an independent image thinking, a responsible attitude to artistic challenges, and the desire to broaden their aesthetic range.

Along with the core professional disciplines, the Institute places much emphasis on the humanities - Russian and world history, the history of art from the ancient times to today, philosophy, study of Russian and foreign languages, and physical culture. Our department of humanities, the units of art history and Russian and foreign languages are staffed with top quality instructors, authors of numerous solid theoretical studies, monographs and study guides, and true enthusiasts of the subjects that they teach.

The Surikov Institute has a unique collection of methodology guides and a splendid educational library with over 150,000 volumes of professional literature, reference books, dictionaries, study guides, and Russian and international periodicals on culture, art and other disciplines; the library has comfortable, well equipped reading rooms staffed with first-rate, highly knowledgeable, dedicated specialists who provide necessary consultations for visitors.

The library resources include a unique collection of the originals of graphic works by great Russian artists, available for viewing to students.

We attach great importance not only to the spiritual development of students, but to their physical health and sport as well. The Institute ensures that every student develops in a balanced manner. The department of physical culture employs excellent instructors, passionate professionals with great track records and awards in different types of sport.

The Surikov Institute has trained many generations of Russian artists who have made a considerable contribution to Russian and world art. Many of our graduates have gained wide public acclaim, enriching Russian culture with excellent works in different media and genres, styles and trends. Many of our former students have created monumental artwork, monuments and murals, paintings, sculptures and drawings that now grace the collections of Russia's biggest museums. Their work in art has been duly appreciated by the state, society, and art critics. It would not be possible, even in the most expansive article, to list the names of all our graduates who, for over than 60 years, have garnered distinctions, prizes and honorary titles from the state, whose works are now a part of the "golden fund" of Russian culture, who have become truly popular with the general public, demonstrating the viability of and high demand for our art, its public importance and historical significance.

A fusion of tradition and innovation; spiritual richness and morality; expressiveness of imagery; originality of sculptural design; the sense of time; understanding and correct handling of professional challenges - all this constitutes, by no means exhaustively, what the Surikov teaching staff does.

We ignite the artistic imagination, promote loyalty to the great traditions and the spirit of innovation, encourage the independent artistic quest, and the testimony to this is the spiritual and professional experience possessed by the mentors of the young, the mentors of our graduate and doctoral students. Novel forms of incentives for most talented students, such as honorary stipends, named after prominent artists, awarded to best students, are an important feature of this process. We have honorary stipends named after the brilliant artists-cum-teachers who at different periods taught at the school: Dmitry Mochalsky, Klavdia Tutevol, Viktor Tsyplakov, Vadim Ryndin, Mikhail Cheremnykh, Yevgeny Kibrik, Boris Degtyarev, Lev Kerbel, Matvei Manizer, Mikhail Alpatov, Yuri Kolpinsky, and the great Russian architect of the 18th-early 19th centuries Mikhail Kazakov. These stellar names long ago became synonymous with classics of national painting, sculpture, drawing, theatre design, architecture, and art scholarship. With specific sums attached to them, the stipends provide an incentive to and raise the sense of duty among the students, stirring up the spirit of competition. These stipends are one of the innovations in the instructional process at the Institute, along with the traditional higher stipends reserved for students with best marks.

In the year of the 250th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Art its president Zurab Tsereteli, before the start of the new, 65th school year at the Surikov Institute, handed the Academy medals "For Achievement in Learning" to the Institute's best students, an event that became an important, unforgettable milestone in their lives. Thus, yet another form of incentive was brought into existence to encourage talented, gifted young people with serious attitudes to their calling; this novel form of encouragement points at the new level of demanding, exacting care and attention expended on the upbringing of new generations of professional artists. This is a good example for foreign students too.

Our work with international students deserves special mention. We have a long experience of working with them, and we can assuredly say that the results of this work are positive and impressive. NonRussian citizens who study at the Surikov Institute pay tuition fees, whereas most Russian citizens are entitled to study at the state's expense, with but a small portion - about 10% - of fee-paying Russians, enrolled additionally to state-sponsored students. Our past students and interns have included citizens of Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Chile, Greece, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Egypt, Turkey, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, People's Republic of China, South Korea and other countries. Many of them have become widely acclaimed artists in their home countries. Today we have among our students citizens of Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, South Korea, People's Republic of China, and CIS countries. This testifies to the competitive advantage of the Russian academic art education, to the Surikov Institute's international influence and contribution to the strengthening of the prestige and international recognition of our educational system. Arguably, the main factors explaining this recognition by the most unbiased among the Western art professionals include the uniqueness and high quality of art education in Russia, for no other country has preserved and developed the tradition of academic classic drawing and the realism traditions based on the experience of the old European masters.

The Surikov Institute since its inception has included in the curriculum such courses as copying museum masterpieces of Russian and Western European art of different periods and styles - the base from which the students learn the techniques and secrets of the craft of the great artists of the past. In the past such copying was a mandatory requirement in the curricula of the oldest European academies in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and other countries. However, by the 1950s the invaluable experience of the past was buried in oblivion almost everywhere, and only Russia remained a stronghold of the tradition, contributing much to the development and rejuvenation of the classic system of teaching the craft. Yet another traditional advantage is that the students are required to paint from nature; these assignments are an integral part of the entire instructional process including annual summer painting internships, which the Institute subsidizes with funds granted by the state. All this does not mean that we ignore and neglect new media technologies and other modern techniques that broaden the scope of the students' artistic interests and abilities. Some will probably criticize us for a certain "outmodedness", which in fact cannot be a serious argument in the discussion of the prospects of art education; we do not limit the artistic will and fantasy and the freedom of expression of our students - we demand that along with fantasy and freedom they also have a faultless command of the entire array of the classic forms and methods of craft - the basis of true craftsmanship, without which any seemingly progressive experiment is doomed to be abortive, if not also simply fame-seeking. We cannot accept that the field of art would sprout dilettantism behind the smoke-screen of bombastic speechifying about art keeping abreast of the times, about the art of intellectual games with no rules, for such an art is usually rootless and innocent of learning. We are not here to predict to whom the future belongs, but want to express one more time our confidence in the viability of realism in the widest sense of the word. We encourage true innovation, artistic quest and independence in our students, and this is why in the sixth year, when they are working on their thesis projects, we give them freedom in the choice of theme and style, and the right to consciously experiment. The reason why we give them freedom is not so much that the teachers and the school's administration are liberal, but because we are confident in their stock of knowledge, skills and experience acquired over the past five years at the school. Of course, we do not condone anarchy, so we delicately but also exactingly guide the work on thesis projects, helping with practical advice when needed and providing counseling. Through the final stage of instruction the students are shepherded by their mentors, thesis supervisors, who are personally responsible for their wards. This period before graduation consists of two stages. After discussing the overall concept, style options, narrative, plot or theme, genre, and other questions, the graduating students start working independently; this stage culminates in the pre-graduation oral defence of the project, where teachers from different departments, depending on the project specialty, together with the members of the Institute's Academic Council critique the project. After the approval the students continue to work on the final versions of their thesis projects. If the draft of the graduation project submitted for approval does not meet the standards of the members of the commission in terms of professionalism and quality, the student is given an opportunity to amend and re-do the draft. The invitees to the defense of graduation theses include members of the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles, reviewers, and the members of the Institute's Academic Council. The project supervisor introduces the student, while the latter presents the concept of the thesis and talks about how (s)he has worked on it; then a discussion of the thesis follows, after which the members of the commission evaluate the thesis on a five-grade scale by secret ballot, and then the final grade is announced. Such is a general overview of how the theses are defended. The defense of dissertations at the department of art history and theory proceeds along similar lines, albeit at a different level, with the invitees from the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles, members of the Academic Council and Dissertation Council, reviewers and opponents. The members of the Dissertation Council would first read the thesis abstract and listen to what the thesis supervisor and thesis author have to say, and then to the opinions of invited and independent reviewers; after that the members of the Dissertation Council vote; if the vote is positive, the thesis is approved and the session minutes and relevant documents are sent for approval to the Supreme Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles. Normally, every year at least six doctoral students or candidates for the degree assigned to the doctoral programme defend their theses.

It needs to be pointed out that the Surikov Institute has only full-time education opportunities - it does not have options of "sitting in on" classes. The Institute has a dormitory for out-of-town and international students - for Russian students the dormitory is free, for international students the fee is included in the tuition cost. All students are supplied with materials and necessary implements for their art.

The Surikov Institute has the right to propose candidates for honorary titles and state prizes, and to submit the appropriate applications to the relevant public authorities.

The Academic and Dissertation Councils, whose members are appointed and approved by the orders issued by the rector, are important and much needed structures within the Institute, reporting to the school's administration with the rector at the head.

Like other academic institutions, the Institute directly reports to and is under the patronage of the Russian Academy of Arts (RAA). The curricula and syllabi are reviewed by the academic council and approved by the rector. The Institute's rector, vice-principals, department chairs, unit heads, full professors and associate professors, and lecturers are elected by open vote for a term of five years, and approved both personally and on general ballot. The vacancies are filled competitively, job candidates are approved by the Institute's Academic Council.

The Institute has a permanent selfgoverning student council elected democratically by open vote. The Council's functions include review and settlement of contentious issues and conflicts, arrangements for leisure, special interest clubs, maintenance of discipline, and the like.

The multi-functional, complex system of professional education, cultivation of good taste, and broadening of aesthetic horizons ensures that we graduate solid specialists and craftsmen skilled in easel and mural painting and sculpture, drawing and book illustration, poster-making and theatre design, as well as art scholars and critics, and architects.

This article is a general overview, and by no means a detailed description of the daily workings of the Surikov Institute, its five departments, its departmental subdivisions and units, its administration and maintenance services; a special mention should be made about the Academic Art Lyceum (school) affiliated with our Institute - it provides a solid professional training in all forms of visual art for gifted children, who, while studying art, also pursue the general high school curriculum prescribed by Russian schools. The Lyceum has long been one of the pools where we recruit our students who are taught to respect and be proud of the great centuries-long culture of their homeland and who feel that they are the homeland's heirs and the carriers of the spiritual ideals - the ideals of beauty and the good.

Today the varied activities of the Surikov Institute are indicative of the level and quality of academic art education in Russia - and its unique features, potential and prospects.

Illustrations

Modelling classes
Modelling classes
Engraving workshop
Engraving workshop
Modelling classes. Department of Sculpture
Modelling classes. Department of Sculpture
Examining sculptural works at the Department of Sculpture
Examining sculptural works at the Department of Sculpture
Department of Architecture. Examination of graduation work
Department of Architecture. Examination of graduation work
Presentation of the students’ cards by the Rector
Presentation of the students’ cards by the Rector
Library
Library
The President of the Russian Academy of Arts decorates the best students with the medals of the Academy
The President of the Russian Academy of Arts decorates the best students with the medals of the Academy

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