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Fresh Eyes, Open Mind:

The Roots of Classical Realism 

Vertumnus: Rudolf II, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo c.1550-1593

Overview: Six week program combining great book discussion, life drawing and museum studies, March-April 2018.

Who’s it for? Everyone. No prior artistic training is required to join this course. All with willingness and readiness to launch into learning are welcome.

This course brings together three learning experiences:

  • Socratic discussion seminars on rich texts related to the focus of course.

  • Museum Studies at the San Antonio Museum of Art,  highlighting Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Renaissance art. Sketching in the gallery.

  • Life Drawing at the Coppini Academy, San Antonio’s ‘Best Kept Artistic Secret’

Texts:  excerpted readings will be made available to registrants of this course. Readings will include The Figino, or On the Purpose of Painting: Art Theory in the Late Renaissance (Toronto Italian Studies) by Gregorio Comanini, and “Seeing” by Annie Dillard, from “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”)

Meeting frequency: One evening per week, for six weeks

Time Commitment: 2-3 hours per week

Seminar Leader/ Instructors: David Saussy

Materials:   (tba)

Cost: $65

Class full-Registration Closed!

Syllabus: March-April 2018 

Week 1, Tuesday 3/20 6:30 – 8:45pm : Museum Studies (SAMA) - Egyptian and Greek artifacts (select objects)

Week 2, Thursday 3/29  7:00 – 9:00pm : Studio (Coppini Academy) 

Week 3, Tuesday 4/3 6:30 – 8:45pm : Seminar (SAMA) - The Figino (selected reading)

Week 4, Tuesday 4/10 6:30-8:45 pm : Museum Studies (SAMA)

Week 5, Thursday 4/19 7:00-9:30 pm : Studio (Coppini Academy)

Week 6, Thursday 4/26 6:30 – 9:00pm: CAFA Museum – “Seeing” by Annie Dillard


Tuesday 3/20  6:30-8:30 San Antonio Museum of Art

Our Journey begins in Ancient Egypt, at the galleries of the San Antonio Museum of Art. There we will begin to investigate the roots of the tradition of art-making in Egyptian art, even prior to classical Greek and Roman art. We will raise the fundamental question about how and why art “saves the appearances” – an idea we see conserved even in modern photography.  We will further examine Cycladic Figurines and later figure sculptures, reflecting all the while on the root impulse of “saving the appearances.”  We will look, explore, sketch and discuss our discoveries together.  Sketching will be an important learning tool throughout – as a way not just to talk about the objects, but to actually put it into practice and test our understanding. You don’t need to be “good” at sketching to use it as a tool for learning!  

Thursday 3/29  7:00 – 9:30pm  Coppini Academy of Fine Art

Our journey then continues the following week at the Coppini Academy of Art, SA’s Best Kept Artistic Secret. At the root of our tradition of art-making is the idea that learning to draw is a matter of learning to see. With the experience we’ve gained closely observing ancient nude figurines and portraits, “saving the appearances” in artworks, and the difference between shape and form, we turn now to gain a fresh experience of life studies.

Participants will have the unique opportunity to undergo the traditional experience of studying a living nude human being in a studio setting. Participants bring their own pad of paper and pencils, and work at an easel. A very basic and powerful approach that turns life drawing into a learning experience will be presented. Along the way, we will talk about the origin of the idea of the “sketchbook” that led to the direct observation of nature as a central tool in the artist’s toolbox.

Tuesday 4/3  6:30 – 8:30pm  San Antonio Museum of Art, Stables

After the experience we gain together at the Museum and the Studio, our Journey then continues with a Socratic seminar on a gem of text called “The Figino”.  A Socratic seminar is open but purposive conversation based on a rich text. This is not a lecture, but a dialogue. The practice of seminar is itself eye-opening – it induces fresh ideas and shared questioning.  This experience is combined with a dialogue written in the late Renaissance, a document that is a repository of classical thinking about the roots and meaning of art for the tradition that begins with the Egyptians.  By encountering texts such as these, we can open up a deeper appreciation the art we are being introduced to.

Tuesday 4/10 6:30-8:30 pm San Antonio Museum of Art, Galleries 

Now that we have gained experience in the Museum, the Studio and Seminar, we return again to the Museum galleries, turning this time Renaissance painting. We will talk about the very word Renaissance. What is being reborn? What has the Renaissance retained from the ancients? Is there something they did not retain? What is novel or new in the Renaissance pictures we view? We will, look, discuss, and do composition sketches as we inquire together into these important questions.

Thursday 4/19 7:00-9:30 pm  The Coppini Academy of Fine Art 

Our Journey will then continue from this point to the Coppini Studio, and we will continue to practice and investigate the relationship between form and shape.

Thursday 4/26 6:30 – 8:30pm  Coppini Academy Museum, 2nd Floor

The final stage of our Journey together is a Socratic Discussion on a segment of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek on Seeing. What is to see? The work provides a rich touchstone into a conversation on the subject, involving some final reflections on our own experience gained together over six weeks.

By weaving together Museum studies, the direct experience of Studio work, and deep Socratic conversation on rich texts, participants are sure to walk away from this experience with fresh eyes and open minds – and some new avenues of thought and feeling as it regards the millennia-old tradition of image-making.

The aim of this course: to offer the conditions and means for participants of all levels and backgrounds to discover, and participate in a process of seeing at the root of the tradition of representational art with historical origins in the Egyptians and extending down to the present day. This course is not an art history course: works of the past are used as springboards for learning about the way things appear to us today. We will let the works themselves guide our seeing, our questioning and our conversations.

For the museum and studio practice, an approach to drawing/sketching will be presented as a means of reflection on experience, and as a way of peeling back our layers of preconceptions about what we think we are seeing.  Engaging in all of the activities of this course, we are in a better position to be able to move from fixation on habitual ways of seeing, to a free relationship with one of the central and most vital experiences of our life.

No prior special artistic experience is required to join this course. All that is required is a desire and readiness to launch into learning. This is great opportunity for folks who have never set foot in a studio before, but who would love a safe, approachable and accessible way to pick up a drawing pad and try their hand at it.  There is no finer place to try it out than at the Coppini Academy, San Antonio’s artistic gem and “Best Kept Art Secret”!

About the Seminar Leader/Instructor:

David Saussy, co-founder, President and seminar leader of Symposium Great Books Institute, graduated with a B.A. and an M.A. from St. John’s College in Santa Fe and Annapolis. He taught English and Philosophy to high school Juniors and Seniors for five years, and currently works with his wife in creating unique and meaningful learning opportunities for adults not only in the Liberal Arts, but in the Sacred Arts. Most recently, David had a piece of art selected for the 2017 Annual San Antonio Artist League Exhibition in King Williams, San Antonio. David is a student of acclaimed classical realist artist Tony Ryder of Santa Fe NM.


Study of Three Rocks and a Feather, by David Saussy, 2016


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