What Is Academic Art?

Academic art evolved from a highly structured European education system that produced art based on classical ideals. Artists at academies were taught in a structured, methodical manner. Art schools, known as academies, were established throughout Europe thanks to the patronage of European aristocracy. The first art academy, which opened in 1563 during the Renaissance, was located in Florence, Italy. With the founding of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in the 17th century, art academies gained even more clout. Academic art was eventually pushed aside in favor of modern art, but many of the academic art methods are still used to educate artists in 2011.

Academic art academies used strict, classical theory-based training methods. Students practiced drawing casts of classical sculptures before moving on to drawing a live model in most academies, which emphasized drawing as the foundation for both painting and sculpture. Students could not begin painting until they had demonstrated their ability to draw. The academies also emphasized young artists’ intellectual development providing history and philosophy courses.

In 1563, Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici founded the first academy in Florence, Italy, under the direction of Giorgio Vasari, an artist, architect, and art historian. The Academy and Company for the Arts of Drawing was the name of the school. The Medici family made their fortune in textiles and banking, and they had a long history of patronizing artists such as Leonardo di Vinci and later Raphael and Michelangelo. The study of anatomy was essential at the Academy and Company for Arts of Drawing to help students depict the human form in a realistic style, which was a hallmark of academic art. Students also studied geometry, which is the theory of creating three-dimensional effects, in order to gain a better understanding of perspective.

In 1648, the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was founded. The French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was founded with the goal of elevating artists above the status of craftsmen, providing artists with regularized training, and promoting classical Greek and Roman ideals in art. The French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, as its name suggests, gave the French monarchy greater control over art production. The French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture reached its pinnacle under the direction of Charles Le Brun, who took over as director in 1683.

During the French Revolution, the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was temporarily disbanded in 1793. The Academy of Painting and Sculpture was later renamed. When a group of artists known as the Impressionists rebelled against the strictures of classic realism in the latter half of the 1800s, French art academies were still influential.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, European academies were powerful, but they became outdated. The Impressionist method of painting was a major challenge to academic art, and academic art was eventually pushed aside the modern art movement. Despite this shift, most art schools in 2011 continue to use some of the academic art teaching methods. In art schools, the value of drawing is still emphasized, and life drawing is still taught. Both of these fields of study are regarded as crucial foundations for aspiring artists.