Three Student Artists Share Insights About the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” — Winston Churchill

The Churchill quote above sums up, to a large degree, a feature at the heart of the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art GLAFA) here in Duluth, which in May completed its third year. How swift time flies!

The quote offers an insight about why art history classes are an essential part of gaining a fine arts degree in academic universities. This history provides a foundation as regards the historical context of our creative expressions as artists.

But rather than just learning how Renaissance artists developed their mastery in the arts, the GLAFA teaches the process itself by which artists learn to “see,” cultivating the skills necessary to implement their visions.

The school is modeled after the traditional European apprentice-style Atelier system. The focus of the Academy is to train individuals in Classical Impressionism.

In May I attended the school’s third weekend-long open house. Co-founder/instructors Jeffrey T. Larson and son Brock were thrilled not only by the student’s progress but also the school itself, which is a renovated Catholic church located on the East Hillside here in Duluth.

“You can only paint truthfully what you can truthfully see,” is one of the maxims of the GLAFA. Unless we’re totally blind, seeing is something we all do every day, and something we fail to do well because we take it for grated. Hence, a critical lesson here is learning how to truly and truthfully see. This lesson applies to all our life experiences but is particularly pertinent for painters.

In getting to know some of the students over the years, I’ve been impressed not only at the development of their skills, but at the character and life lessons they have learned as well.

I asked several students a few questions about their motivations and themselves. Here are their stories. The paintings are far superior in real life than these digital reproductions.

What motivated you to attend GLAFA?

Eric Rauvola: I decided once and for all that I wanted to be an artist when I was about 20, towards the end of my second year of college. I tried the university art program but didn’t really get what I was looking for. I knew that in order to realize my professional goals, I would need to start from scratch and receive solid fundamental training. I’m a native Duluthian, so when I heard about the school opening, in my hometown no less, I reached out immediately. I think I was the first person to inquire about joining the program. I’ve been in school for a long time, but it’s been worth it.

What were the biggest things you’ve learned here?

ER: Of course, the technical ins and outs — drawing, painting, anatomy, color, and the like — go without saying. Beyond the fundamentals, though, I’ve really learned to push past my own limits. There’s a certain amount of resistance that you feel when you are scraping against the upper threshold of your skill, and I lean into that feeling fully now. Being able to stick with a project for hours, days, weeks, or even months longer than you would otherwise want to can really unlock your potential. Having the grit to push through obstacles in pursuit of your goals is more than just a great skill to have when making art; it’s a great life skill.

When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up and how did that desire change over time? (Or did it?)

ER: I’ve really always wanted to be an artist in some capacity. I’ve been drawing and making little projects since I was a kid. I checked out a lot of other fields in high school and college — writing, psychology, computer science — but I always felt pulled back to art. Looking back on it now, I was never really going to be anything else.

* * * *

What motivated you to attend GLAFA?

Cam Conlon: Simply seeing Jeff’s artwork. (and soon after realizing he was a living artist living in Minnesota, starting a school.)

What were the biggest things you’ve learned here?

CC: Discipline and time management.

When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up and how did that desire change over time? (Or did it?)

CC: I wanted to be a painter and a bartender. The bartender thing is weird for a kid but I always have been super social so it’s not that surprising. I love connecting with all kinds of people.

I don’t consider myself an artist yet, but still a student. To be honest I would rather not tell anyone about my art unless I get to know them well as it can become a topic of discussion. It’s just always been so personal to me & people have very opinionated things to say when they find out you’re an artist .

The past 10 years I have worked in 3 different museums. I am now super interested in the museum / gallery side of art. Mostly the atmosphere of a clean quiet place to reflect. I love kids and adults and the museum is always a sacred place in which I can return.

* * * *

What motivated you to attend GLAFA?

Patrick Glander: My buddy and I worked for Jeff doing some part-time plaster repair on St. Pete’s. I didn’t know that there were really artists anymore, let alone people that could actually “make it” as painters. Brock and Jeff believed in me from the very beginning and are both examples of guys that I could relate to that made a living being artists. I don’t know if anyone else could have led me down this path besides them.

What were the biggest things you’ve learned here?

PG: The biggest things that I have learned are more attitudinal than anything. You can achieve anything you desire with a strong work ethic and a smart path towards your goal. Always work on what is furthest behind in life and in the painting. You can learn something from anyone and anyone can help you along the way. Having responsibility gives your life meaning. Like all things worth working towards in life, painting is difficult. Be grateful for who you are and what you have.

When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up and how did that desire change over time? (Or did it?)

PG: The first thing I wanted to be was an artist, with rockstar pretty close on that list, too.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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