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KONSTANTINOS GRAMMATOPOULOS

PAINTER - ENGRAVER - PRINTMAKER

The Teacher

 

"I never considered the title of Professor a particular honour for an artist, because I never believed that art can be taught. All that a young artist can learn from an older colleague is a certain amount of purely technical and rudimentary knowledge. I believe that an artist is born. That is what we call talent. The talented and hardworking students, who came into the engraving studio, of which I was in charge made progress in their work.

 

It is true that in the engraving studio students had to learn more technical facts, than was the case in the other studios of the School of Fine Arts. Engraving has more “labor”, as they say, than painting.

 

Students were entering the engraving studio directly, without having attended other painting studios first, and since engravers have to be painters first and foremost, they were beginning by doing as much painting as possible in my studio and later on I was teaching them engraving.

 

The conclusion which I drew from all I believe, and from what I have said above, was that what I should attempt to succeed in setting targets and creating conditions, which would make my students want to work and attend the studio regularly. I gave, therefore, great attention to my students’ anxiety concerning their future, after graduating from the School of Fine Arts. I was never indifferent in this area and I never said: "this is a School and not a vocational training institution" and I directed my energies into what could be called the social sector of my work.

 

In order to do this, I realized that I should first have to improve their morale. I ceased calling them "students" and used the term "young artists". I used to say: “we are artists as soon as we pick up a pencil, and we remain students until the end of our lives”. I encouraged my students to begin producing artworks from a very early stage. In other words, instead of the things they produced being studies which were useless for the outside world, they could be produced as works of art which would be of use to the outside world. I encouraged them to love the work of composition and to produce compositions, even when they were working and looking at a model. I promised them that if they created plenty of good artworks, it would be very easy to hold exhibitions – not student exhibitions in the School - which are of no interest to the outside world, but exhibitions at well-known galleries where they could sell their works.

 

The young people began working with plenty of interest, not missing a single day at the studio.

 

It was spring of 1961, when an important opportunity appeared, furthering my efforts. Michael Goutos conceived the idea of developing the wonderful village of Mithymna, located in the northern part of his homeland, Lesvos. So, he came to see me and proposed that in the summer I should take my pupils to Mithymna, where they would work for a month. This work would be exhibited, after our return, in an Athenian art gallery. The Tourist Organization would cover all the expenses of this one month trip. I do not know whether he had already had meetings with other professors, who had turned down his proposal. I saw this offer as a great opportunity for what I was trying to do and I accepted immediately. That is how we came to set up the summer academy at Mithymna, Lesvos. This was a great incentive for these young artists and made ​​them create an amount of ten to thirty complete artworks each year. We all sat down together to choose the best artworks of each young artist, and we exhibited them in Athens, Thessaloniki and abroad (Paris, Brussels, Antwerp), receiving invitations for other countries as well. It would take me far too many pages to describe and explain all that, and so I shall go straight on one consequence which was of interest to me, because of it was representing the ideas I already described above. This consequence was that my students were working without ceasing throughout the whole academic year and then they continued working in Mithymna during the summers and back at the School during the rest of their summer vacation, to complete the work they had begun in Mithymna.

 

The exhibitions outside the School, at well-known galleries, and abroad, allowed them to score such moral and even financial successes that they felt themselves to be successful artists with a body of work already behind them, and they looked on me as their patron or, if you prefer, a manager. My only rewards were my state salary as university professor, which was very good for the time, and the pleasure I gained from helping them and giving them boundless interest and desire for work, which is the only effective way for them to learn everything about art by themselves.

 

Without intending to and without wanting to - because it was not my intention - I received some moral recompense too, but this intuitively began to make me feel afraid. Sure enough it was that which made some of my colleagues, not belonging to the School, the ones who could pull strings, rather than helping, to do whatever possible to stop this whole effort.

 

We do whatever we can to ruin anything good that happens in this country, across the whole range of human activity, because, for a moment, we have the impression that such things are personally damaging to us."

 

 

Some Thoughts About Art

“Imagination is nothing more than the free remoulding of memory. Line drawing is the oldest (primordial) form of abstraction in art.

I am enchanted by the poetry of the drawing, which is free of commitment to the limits of color in describing reality. The drawing which lies on the clear boundaries of colors and tones is irritatingly superfluous and garrulous.

Rhythm in art is the way in which the artist solves a problem of life, a problem of his inner world, which is shaped and created in direct relationship to the external world, that is, to the natural environment within which he lives and of which he is a creation. Rhythm or solution without a problem doesn’t exist. Solution without problem is something like decoration with no meaning, leading to nothing.

Even the most realistic painting contains abstraction, and often a much more interesting abstraction than what is called “contemporary abstract art”.

Art does not create life experiences; it interprets the life experiences of the artist. The way in which this interpretation works is to move the viewer, conveying to him those life experiences which become his and which he can live through.

Works in the visual arts talk to the viewer, without an interpreter. They can talk eternally, even when they have been almost ruined by time.

What is called "contemporary art" today is the "art" of decline, and could aptly be called the “academy” – a particularly tyrannical one - for many young people who follow it in the attempt to be “contemporary” – that is, “originators of fashion”. They want to become well-known and talked of; in other words they all do the same things, which they call “originality”.

The great revolution which took place in art in the early 20th century was that the interest of the artist, and thus of the public, shifted from the subject per se, to the manner in which the artist handles it, in order to solve this problem in art.

Mannerism and its descendants, which constitute the decline of the Renaissance, came to an end in the middle of the 19th century with the great revolution that began with Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, etc. In about the middle of the 20th century a great new ideology came into being in art. The main achievement of this era was, I believe, the following: that the artist's interest, and consequently that of the public, lies in the manner in which, in accordance with his vision, he finds his interests and his human problems – that is, the solution which he uses to express and convey these things, and not the problems themselves. In other words, interest has shifted from the problem to the visual solution to the problem. The problem might be a quite ordinary thing, but the solution to that problem, for the real artist, is spontaneous and personal, and it is in that solution that the interest lies. But decline set in after the first half of the century, or even earlier in the case of some artists. The problem was abolished, and so thought becomes absurd. Artists produce solutions without problems. When it leads to this direction, art becomes incomprehensible to viewers; at best, it can only be decorative.”