Thoughts on Art Education
Rome, November 23, 1816
Italy is an admirable country to know, but one need not spend as much time there as is usually urged. One year seems to me sufficient, and the five years granted to the students at the Academy are more harmful than beneficial, because it prolongs their studies at a time when they would be better off doing their own work. They thus become accustomed to living on government money, and they spend the best years of their lives in tranquility and security. They come out having lost their energy and no longer knowing how to make any effort. And they end, as mediocre men, lives whose beginnings had given much cause for hope.
This is burying the arts instead of helping them grow, and the institution of the Academy of Rome could, in principle, only have been what it is today. Many go, and few return. The real and proper encouragement for all these clever young men would be pictures to carry out for their country, frescoes, monuments to decorate, prizes and money payments; but not five years of good family cooking that fattens up their bodies and destroys their souls...
On Schools & Competitions
The government has erected public schools of drawing, which are maintained at great expense and to which any youth is admitted. Frequent competitions seem to stimulate constant rivalry, and at first glance the this institution seems to be the surest method of encouraging the arts. Neither Athens or Rome offered their citizens greater opportunity of studying the arts or the sciences than do many of schools of all kinds in France. But since their establishment I have noticed with disappointment that they have produced an entirely different effect than had been expected, and that instead of being useful they have become a real hindrance, because, though they have given birth to thousands of mediocre talents, they cannot pride themselves upon having formed any of our most distinguished painters, since these men have in a way been themselves the founders of the schools, or at least have been the first to spread the principles of taste.
Supposing that all the young people admitted to our schools were endowed with all the qualities needed to make a painter, isn't it dangerous to have them study together for years, copying the same models in treading approximately the same path? After that, how can one hope to have them still keep any originality? Haven't they in spite of themselves exchanged any particular qualities they may have had, and sunk the individual manner of conceiving nature's beauty that each one of them possessed in a single uniform style?
The nuances that can survive this sort of confusion or imperceptible; and each year we see with disgust 10 or 12 compositions, carried about in the same way, painted from one end to the other with a disheartening perfection and showing no trace of originality.