‘Awe-inspiring’ Italy leaves impression
To experience the finest Italian Renaissance art anywhere, there’s no finer place to visit than Florence, Italy.
That’s what keeps drawing State University of New York at Fredonia students each summer to Art History 390: Arts of Italy, a study abroad course taught by Department of Visual Arts and New Media Associate Professor Peter Tucker.
Beginning in late May, 15 students spent two weeks in Florence, studying Renaissance painting, sculpture and architecture. Brief side trips to the cities of Fiesole, Siena and Arezzo plus hiking and relaxing along the Mediterranean coast at Cinque Terre, a string of centuries-old seaside villages were also on the itinerary. Students were introduced to the cradle of Renaissance culture and the philosophy of Humanism, and could follow in the footsteps of 14th century painter Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, among others, and discover the rich cultural heritage of Italy.
Being able to study the history right where it happened is an experience that 2023 graduate Alisa Mazon finds challenging to put into words. “I’ve been studying these artworks and sculptures for years now and to see them in person is awe-inspiring,” the Visual Arts and New Media: Animation and Illustration major said.
The key highlight of the trip for Mazon, of Ballston Lake, is being immersed in culture. “Life is just different over there in ways you might not expect,” Mazon explained. “The water tastes different; the food is incredible. The people there are direct and to the point, but still are kind. The language barrier is difficult at times, but you can easily get by without knowing a word. You learn so much by simply being there, so the highlight that I’ve taken away is to simply see life being lived differently. You get to experience a completely different environment and culture.”
How that experience impacts students is described in daily journals that each keeps during the 14-day odyssey.
Jimmy Keller, a senior from South Dayton, majoring in Visual Arts and New Media: Sculpture, took journaling to an entirely different level by writing a glowing and detailed perspective piece about the Italy experience for the student newspaper The Leader. He recounted how students saw everything from the statue of David to Ghiberti’s bronze baptistry doors, climbed up and down 926 steps to the top of the Duomo designed by Brunelleschi and seemingly stepped back into the 16th century, visiting a mosaic studio where artists still used the same technique and tools from long ago.
Simply being in Florence was the most extraordinary part of the experience for Mr. Keller. “The entire city is a period of the past sculpted just for us to experience today,” he wrote. It’s a place to experience the art, the wealth and the architecture.
In fact, experiencing all of this history, art and culture almost “puts you back in time,” Keller remarked. “You begin to imagine the labor that went into the enormous frescos and hear the hammering ‘ping’ of a chisel.”
The process that artists from the past went through is more similar than different from what today’s artists go through, according to Keller. “We have similar struggles and stress. We find ourselves exhausted and frustrated. We are constantly seeking a balance between creation and life,” he wrote.
“Michelangelo continued for the same reason many of us push through. Art is our passion and has become a very integral part of our lives. The journey has waves of agony and ecstasy but in the end, what matters is the joy and pride from the act of creating.”
Many but not all students enrolling in Art History 390, which is also listed as INES 399: Arts History, are Visual Arts and New Media or Art History majors. This year’s group also included Accounting and Psychology majors and three students from other SUNY schools. Department of History Professor David Kinkela was also on board for the trip as an assistant.
More high points can easily be found away from churches and museums.
“I asked some students for some highlights and one of the things they mentioned was having meals together, in big groups. They really loved that,” Tucker said.
“One restaurant owner sings to us; it creates this incredibly festive atmosphere. Besides the amazing food, you’re also getting a performance from the owner.” Tucker has taken students to dine at Zio Gigi all five years that he’s led the study abroad course. “He makes it so much fun that we go back there every year.”
Can this study abroad experience to Italy influence or contribute to an artist’s career?
“As an artist, absolutely,” Mazon said. “Seeing these pieces that I’ve been studying for years is an experience I wish more artists could have. I have so many sketches, pictures, and postcards to use as references in my artwork. But it has also given me opportunities already,” Mazon said. She’s found prospective employers to be interested in her travels as an artist because it goes hand in hand with her experience.
“It’s like taking your research skills to the next level, and many studios look for that in applications,” Mazon said.
“One of my favorite comments that I like to hear from students is they feel like they can travel on their own after they’ve done a trip like this,” Tucker said.