Spannocchia is an Italian feudal castle, now an organic farm, hotel and conference destination for academics. Its history can be Googled but arriving as I did, a first-year IDSVA student, is an interesting story not found on-line. Once at the castle, jet-lagged students goon a tour. We climbed stone stairs to the large library eyeing the tomes of Etruscan books that surround a massive fireplace, walked through olive groves and stood atop the castle’s turret overlooking miles of greenery, resembling backgrounds in Renaissance masterpieces.
Why does IDSVA send American students of all ages and varied backgrounds thousands of miles from home/work space to engage in art-theoretical dialogue, sleepless nights bend over laptops in dimly lit study areas, eating a diet of delicious Tuscan risotto, pork, and frittatas garnished with spoonfuls of parmesan cheese and marmalade?
My conclusion: it was good for me to leave the comfort of my studio and my art colleagues and be metaphorically turned upside down in a strange environment.
Daily, we students met at 9 am in the castle library and listened to IDSVA founder George Smith. In his beguiling way, we absorbed new perspectives on the likes of Manet and Degas. Castle afternoons with the farming machinery humming outside the library’s old leaded window panes, we read theoretical essays that had evolved from the textbook, Art In Theory 1900-2000. Reading your essay in public was scary for some (it was my worst nightmare). After three weeks of reading rough drafts and more polished essays, I am at least a little less stressed when confronting the podium alone.
As an art critic, I recently assessed the Boston Museum of Fine Arts fall 2011 exhibition and was able to look at Degas’ painting “Interior” with new insight, (I even engaged exhibition-viewers with what I had learned at Spannochia). IDSVA teaches you how to thoughtfully discuss art, to listen, and to ask insightful questions.
There were days when it rained cats and dogs, maybe that’s how the castle acquired several sheep dogs and fifteen cats. Occasional evenings were spent viewing colleagues’ artwork, celebrating birthdays or dreaming about a weekend day trip to neighboring Siena or Florence.