Alexander Spiridonov. Every man is talented
Alexander Spiridonov is one of Russia's brightest sculptors and tireless enthusiasts, the creator of the unique Sculpt Art School project, where sculpture and anatomy are taught to both beginners and professionals. Alexander participates in joint programmes in restorative medicine (courses for plastic surgeons) and in the creation of new casting materials (plaster with a special specification), takes part in cultural and educational events, and runs an educational blog on social media.
Alexander Spiridonov's name has become synonymous with SCULPT ART. When we say: "Alexander Spiridonov", we mean "St Petersburg School of Sculptors". In various media sources and in Internet we find the following convincing statement: "our own teaching methodology that was perfected during 8 years of studio's existence. Lessons are well thought out and structured minute by minute. Each lesson is accompanied by lecture material and a practical lesson plan with a sitter".
Tell me, Alexander, how did it all begin? Such impressive achievements of a school that is known not only in Russia, but also abroad, could not have happened "suddenly". What preceded it? What path did you and your team take to be at the peak of popularity (and deserved popularity) today?
From a very young age I knew what I loved and what I wanted to do. I wanted to sculpt and sculpt people. My love for it has never waned in me. In the process of making a sculpture, I am always relaxed and energised.
There were many defining moments in my life, but a few, in my opinion, proved decisive. At the age of 6, moving to St Petersburg and spending every summer in the countryside on the banks of a river, where there was plenty of clay to sculpt. The professional direction was set by my mother when she asked me what I wanted and what I wanted to do with my life. And the "key of ignition" was my teacher, Artur Ivanovich Kochu, who raised me as an artist and instilled in me a love for anatomy. When I became disillusioned with the education system, it was he who encouraged me to create my own system. And so I did.
For more than 15 years you have been involved in teaching. Is that so?! Tell me, how important is it for a project author, head of school, a person in the public eye to remain an artist and develop in this direction! The work of an administrator, blogger, PR manager, educator, finally. All of this is difficult and requires a lot of dedication. Is there no risk of going completely into "craft" and "business", leaving room for your own creativity???
Yes, that's right. I started teaching at the age of 17 in a house of creativity, then in a lyceum, an art school and an institute, before founding Sculpt Art.
All of my work is a desire to share my knowledge and discoveries with others.
Business is a single organism, where each member of my team performs his or her mission. I, as the person responsible for the health of this organism, try to lovingly care for it, strengthen it, inspire it and rush to the rescue when difficulties arise.
The values that underpin Sculpt Art will not allow success to become simply a 'craft' or 'business'. First and foremost, it's all a process of constant development, improvement and refinement of everything. This goes for the staff, the structure, the space and of course the training programmes. The Sculpture Portrait programme alone undergoes regular improvements and optimisations every few years. Because of this nothing stands still, it is an incessant creative search to renew and improve everything. This is what will never allow it to become a "craft" or a "soulless business".
You once mentioned a joint project with the State Museum of City Sculpture... It was, as far as we understand, an educational project where there were live broadcasts, introductions to unique sculptures and lectures on the history of the city and architecture. The project is very interesting because it shows the backstage of our history and culture, what the Northern Capital could be like, what projects have remained unimplemented, which ones may yet come to life. Can you tell us about that, please?
I have been an employee of the State Museum of City Sculpture since 2014. It is this museum that holds the designs for monuments that have ever been submitted for competitions in St. Petersburg. A year and a half ago, at a regular meeting, we decided to create a series of 'sculpture talks'. In these conversations we talk about what St Petersburg might have been like if a different design for the monument had won the competition and been erected. Another of the topics is about restoration using concrete examples of St. Petersburg, because the restoration school of St. Petersburg is known all over the world. In addition, we talk about what exhibitions of traditional and contemporary sculpture are preparing.
We know that you hold a series of lectures and workshops for puppet artists, and also participate in the annual conference of UNIDIA International. Tell us, is there any useful experience of communicating with students and audiences that you can apply in your training programs? In other words, do you have any plans to provide specific training for puppeteers, taking into account the specifics of figurative puppetry at the SculptArt venue?!
For me, there are three main audiences: puppet artists, digital sculptors and plastic surgeons. They are all very enriching to me from different angles. It would seem that these are completely different audiences, but in return I create courses and workshops that are of equal and greater value to them. As far as specialized courses for puppet artists are concerned, I always try to do it in a duo with masters of their craft. For example, this autumn I am planning to hold a joint course on articulated dolls at the Chukla School of Art Dolls. I plan to prepare a series of lectures on anatomy in dolls and a sculpture part on sculpture, and then the master of articulated dolls will continue with the students. In this way, this synergy will create a truly quality course that will result in amazing results.
As the ancients used to say: "Educa is the learning or extraction of man's natural wisdom". There is an assumption that everyone is naturally gifted. It is the educator who can both reveal and help develop the pupil's abilities and also "bury" the talent that is still fragile. Do you agree with that?!
Absolutely. I am convinced that everyone is talented. What separates us is the individuality of our sensory perception of the world. That is what gives birth to our individuality as artists. And the teacher, when giving knowledge and teaching skills, either helps to extract this inner potential, or nails it even deeper.
Of course, not everything depends on the teacher. Working together is crucial. No matter how talented the teacher, 50% success still depends on the effort, desire and dedication of the student.
In addition to the previous question. What do you think of self-taught artists? Do they need to learn the academic "basics" or will it only ruin their natural identity and original outlook on the nature of things? This topic is particularly relevant for beginner puppet-makers, who seek imitation, the pernicious pursuit of instant recognition and success. That is why they take courses with famous masters, in order to "replicate" their techniques and artistic images afterwards.
You have touched on very important topics for any artist. There is such a thing as "basic knowledge" or, as you correctly said, "academic basics". It is very important to teach a child at an early age the basics of language, the alphabet, how to form sentences, how to create rhymes in poems and songs. And having received this base, already on the basis of it, the person understands what he likes, in what he would like to develop. He understands what knowledge he needs and where to look for it in order to develop himself. And once they have this basis, some people start to write prose, some people start to write poetry, some people start to write songs. They choose those who are the benchmark for them in that genre and strive for it. Having a base and an inner flair will allow them to have their own vision and not blindly copy, but put something of their own into it. It is a good base that will allow them to distinguish quality art from poor quality imitation.
"Art genres are too small a scale for me, I want to take on more". We took this quote from one of your interviews. When you talk about 'more', what exactly do you mean: creating links between existing art forms, multimedia, teaching methods? Or "reinvent the wheel", something completely new, something that goes beyond known genres and technologies?
Rather, it is a synthesis of sculpture, modern digital technology, rendering capabilities, animation and virtual reality. The possibilities of light and colour through which sculpture can be conveyed in virtual space. To take the best traditions of the academic school, make-up art, painting, concept art, and integrate all of this into digital reality. For it is undoubtedly the digital space and augmented reality which allows us to achieve in a matter of days and weeks the result which in real life can take years to achieve.
How do you manage to combine your profession and your private life? Many artists and craftsmen who are overly enthusiastic lose touch with reality, suffer from loneliness and become hermits. Is it the price of success or do you refute that view?
There is no doubt that striving for harmony and a work-life balance is an important goal that everyone should set for themselves. But I don't think you should seriously believe that it is achievable. I think that at different times in your life you have to consciously change your priorities and make sacrifices: work, family, health. For example, when a person sets an objective of self-realization in the beginning of his journey, work is at the top of the list. When a person achieves success, it is worth to prioritize family. When a person has a strong family, it is worth to think about health in order to have strength to hold it all. To sum up, in our life there are big things and small ones. The big needs harmony, and the small is always the sacrifice and the priorities of this moment in life. The smaller, the more contrasting the priorities, for example, today I am with my family until 4pm and afterwards I switch to work tasks and at 8pm I devote time to personal creativity.
Now that I have made progress professionally, I am trying to spend more time with my family. I realise that the further I go, the more of a priority my health becomes.
Another nice aspect of life is that my wife and I are in sync, she also does sculpture and teaches children. So we always have something to talk about, something to discuss. We are always open to new projects, to people.
To what extent are you open to collaboration with other training institutes?! If you were offered the option of teaming up (within an existing public or private structure) to create a global sculpture and anatomy training project across the country (or across Europe and America). Would you agree?! Or is it more important for you to be aware of your limitations, so as not to lose what has already been created "with sweat and blood" for the sake of illusory prospects? In other words, how willing are you to take risks, and is it worth it to you?!
We have tried to work with institutes, but such projects are stifled by paperwork. So we just act as speakers, for example, we hold seminars for first-medicine cosmetologists*. (*First Medical University in St Petersburg. Editor's note).
In terms of other countries, we have already entered the foreign market and it is precisely because we were not afraid to take risks. We used any difficulties as opportunities. We were helped to take off not by some organisations but by specific people, because it is mobile, efficient and fast.
We have some of the most talented people from all over the world studying here, someone is becoming a member of our team. So we are constantly growing in breadth and depth. It's like a separate universe of professionals who live the creative life. It's unifying, so in that sense we have no boundaries to develop further.
The most relevant training areas these days are art therapy (particularly for the elderly, people with post-traumatic stress disorder and the disabled) and child development classes (preparing for school, building skills for work and learning, etc.). Do you have plans to offer such thematic classes at your school or at existing specialist organisations (hospitals, rehabilitation centres, kindergartens and schools)? Maybe you are already doing it? Please share your thoughts on this.
As far as art therapy is concerned, many of our students, after taking the courses, write that for them the course was like art therapy, which helped them recover from difficult life events. So it turns out that our courses themselves carry this value as well.
Yes, there is also experience in specialist education. For example, I teach classes related to anatomy and aesthetics for plastic surgeons at the University of Pediatrics in the Department of Plastic Surgery. Another example is corporate courses at digital sculpture studios, where we prepare specialised programmes for them according to their requests.
Your work as a teacher and educator is always admired and there is a desire to emulate, or even directly borrow, the success you have achieved. As a consequence, along with an army of enthusiastic admirers and grateful students, the number of imitators is growing, echoing your findings and teaching methods. You are aware of the need to be constantly progressing, innovating and surprising! In this regard, what new things can we expect from SculptArt School in the near future! What will you surprise us with? How do you plan to develop?
I am always happy when I manage to inspire someone, to teach them something. My like-minded people are my friends.
There are plenty of plans, they are literally laid out over the next couple of years.
This includes the creation of new courses, such as animal anatomy, as well as powerful updates to existing programmes. Introducing new methods of presenting information to make it even clearer and more useful.
As an example, I am beginning to incorporate 3D scans into my lectures, they can be viewed and analysed from all sides, they can be drawn on and explained, this opens up new horizons and possibilities in education.
From the big one.
We are now actively developing a sculptors' club. This is the first experience in the world of sculpture where a large number of like-minded people from all over the world can come together and develop in an environment of like-minded people.
In terms of training, I plan to work on an app for sculptors and artists, where you can study the skull, the ecorché and its individual parts in detail.
From the editors. Many courses are not only available offline but also online. Now to learn from SculptArt, all you have to do is click on the link https://sculpt-art.com/?ysclid=l7hnajwu0145672839
Questions prepared by Irina Panfilenok