Mapping Brazil - Higher Art Education: Recent Developments

New in 2015: special report on higher art education in Brazil – by Claudia Saldanha and Denise Grinspum
Parque Lage art school in Rio de Janeiro


The recent history of art education in Brazil has taken some unexpected turns. Many initiatives by artists (studios, art schools, printing clubs, etc.) have made their mark and had a bigger impact than higher education. The 1940s was a very productive time for the country. When Europeans started to flee the fascist and totalitarian regimes, many ended up settling in Brazil’s biggest cities, like Rio de Janeiro (the capital city) and São Paulo (its economic capital). These émigrés included some high-calibre artists, such as Austrians Franz Weissmann (who arrived in 1921) and Axl Leskoschek, Lithuanian Lasar Segall (arriving in 1924), Romanian Emeric Marcier, Hungarian Árpád Szenes, Portuguese Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Poles Fayga Ostrower and Frans Krajcberg, and Swiss Mira Schendel, to cite just a few. Oswaldo Goeldi, born in Brazil but educated in Europe, was also a major influence for the artists who acquired their first experience of printing in the 1950s. Some printing schools were set up, like Clube de Gravura de Porto Alegre and Clube de Gravura do Rio. Artists would meet up to learn the techniques of printing and meet foreign artists, whose expressionist output inspired a whole new aesthetic current in the country.

Today, an education in art can be obtained at art colleges operating outside the formal education system or at universities offering art degrees. There are also courses in architecture, graphic design and related areas. However, most young people’s art education begins with practical experience in the studios of established artists. Working as assistants, they learn how art is made directly from other artists, while also absorbing their aesthetic values.

With the consolidation of undergraduate level education in art, universities have started to attract more people keen to gain an art qualification. Nevertheless, in practice, very few graduates actually go on to become artists. By the same token, many established artists never even went to art school. All of which indicates that there is no one set route for becoming an artist. Generally speaking, art degree courses tend to produce future school teachers, who supplement their degrees with a teaching certificate. They are also the gateway to postgraduate studies and research and thence to a career in academia.

The first postgraduate course in art in Brazil was offered in 1974 at the Escola de Comunicação e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo (the University of São Paulo’s School of Communication). Outside the formal education system, some artists have devoted their energies to teaching others at art schools, such as Escola de Belas Artes de Belo Horizonte, which ran from 1942 to 1963 under the coordination of Guignard (first known as Escola Parque and later as Escola Guignard) and went on to be incorporated by the Federal University of Minas Gerais. There was also Escola de Arte Brasil, founded in São Paulo in the 1970s by artists Luiz Paulo Baravelli, Frederico Nasser, Carlos Fajardo and José Rezende.

One of the most important hubs for artist education was Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio, founded in 1948. It started offering workshops in 1959, with a course in printing given by Frenchman Johnny Friedlander and Brazilian Edith Behring. Ivan Serpa, who also taught there, introduced a systematic educational offer as of 1952, especially for children. In the 1950s, Museu de Arte de São Paulo also began giving lessons in art. Since then, many art museums have embraced this additional role of “schools of art”.

Since the 1980s, Museu Lasar Segall, in São Paulo, has offered courses and supervised printing activities for beginners and for artists who need some studio space to develop their work projects.

In the 1960s Paulo Freire devoted his energies to introducing basic education throughout Brazil. Persecuted by the Médici government, he was forced to take refuge abroad for a long period. Meanwhile, Fayga Ostrower published her experiences doing printing with factory workers and Dra. Nise da Silveira also put her ideas about art and education into practice in an asylum for mentally ill people who had been given electroconvulsive treatment. The following decade, Escolinha de Arte do Brasil and its founder, Augusto Rodrigues, brought together artists and teachers to offer children and young people an environment where art could be experienced with no holds barred.

The strength of institutions and informal initiatives dwindled during the military dictatorship, whose harshest years ran from 1970 to the mid-1980s. One exception was Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, created in 1975 in Rio de Janeiro by artist Rubens Gerchman, who managed to attract some eminent artists and thinkers to its ranks. Architects Lina Bo Bardi and Roberto Maia, anthropologist Lelia Gonzáles, and set designers Helio Eichbauer and Marcos Flaksmann were the first. They were later joined by artists Dionísio Del Santo and Celeida Tostes and filmmaker Sérgio Santeiro. Gerchman wanted the school to incorporate multiple languages, like photography, film, and design, for which he counted on the collaboration of artist Joaquim Tenreiro. The workshops offered to the public set the tone of the school as one of the most inspiring in the city, marked by a freedom of expression that challenged academic mores and the censorship imposed by the military rulers. As critic Wilson Coutinho explains, Parque Lage “had created a space for freedom in the seventies and offered itself as an ideal space – although its influence could be considered socially miniscule – for expressing a kind of modernising and democratic opposition when it came to the teaching of art”.

Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage is still responsible for training many artists working in Rio and other parts of the country. Significant events on the contemporary arts scene take place at what is one of the few schools outside the formal education system to have remained functioning over the years.

Another flourishing initiative is the Cultural Workshops project begun in 1986 by the São Paulo State Government. There is currently a network of 15 units offering these workshops: five in São Paulo city and the rest in coastal and inland parts of the state. The workshops are designed to train public managers and cultural agents, educate new arts consumers, conduct research and experiment in different artistic languages. They are versatile spaces that can host a wide variety of activities, like courses, workshops, masterclasses, talks and seminars, as well as plays, dance performances, concerts, film screenings, and art and photography exhibitions.

Art education in Brazil is gradually changing. Today, there are already bachelor’s degrees, with or without teaching certificates, as well as master’s and doctoral degree courses in the major cities of the country. The most important ones are the federal and state (government-run) universities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasília, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Recife and Fortaleza. Students and lecturers receive grants and scholarships through government funding agencies like CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior). They also fund undergraduate and postgraduate education for Brazilians in foreign universities through international agreements. If the exact and life sciences were once the most privileged fields, today the humanities, and especially the visual arts, are the recipients of major investments by the Brazilian government. Thanks to this, art is also building up a new generation of talents to teach at its universities.

Aside from attracting people keen to teach art, universities are also receiving artists who see academic study as a way of enriching their education and interacting with other artists. This recent phenomenon is changing the face of art education in the country.

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