On the first day of his public art history class at the Brand Library and Art Center, Leonard DeGrassi finishes with a life edit: “Art is there to show us who we are.”
DeGrassi, a Glendale Community College emeritus professor, stood near a projector filled with slides of ancient art as he talked about the philosophy behind his art classes and what he hopes his students will learn.
“Art is a statement of the people making art and the people who live around those people who are making it,” DeGrassi said.
For DeGrassi, his reward in teaching art comes when students learn there is more to art than meets the eye, more than “drawing lines or coloring in things.”
DeGrassi carries a thick resume. He has studied at USC, Harvard and Rome, where he performed classical painting restoration. He is the first recipient of Glendale Community College’s Distinguished Faculty Award, and he has taught in Paris and Florence, Italy.
His art history class has been active for 20 years, since the days when it would meet in people’s homes. The class is held every spring and fall semester, and roughly follows the community college’s academic calendar, although the class itself is autonomous.
The class runs through January. His classes discuss everything from the classical period to 20th century art, or whatever he feels like discussing that semester.
“There’s really no sense to it,” DeGrassi said, adding that he likes to see people catch on to art, to discover things that they didn’t see before.
At the beginning of his first day of class, DeGrassi began by lecturing on the parts of a Greek column. Looking closely, one can see that they are not as straight as they look. DeGrassi gave students a taste of the concepts, such as with the Greek columns and why they were built according to certain specs, but doesn’t go into too much detail at first because there are other things to discuss.
“In its own way, it’s mathematically written out,” DeGrassi said of the columns. “You follow it, and it gives you a well-proportioned figure, if that’s what you want. But then, with experience and practice, you take those concepts and use them in all sorts of different ways.”
DeGrassi’s strategy revolves around not standing in once place for too long, not using a podium and encouraging discussion among his students.
“And very often they’ll come up and say, ‘Well, he says this and I say that,’” DeGrassi said. “Now which one is it? Often, it’s somewhere in the middle.”
The goal, he said, is to teach his students how to understand works of art when they see them and to know where to go.
“It’s fascinating, and the people are interesting,” Glendale resident Jane Friend said of the class.
Other students said the class had proved insightful during field trips.
“We’ve all traveled a lot, and I think we’ve picked up a lot of information,” said Marion Schuberth, who travels from her home in Studio City to take the class. “When we do travel, we’re a little more knowledgeable than just standing there staring at a statue. You have a little more appreciation.”
And it’s not so much appreciating the art, DeGrassi said, but also the meaning of the work.
For example, take Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Why didn’t she get the painting? “Because she didn’t pay for it,” DeGrassi said.
STUDENTS TALK BACk
The Glendale News-Press visited the art history class of Glendale Community college emeritus professor Leonard DeGrassi at Brand Library & Art Center. We asked: “Why did you decide to take Leonard DeGrassi’s art class?”
“I’ve been taking it for about two years. I’m an interior designer, so it’s always good to refresh the different civilizations and the different architectural styles.”
“I’m interested, and now I have the time. I lived in Rome for about three years, so it brings it home for me.”
“My friend Celida introduced me to the class, and I started coming about three years ago. I was an art student, and I paint.”
“I like art. I love art, and I wanted to learn more about it, and he is wonderful.”
“I’ve been wanting to do this for years. Leonard DeGrassi is a fascinating person. He gives you something that you can’t get anyplace else as far as in the art world.”