There are two schools of art you see in La Jolla; the first is conceptual, the second is classical. With conceptual work, the idea behind the art matters more than the finished product. Conceptual artists strive to do new things in new ways and enlarge the scope of what art can be. Their art is also "socially-engaged," meaning they want to change the world or better society with their art.
The classical school is driven by the idea of the craft. These artists don't necessarily want to change the world or do things differently, they just want to raise themselves to the established ideal of beauty and craftsmanship achieved by the masters.
The La Jolla Art Association (LJAA) is a prime example of the classical school. Here, artists are striving for perfection of line, color, shadow and value. They want to do art like the masters.
It's current exhibit, "Contemporary Meets Classical," has the work of two association artists who've come close to achieving the classical aim — painter Rae Ann Marks and photographer Lisa Ross. Both trace their history to art masters who achieved the highest levels in their calling. Marks was an apprentice to the great Spanish painter Sebastian Capella, who, like Velasquez, painted the Spanish Royal family. Ross was trained and encouraged by none other than Ansel Adams .
Marks is an example of someone living the American Dream. She said she comes from little means and lacks a prestigious education, but found herself in the right place at the right time, took a risk, worked hard, stuck with it, and achieved success. She grew up in the Midwest with her earliest memory being in a museum with her mother and seeing Van Gogh's "Starry Night."
"I looked at the painting and thought to myself ... 'I can do that!' " she said, explaining that her only art education came at the John Heron Art School in Indianapolis. "I drove there for lessons while I was in high school," she explained. "After I graduated, I went to a business college because that was all my family could afford. After that, I worked as an executive secretary from age 18 to 30."
After a long-distance relationship with her future husband, Larry Marks, who lived in New York City, the couple came to San Diego where they married and she started painting classes at a community college. Her teacher, Perrietta Hester, saw that Marks was getting good, and recommended she see Hester's teacher, Sebastian Capella. "My husband bought me one month of art lessons with Sebastian, which cost $350, for my birthday, which was very expensive for us. I listened carefully to what Sebastian said and took over 50 pages of notes, which Sebastian noticed."
"After the month was up, Sebastian asked if I would continue. I told him I could not afford to, and he offered: 'I will let you take lessons for free if you will help me write my book.' " That was the beginning of a 30-year relationship. After five years of lessons, Marks became Capella's personal assistant, using all the skills she learned in business college. In return, Capella taught her all he knew about painting.
Photographer Ross also happened to be in the right place at the right time. As a teenager, she said, she lived in Los Angeles near Ansel Adams, who came to her high school to teach photography. Adams liked her work and once whispered in her ear, "You need to be a photographer."
Ross said she travels the world to take photographs with her husband, Bill Woolson, a retired scientist who once studied the effects of atomic bomb radiation. Ross never plans out what she will shoot on her trips. She just lets it happen.
For their next trip, the couple will fly to Hong Kong, then board a cruise ship to ports in Taiwan, Korea, China and Japan. "I don't study the work of other photographers, and I hate when they start taking technicalities," she said. "I think it's much better for a budding photographer to go to a museum and look at paintings rather than discuss photography."
• IF YOU GO: La Jolla Art Association Gallery, 8100 Paseo Del Ocaso, Suite B in La Jolla Shores, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is free. (858) 459-1196. lajollaartassociation.org