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The young Chagall explained, "There's a place in town; if I'm admitted and if I complete the course, I'll come out a regular artist. " It was 1906, and he had noticed the studio of Yehuda (Yuri) Pen, a realist artist who also operated a small drawing school in Vitebsk, which included the future artists El Lissitzky and Ossip Zadkine.Due to Chagall's youth and lack of income, Pen offered to teach him free of charge.He had two basic reputations, writes Lewis: as a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist.He experienced modernism's "golden age" in Paris, where "he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism, and the influence of Fauvism gave rise to Surrealism".He soon began copying images from books and found the experience so rewarding he then decided he wanted to become an artist.He eventually confided to his mother, "I want to be a painter", although she could not yet understand his sudden interest in art or why he would choose a vocation that "seemed so impractical", writes Goodman.At the age of 13, his mother tried to enroll him in a Russian high school, and he recalled, "But in that school, they don't take Jews.Without a moment's hesitation, my courageous mother walks up to a professor." She offered the headmaster 50 roubles to let him attend, which he accepted.
When Chagall asked the schoolmate how he learned to draw, his friend replied, "Go and find a book in the library, idiot, choose any picture you like, and just copy it".
A turning point of his artistic life came when he first noticed a fellow student drawing.
Baal-Teshuva writes that for the young Chagall, watching someone draw "was like a vision, a revelation in black and white".
During this period he created his own mixture and style of modern art based on his idea of Eastern European Jewish folk culture.
He spent the wartime years in Soviet Belarus, becoming one of the country's most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde, founding the Vitebsk Arts College before leaving again for Paris in 1922.