"When I first started studying history, back in 1949, the classes were a bit on the military side"


Foto: UOC

ngels Doate
Salvador Aldana, nonagenarian and Digital Design and Creation student


Salvador Aldana is a man of the Renaissance, a Valencian Leonardo with an avid interest in everything. Before the age of 11 he had already read the complete works of Blasco Ibez, passing his time poring over the Episodios Nacionales, dismantling an electric train piece by piece and taking photos on one of the first ever Kodak cameras given to him by his father. In 1949, at the age of 18, he enrolled on the Philosophy and Literature programme (to study History) at the University of Valencia and is still studying today – in 2018 at the age of 90 – on the UOC’s Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Design and Creation programme. From a military-style university to a democratic one, from a physical to a virtual one... when you are driven by curiosity, there are no limits. Studying, teaching, research, artistic creation, writing... His secret? Hard work and passion in equal measures. Salvador is not afraid of anything, not even Photoshop or PowerPoint, which for so many of his generation represent an indecipherable mystery. “The day I get bored, I’ll stop,” he says.


Second semester at the UOC; two modules under your belt, already signed up for two more. How did you discover the Virtual Campus? And what attracted you to the Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Design and Creation?

My wife, who is a professional pianist, is studying Law at the UOC. She said to me, why don’t you do a course too? I’ve always been interested in drawing, I’ve had a number of photo exhibitions... But I am also interested in learning about new technologies; I’m not afraid of the computer and use programs like Photoshop and PowerPoint for the presentations and lectures I give on art (I’m busy preparing one on Catalan Art Nouveau right now). It’s something I’ve done on my own up to now, but I wanted to improve so I signed up for the degree programme.

And when did you start studying?

In 1949, I began my first year in Philosophy and Literature (studying History). I got a scholarship because my lowest mark was eight and a half! I’m not saying I’m so great. I work hard. At that time, the classes were a bit on the military side. The professor came in and we stood up. There wasn’t a bell to tell us when class was over. A caretaker opened the door and said: “Professor, it’s time.” I graduated with a distinction and began my PhD. I was one of the first generations that had the opportunity to study for a doctorate at the University of Valencia. Before that, everything was in Madrid! When I became a lecturer, I had 200 or 250 students in my class. Things had already changed by then and the university had a more democratic approach: we talked to the students, the attitude of “I’m the one in charge here” was gone. I was elected a member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos in Valencia, later going on to become president, and I am still a member to this day. I also belong to the Reial Acadmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi. (Modesty prevents him from mentioning that he is also a member Real Academia de Belles Artes de San Fernando in Madrid and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Santa Isabel de Hungra in Seville).

And now you’re studying online!

I was interested in something that faculties like mine, Art History, don’t offer. Students are not taught about creating works of art there. They put up photos of different pieces on the screen for comment. Now, I’m creating. It’s a different kind of university: it either suits you or it doesn’t. I have opted to go for it. I’m an inquisitive person so I’m open to other disciplines and languages and the possibility of studying online. In a modern world you have to get to grips with what is going on and, right now, technology is key. I like to define myself as a jack of all trades, master of none.

What do you find the most challenging aspect about being an online student? And what do you feel you have gained?

The communication! Everything is done via email. The waiting, the technical problems... It’s not like a classroom situation, when you want to talk to the teacher you can’t go to their office; you have to wait. The thing I’ve gained is a new approach: looking at a picture of a protest is not the same as creating a comic strip about an eviction.

What’s your secret to staying so active at 90?

I’ve never stopped. I have very close friends but I am not one for clubs, or bars or... For me it’s about doing things. I relax, I read. We have a good library at home, like my parents always did. I read a lot and I have my Kindle. But I admit I do like the feel of paper in my hands, the feel of the spine, the smell of the ink... things you don’t get from an e-book. But I don’t just read, I write too. I have published more than 50 books on art history and, now, historical novels. The most recent one was about the Sephardic Jews (Cartas a Gert [Letters to Gert])... If I ever stop, it’s over, I’ve dried up.

Does your passion stem from nurture or nature?

My father was a great reader. I went with him to all the museums. My mother was a pianist and had a brilliant career. I inherited many things from them. I did my degree on the Revolution of 1820, then I moved into art history. My genes kicked in: I opted for contemplating beauty and trying to explain it.

Any advice for your fellow students who are just starting out?

That they take care of themselves, don’t overdo it. Develop good habits, take an interest in things and don’t ever get bored; those are my top tips. And constantly ask yourself: “Why that way?” “Why not another way?” We produce around fourteen hundred new neurons a day... let’s put them to work! To my fellow students from the younger generation I would say: “If you don’t study, you’ll never amount to anything.” Education, the acquisition of knowledge, is fundamental. You need to put the hours in. There’s no mystery, that’s why you have to love whatever you choose to do.  Above all, your profession has to be your life, don’t get bored. Whatever it is you do, you have to like doing it! You have to enjoy what you do. You have to get down to the nuts and bolts of your profession, fully explore it... Knowledge is never going to be handed to you on a plate.