The Art Students League of New York, founded
in 1875, boasts an alumni list that is a veritable Who's Who in American
art, from Winslow Homer
and Georgia O'Keeffe to Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Louise
Nevelson. It currently enrolls approximately 2,200 students from around
the world who sign up for month-long, studio-based courses that meet
seven days a week, morning, afternoon and evening. Based on the atelier
system of nineteenth-century France, the curriculum respects the
individual views and methods of each instructor. As a part of its
offerings, the League sponsors exhibitions, panel discussions and
lectures, which are free and open to the public.
Founded by and for artists, the Art
Students League of New York has been a vital, energetic school for
artists and has maintained a commitment to nurturing creativity. Many
well-known and influential artists have taught or studied at the League.
Some of them are
Thomas Hart Benton,
Isabel Bishop, Alexander Calder,
George Grosz, Hans Hofmann,
Reginald Marsh, Louise Nevelson,
Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko,
John Sloan, and
Early League instructors included
William Merritt Chase,
Thomas Wilmer Dewing,
Arthur Wesley Dow,
Daniel Chester French,
Childe Hassam, Augustus
John Henry Twachtman,
J. Alden Weir.
The vitality continues today. Seventy-five
instructors, with distinguished careers as artists, teach approximately
2,500 students on an individual basis in atelier classes. With life
models in many classes, the League offers drawing, painting,
printmaking, and sculpture (both modeling and direct carving).
Instructors develop their own methods and students choose a range of
modes from realism to abstraction.
The League, located at 215 West 57th
Street, New York, NY, also presents films, panel discussions, lectures,
and talks by noted artists, gallery owners, technical experts, critics,
and scholars. Most of these events are free and all are open to the
public. Students may register in any class they choose, class size
permitting. Morning, afternoon, evening, and weekend courses are offered
monthly, with sessions for children, teens, and adults.
Gallery hours vary. Call the League for
A Brief History of The
League's Early Years
From "The Art Students League
Selections from the Permanent Collection" 1987
Special thanks to Ronald G. Pisano
Post-Civil War prosperity effected an artistic awakening in some sections
of America, most notably New York City, which in the 1870s was rapidly
becoming the artistic capital of the nation. Its major art institution,
the National Academy of Design (founded in 1825), was one of the oldest
organizations of its kind in America. Representation in one of its
annual exhibitions was a significant accomplishment for an artist; and
election to full membership was indeed a paramount goal for many. By the
mid-1870s, however, artists and art students in New York increasingly
realized that the Academy was no longer adequate to serve the needs of
their growing profession.
Many young artists returning from their studies abroad were 'au courant'
with the most modern European developments. They felt that the
established members of the Academy were conservative by comparison and
thus unsympathetic to their relatively radical ideas and more
sophisticated attitudes toward art. One progressive group found support
at the home of Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine,
and his wife Helena de Kay Gilder. The informal gatherings at which
these artists exchanged ideas about art began as early as 1874 and
climaxed three years later when they formed the Society of American
Artists. In great part, this development reflected the conflict between
the "old guard" at the National Academy and the young rebels:
conservative versus progressive, insular as opposed to cosmopolitan.
It was also prompted by the fact that there was just not enough exhibition
space to accommodate the rapidly growing number of artists flocking to
the city. The annual exhibitions of the Society of American Artists
helped to alleviate this problem, and the Society itself provided the
more progressive artists with their own forum.
A similar development took place in the spring of 1875, when it was
rumored that the National Academy, due to financial difficulties, would
cancel all classes until December. Students were alarmed. The Academy
required them to devote the first ten weeks of each school session to
drawing from the antique; so if this were true, they would not get to
paint from life, their main interest, until February of the following
year. Even more distressing was another rumor; if classes did resume,
there might not be any instructor hired to direct them. The fact that
their teacher Lemuel Wilmarth had not been asked to serve this function
seemed to substantiate the story. Since there were no alternative means
by which art students could engage in any formal course of study from
live models, the students were particularly eager to deal with this dire
situation before it was too late.
They met with Wilmarth to discuss the matter. The result of their meeting
was the formation of the Art Students League. From the start, it was
evident that the founding of the Art Students League was precipitated by
the possible cancellation of the Academy's classes. In addition, the
students were dissatisfied with the rigid and limited course of study
the Academy offered. They identified, and soon aligned themselves with,
those artists who would soon form the Society of American Artists (and
who would later become the chief instructors at the League).
Like the National Academy, the League was established as a membership
organization, but there was one major difference: unlike the Academy,
where one had to be elected to a relatively small and elite group of
artists, the Art Students League offered membership to any candidate
with acceptable moral character and the means to pay his dues. The
informal nature of the League's organization was also very different
from that of the Academy.
At first, the major concern of its organizers was the continuation of life
classes and the need to secure a place in which to conduct them. Modest
quarters were obtained at 108 Fifth Avenue, on the corner of Sixteenth
Street. These quarters consisted of one half of a room measuring twenty
by thirty feet. Within a month's time, attendance had risen to
approximately seventy students, and the other half of the room had to be
rented as well.