Art Students League: Drawing Lessons

Art Students League: Drawing Lessons

The Art Students League has always had a special place in my heart. It is a drawer’s paradise. Since its creation in 1875, the Art Students League’s faculty and students have been contributors to the New York art scene. While this wonderful exhibition we saw last October is now in Texas, it’s worthy of promotion. Coming from the school’s permanent collection of student works, and curated by Pamela Koob, the show includes fifty life drawings by students of Kenyon Cox, H.S. Mowbray, Frank Vincent Dumond, George Bridgeman and others.

Collected during the early 20th century, these amazing life drawings feel surprisingly contemporary, owing in part to the quality of the realism that these talented students were expected to achieve under the strict requirements of attendance at the school.

The Art Students League was born out of necessity, when a National Academy instructor, unable to continue teaching due to lack of funds, started The Art Students League with a handful of Academy students. Within a decade of opening the facility, the school saw enrollment grow and their need for studio space doubling, boasting well-respected and accomplished artists as instructors.

Although those at the Art Student’s League may not have known it at the time they were taking a very active role in shaping the definition of American Art. In its early years, ASL worked with the Ecole in Paris, as well as other European art academies, promoting the rigid standards for those wishing to become members. By the early 20th century however, focus shifted in American Culture, along with a renewed interest in a art created by American artists. With an eye towards developing an American style, away from a Euro-centric view and independent of the institutions that were rigidly adhering to the past, the school was paving the way for American Realism.

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