The New York Studio School: Un-art school and so much more
The building itself — the original location of the Whitney Museum — is enough to give pause. But then there’s the history of the school itself and founders Mercedes Matter, Vita Peterson, deKooning, and Rothko — and this is where I’ve drawn from dusk to dawn the past two weeks.
Since 1998, Graham Nickson has served as dean, and it’s he who is leading me through the whirlwind of NYSS life as an extraordinary teacher. And all this started last summer for me. He invented the “marathon” approach to art instruction — basically two weeks of five days in a row doing art from 9 to 1 and then from 2 until 6 with a 30-minute break and a full critique of each individual’s work held in front of the class; on average there are about 22 students per class. All this amounts to a 60-hour “art” week. I’ve now finished 360 hours.
While Nickson invented the NYSS marathon, the school was founded in the 60s in response to the fragmented life and study that traditional art schools offered. From the beginning, NYSS students “realized that during the first week, they had spent more hours drawing at the school than in an entire semester at another institution. This was to be the character of the New York Studio School: daily continuity of study through work in the studio.”
Until recently, you couldn’t get a degree of any sort from NYSS. Now, though, you can get a certification or an MFA — both take three years full time, and the MFA also requires a master’s thesis. The school has a board of directors, and everybody applying for admission writes a response to multiple questions and must be personally interviewed. Yes, I did all that and it was full-bore pressure. But I was accepted and will be a regular and frequent student. I’m convinced that drawing is the core to all art. And even though I struggle with that task, I’m gaining much from Dean Nickson and other faculty.
I’m blessed to have this opportunity.
One last word. My fellow students are from all over the world — Lyn from Switzerland, Joel from Columbia, Tom from Rhode Island, Tina from NYC, John from NYC, Jose from NYC, Ruet from Israel, and others from England, Australia, France, San Francisco, and Laurie Frick and me from Austin. Laurie is getting much recognition in NYC and LA for her art. Vita Peterson was presented in a NYSS exhibit which just opened a few days ago on the 26th. She passed away late this fall at age 97 and was a strong force until that time. Her work is powerful and her story is compelling, having escaped from Germany in 1938 to NYC.
I could feel Dachau in her art before I knew of her history. Some of you may know that I spent a day in Dachau reading the history and walking the grounds, and I’ll never forget any of it or the sculpture.
This is much more than I’d intended to write, but when something grips you, it grips you. Best to all, and please drop a line.