Most people think of drawing as a form of personal expression, a mark of individual style. But before the twentieth century, drawing was regarded more as a basic way to understand the world, a path of knowledge that was unavailable to the casual observer. If you could draw, the world’s secrets would open to you.
According to art historian Barbara Anderman, “Seventeenth-century French art theorists…conceived of drawing as the means by which the intellect could apprehend reality, before the imagination could render it with expression.”
This sense of drawing as a path to a special kind of knowledge infuses the Grand Central Academy in New York City. The drawing is by Ariel Zabloski.
The art school is on the sixth floor of an 1880s building, which it shares with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America (ICA & CA). The Grand Central Academy and its forerunner, the Water Street Atelier, were both founded by Jacob Collins. Above, Spencer Brainard copies a plate from the Charles Bargue Drawing course.
According to its website, the school “was created by professional, exhibiting artists to offer classical training to serious students.”
The GCA includes an impressive roster of teachers, such as Travis Schlaht and Edward Minoff. One of Mr. Collins’s students was Juliette Aristides, who wrote the Classical Painting Atelier.
Students at the Grand Central Academy begin by copying line drawings and plaster casts. The casts of Renaissance and antique sculpture come from the 200-cast collection of the ICA & CA, who acquired them from the Metropolitan Museum.
On one wall is a set of cubby holes with plaster noses, ears, and eyes that you can check out and study. Tacked up on the wall are various drawings and paintings by students and masters alike.
Angela Cunningham was in the process of painting this amazing oil copy of a polychromed head. The light over each work area is shielded so that it doesn’t spill over into the adjacent space. The windows are blacked out, giving the studios the feeling of a secret laboratory.
To supplement the classes in observational work, the GCA offers special courses in anatomy, sculpture, perspective and art history.
But the foundation of everything at the GCA is close observation. “I believe in a late introduction of anatomy,” Mr. Collins told me, explaining that he didn’t want any system of analysis to get in the way of pure seeing.
The school has set a high ambition: “to offer a public place for the revival of the classical art tradition; to foster and support a community of artists in pursuit of aesthetic refinement, a high level of skill and beauty.”
Grand Central Academy, link.