Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Grand Central Academy

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.


Nonie said...

I'm really glad there are schools like this. I went to the Next Gen Atelier in San Francisco, helmed by a Water Street School graduate, Carl Dobsky. We did a lot of the same things there minus sculpting, and with an added emphasis on applying those skills to an entertainment art pipeline. If you're ever out this way you should swing by and check out their space.

r8r said...

This is the school I wanted when I went to art school in the early 70's. (No slight to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, for which I'm profoundly grateful!)

enb said...

had read in a previous post your enthusiasm for Edwin Abbey. I wanted to mention that the long Abbey at the Metropolitan Museum is now down in that odd holding area for paintings in the american wing. As you may remember, usually you cant get up very close to it because it hangs across a stair well, but right now you can see it really close up. It is behind plexiglass which is less than ideal, but its still a great chance to get up close to a really magnificent painting! Check it out before they move it back upstairs!

Victor said...

It'll be interesting to check back in 10 years and see what kind of work the artists who attended these types of academies are producing.

I wish the GCA would open a school on the West Coast.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this one. I appreciate the interest in classical art and the traditional way art students used to learn.


Anonymous said...

holy cow that head painting is unreal!

Terry Daniels said...

"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."

Dang straight.

I like the look of their blog, too. I'll have to add it to my favorites.

Brine Blank said...

With the advent of shortcuts in communication there has been a pretty steep decline in writing and reading comprehension across the board as well as the way brains seem to be processing information. Based on some of the things I have witnessed I would say the average drop would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 years (seniors in high school reading/writing on a 6th grade level). People are used to thinking in 'text messages' where thoughts are incomplete or sliced very thinly so there is no development or depth.

That seemed to be the same mental state that spread into the art world as computers were not looked upon as a tool but rather the answer to all development or actual process of observational skills...just throw it on the computer and shove some pixels around. The school I went to was fighting that mentality although students had an almost mob mindset that the computers would reign. The administration didn't give in although a lot of schools did seem to go that way. Thankfully things seem to be swinging back to the importance of observational skills developed through traditional media so that if and when computers are accessed they are used much more effectively and quality isn't compromised.

Our group from the same class that had solid paying job offers out of college had the same thing in common...observational skills shown through use of traditional media...and I keep hearing from even smaller colleges that push 'traditional art learning' how their students are getting the jobs ahead of bigger named schools that have neglected that style of thought. I have heard from several employers "It is about time we are getting designers that know how to use a pencil and are not just button mashers."

i, me said...

i have taken some classes here and attended a few lectures, highly recommended.
There are night classes for part timers who can't do the core curriculum.

There is some 'complaint' that GCA is a bit too rigid, (I think some of the founders went elsewhere and founded another atelier ) but I liken it to say, a ballet dancer who does drills - you don't go out and do those drills the rest of your life, but they give you the ability to do what is required of a professional dancer...

mike said...

I like the idea of a late introduction to anatomy. I'm realizing more and more lately that I needed to create those questions on my own before searching out answers.

Glenn Kim said...

Wow, I really like their academic format. I wish this school was around when I was a young chap looking for art schools. I am also really impressed with Jacob Collins work. Reminds me of Fredrick Leighton's work. Anyways, great informative post James(like always). Thank you.

AmandaPants said...

great post! i was wondering what goes on at the Grand Central Academy! Perhaps I'll check it out