The Art Student’s League in Manhattan, used to be the center of a movement of art-which is not unlike movement characterized by dance or ballet. As a student in New York in the early 1980’s, I used to pass by it to and from meetings with my father. It sits on 57th Street, occupying a Northern exposure in a great deal of glorious architecture, that at once says, Federal, Belle Epoque, and a lot of other things to a curious student of art, passing by, which I was. What it says most importantly, is, “Come In.”
Once you are inside, there is usually a flurry to your right, clerks registering students, answering questions, giving directions, processing payments, scheduling classes, and doing other things, relevant to the increasing importance of a communications center in a sort of drop-in art school. To your left, there were benches, large sculptures, and in the rear (ground floor), a small art store. But the smell of art, one I remember as a child, pervades the hallways, and artists, as surely as those people at Steps are dancers, come and go, up and down, to and from the classes, in and out the doors. No doubt, it is different now, but it’s purpose is the same.
Central to the idea of having an art student’s league, a Steps, or any other facility which caters to the ideas and expression of a world of artists, is the motto they have restrung, “No Day Without A Line,” or ‘Nulla Dies Sine Linea’, originally attributed to the famous Greek painter Apelles by the historian Pliny the Elder, who recorded that Apelles would not let a day pass without at least drawing a line to practice his art.
I did not know this when I first walked into The Art Student’s League, but I found it anyway, it beckoned to me, and it is this curiosity and drive which probably led others to find it, and why it is still open today. Upstairs is a rather large gallery, where anyone may go, during open hours which coincide with the school’s, and view the work of previous student artists, and this will prove interesting at some point for all people similarly situated, as no doubt, names and works of those whom you have studied, or come to love, or be inspired by, will be at some point hanging on the wall in front of you. You may think, ‘one day, a long time ago, this artist stood here as I am standing now’, with a future before them, questions about their comments or ideas on the encroaching world, and they painted drew, printed, sculpted or made art to reflect those impressions, creative processes or feelings, much as you stand there now doing; contemplating art-what to do.
As artists, songwriters, performers, dancers, writers, pass on, it is even more important to me now, that each day is lived, for no matter the day that you stop doing, it is what you have lived, what you have expressed, done and whom you have impacted, that matters. It matters most to those standing there looking at that wall now, and who knows what may emerge to influence them or represent the past,connect with the future, but it is all cyclical, and it is important to see it, to live it, to smell it, to hear it, to draw, paint, dance, say, write or express it, especially for those coming up who will be looking for it, just as I was, or you are now. It may be important to no one else, but this small difference can mean the world, as we artists have seen and felt-to know that someone before us, came down the same path, looked for the same signs, needed the same encouragement, and passed on even the advice, seemingly to us, “Nulla Dies SIne Linea.” Write that down-No Day Without A Line. An artist’s life begins with the habit of doing, looking, practicing, creating, or thinking-even writing. But, if we fail to see and exploit what is inside us, right in front of us, or invisible to the non-artist-we lose opportunity, and time, memories and experiences. Experiences make art better, more relevant, more interesting.
Above the local business and day-to-day running of a place for artists, and many of them find this place the same way I did, and then look it up, before going in, venturing forth, stretching out-are atelier studios for making art. Students sit together in groups, with a model center, each trying to preserve a vantage point of privacy, with their backs to the walls, while viewing the figure in front of them, and then casting onto their chosen form of paper, or communication, a line, then shadows, by various processes, at many different speeds, defining their own vision, what the world means to them, their own very essence of existence, their own opinion-what they SEE. Everybody sees differently, paints or draws or creates differently, and in the studio, above the people, the ceilings rose very high, as though to say, art has no limits, your freedom and expression have no boundaries, BE, LEARN, CREATE, LIVE!
For just 1 hour, maybe more, these people come together to make their lines, and this is as important to the soul of humanity as a Starbucks on every corner, a gym to define muscle and who we appear to be, or the checking of our Facebook accounts every five minutes or so, to see how important we are, or whether we truly have any friends. But here, artists are doing, making, extending themselves, confronting art and the world with it. It is much better to look inward and to relate, in whatever way, what is inside our heads, take it outside, discuss it, critique it, look at that which truly makes us unique, and can only serve to make us more interesting, than to repeat, repeat, repeat, than that which has occurred or gone before us, reposting, retweeting, reminding.
The Art Student’s League is one place to go and find something new about yourself-there are many. What you put in your pot, comes out of your pot through your pen, or foot, or other device. Apelles idea was to search himself every day, at least once, to remind himself that he was an artist, a thinker, a creator, and we are all creators essentially. The trick is to take the initiative, to find what you can create in any or every medium, and that requires searching oneself, daily, for ideas, inspiration and motivation. Sometimes this connects with life automatically, sometimes the slate seems blank, and sometimes with searching a little water is found to be in the well after all, whereas, other times, the water gushes forth and ideas need to be capped quickly, and saved in any form for later reference, just to add to those times when the well seems dry, but if you stop going back tot the well, it does not exactly dry up-NO-but it might begin to take a secondary place, and for an artist, this must never happen!
Think of what ideas and opportunities might be lost! Missed. Forgotten. Unsung. It is still in the pot-let it out, let it mingle, don’t be afraid. Perhaps a terrible bad idea can become a great one when viewed later. But a symphony, a ballet and any artwork or writing starts with a line. A dot, a thought, even a doodle can extend into an idea and become, with work, something meaningful, expressive and important. It is not what we are able to accomplish as humans, sometimes it is the fact that we have a choice to do so, can take the initiative if we want to, that putting a pen to paper or a foot to tapping, is the beginning of something unique, or might be. To me, that is the greatest thing of all-possibility. It is exciting to think about what might be possible. To begin seeing, you only have to begin looking. Really looking.
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