New York Academy of Art

First in a series on America's centers of learning in traditional methods and styles in the visual arts. Published in Resource Library July 30, 1998

The New York Academy of Art, located in a landmark building in Manhattan's TriBeCa district, is a prominent institution devoted to the training of figurative artists. Emerging artists from throughout the world come to the Academy's Graduate School of Figurative Art to earn their Master of Fine Arts degrees while studying traditional approaches to figure drawing, painting, sculpture, anatomy and art history with instructors like Edward Schmidt, Eric Fischl and Vincent Desiderio.

Beginning artists, and those seeking intensive instruction in specific areas of artmaking, study in the Academy's non-credit Continuing Education Program, where they can receive training in New York City from modern masters like Nelson Shanks, copy Old Master works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, learn landscape painting in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico or attend lectures on Tuscan art history and sketch at the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.

The Academy was founded in 1982 by a group of artists, critics and art patrons whose goal was to ensure that those seeking academic training in figurative art would have the same opportunities for study as their forebears. During the last nine years the Academy has awarded M.F.A. degrees to 317 students. Many of these students are now college teachers themselves--in institutions that range from New York City's School of Visual Arts, Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design, to colleges throughout the U.S., such as the University of the Arts, Montserrat College of Art and the University of North Florida. International graduates of the Academy are now teaching in countries as disparate as Mexico, Norway, Italy, Korea and Japan.

Though some probably believe that the Academy is the kind of place where people run around in togas, students are consistently encouraged to employ traditional skills to create vital contemporary works. They learn that one of the artists most involved with the founding of the Academy was Andy Warhol, who felt that his own artistic options were limited by his lack of traditional training. They are instructed by practicing artists who, before teaching at the Academy, were oftentimes skeptical about the value of such an approach for contemporary art students. As Eric Fischl puts it, "Before I taught there, my impression of the place was that it was extremely reactionary and based on an outmoded idea of what figuration could be. When I got there, I found students were very open to attempting to apply figurative skills to contemporary subject matter." He adds that "at most graduate schools where I've lectured, the students have such attitudes that they're almost impenetrable, but these students are there because they didn't learn anything they wanted to learn in college. It's a very interesting situation. They are hungry."

Instruction is held in the Academy's five-story building, which is located near the heart of New York City's downtown art community. The facilities include six classrooms, numerous student studios, a collection of anatomical specimens that contains rare skeletons and a unique set of plaster dissection casts made from specially prepared cadavers, and a fine arts library that features books, slides and videos that emphasize the historical periods in which figurative art flourished--ancient Greece and Rome, the Renaissance, the Baroque and Neo-Classical periods, as well as representational art and artists of the twentieth century. The Academy's lecture and exhibition hall contains an extensive collection of plaster casts of Classical, Renaissance and later European sculpture.

From top to bottom: Ruza Bagaric, Untitled, 1996; Geoff Laurence, 1995; Moonjin Choi, 1998; Robert Armetta, 1998; James Oxford, 1993; James Hoston, James Howell, 1991, oil on linen, over panel, 40 x 30 inches.

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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1998 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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