From Avant-Garde Sculptures to the Smallest of Brush Strokes: The Ins and Outs of The Art Students League

The Art Students League serves as a facility for artists of all ages to become well-versed in basic to advanced techniques that help them grow more knowledgeable in their craft.


Tori Wee

The Art Students League is located on 57th street in Manhattan. After some time, the artworks displayed on the windows are replaced with others, They provide a glimpse into what may be created by the artists at this institution.

I recall taking the A train every morning on the weekends before 8 A.M. to attend youth classes at the Art Students League many years ago. Throughout three-hour-long classes, my mind tended to drift to the jalapeño chips we would have during our lunch break after walking up a few flights of stairs, not yet of age to take the elevator alone. Even then, with a separate set of priorities, a sense of pride came with walking across the same halls as artists like Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe, who had studied at the Arts Students League years before. 

The Art Students League, unique to 57th Street in Manhattan, was founded in 1875 by a group of young artists who were determined to provide the people of New York City the opportunity to train under professionals in the field. The National Academy of Design in New York previously provided similar services until those options were under threat of being taken away. Financial struggles at the academy began to intervene with the classes; conservative views regarding emerging modern art created disinterest among its students. The desire for a new creative headquarters triggered the establishment of the Art Students League, which now houses a community of artists that ranges from retired school teachers to opera singers to professional sculptors.

Then only a room on the top floor of the current building, founders – including the League’s first elected president and instructor Lemuel E. Wilmarth, a former teacher at the National Academy of Design – collaborated to create a new space where students could develop their artistic careers and accommodate a change in defining art. The founders aimed to create a space where artists worldwide can enroll to have accessible, affordable, high-quality instruction in the visual arts. They developed a range of classes that taught both the fundamentals and intricacies of painting, sculpting, and printmaking. The Arts Students League now offers over one hundred classes available to the public. 

The French Renaissance-style building has been a home for artists whether it be every day of the week or once on the weekends. The League follows an atelier-style approach practiced dating back to the Renaissance period and encourages collaboration among students and instructors. Classes are each run by an instructor who has complete creative freedom in how their class operates. 

Amy Weiskopf, a Saturday instructor at the Art Students League, zeroes in on teaching specific topics every couple of weeks in her class, which she names: Color is Light is Color. She said, “It’s a classic focus of looking at color in a deeper way. It is thinking of color and light and how they relate and how you see the light to see the color. I teach to any age, I have eighth graders, as well as older people.” One week, for example, she taught reflections of light and color. 

Classes focusing on portraiture have live sessions of models who remain in the same position for a couple of hours. Before classes start, whether early in the morning or late at night, the instructor and monitors work on creating a composition attentive to the clothing movement and colors in the final products. The League offers a variety of traditional and contemporary human portrait and anatomy classes. Depending on the class size, one or two models are assigned to pose in static or dynamic poses for a half or full-day class. After one to five weeks (sometimes longer for sculpting), much like Weiskopf’s still life class, the model changes. Students will eventually develop a better understanding of human anatomy and portraiture.

The Course Enrollment Process

When enrolling in classes at the Art Students League, prospective students can choose from a collection of over one hundred courses with esteemed instructors. The League is open from 8:45 A.M. – 10:15 P.M. on weekdays and from 8:45 A.M. – 4 :45 P.M. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Students can register for available classes any day of the month and can continue to enroll every month for as long as they chose to stay in the course. Enrollment is completed through the Art Students League website, which is also where students can learn more about the instructors and their classes. As the Art Students League runs on a month-by-month enrollment system, students get to explore a large variety of instructors, styles, and techniques during their time at the establishment, which is also as long as the individual may choose. 

Opportunities at The League

The Art Students League gives students many opportunities to display their art and expand their audience as rising artists. For example, between January 9 and May 19th, 2023, the Art Students League is displaying its annual series of student salons. Instructors, after thorough planning and multiple sessions of their course, compose a gallery. Shorter-term classes, like workshops, are also offered at the institution where students can be introduced to the ropes of the League (how classes operate) and become familiar with both the basis of a skill and the community. 

“Ingrid is here, originally from France but every Saturday she calls her mother, her mother is in France, and she calls around noon. She talks for around an hour and comes back and continues working” says instructor Sam Goodsell. Ingrid Songster was recently awarded a red dot, given to the strongest works by a set of jurors, for a piece in pastel shown at the League’s Annual Student Art Show. (Tori Wee)

The Community

Sam Goodsell is an instructor for the Painting from Life with Emphasis on Pastel course. He, like many students at the League, studied at Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design, and later the School of Visual Arts (SVA) college. At SVA, he met Gina Albano, a current student but long-time friend, who studied with him under Irwin Greenberg at the Art Students League afterward. “When I graduated, our instructor, Greenberg, quit SVA and we all followed him here to the League. And then he passed away, many years ago, but it was like a little cult following,” said Albano. Over time, the League comes to resemble a clubhouse, a home-away-from-home arrangement where people have the chance to develop both careers and relationships.

When asked what their favorite part of the League was, instructors and students alike responded with “the people.” Albano said, “It’s a melting pot of different ages, different levels of artistic skill, but everybody belongs; everybody is equal and you’re never made to feel less when you come in as a beginner painting next to someone who’s been painting for years.”

Students get to know like-minded classmates, instructors, and models during their time at the institution. Dozens of “good mornings” flood the quaint classrooms as people of different races, ages, and genders walk about the paint-covered floors and gaze upon the constantly reworked bright studio lights. The people, regardless of skill, attend because they want to be there. 

Wearing her student-made T-shirt, Weiskopf said, “I have a woman in her seventies, she always worked with Casein, a water-based paint, and she’s kind of been out of painting for a while, but she’s come back and now she finally made the switch to oils. And they’re all so into it, they love it! And that makes me so happy.” 

The principles of the Art Students League are built upon a shared community of artists; the moment they arrive, each new member has the opportunity to be a part of something much larger than expected.

There is an allure of the Art Students League that pulls people back in despite full-time jobs or long commutes from the city. For some, like Albano and Goodsell, it is the people and the memories held within those walls that bring them back. “That kind of happens when we start; we’re here for a while and then we leave, then, you know, life stuff, and then we come back,” said Goodsell.

For more information on upcoming exhibitions and the class-enrollment process, visit

The principles of the Art Students League are built upon a shared community of artists; the moment they arrive, each new member has the opportunity to be a part of something much larger than expected.