A VISION FOR THE FUTURE - WHILE HONORING THE PAST
Regarding The Art Students League's Original Mission
November 28, 2015
Most of those who have come to bat for the current League administration have been big on emotionality and scolding, yet lacking in rationality and specificity. They appear to have no grasp of the Art Students League's original mission.
Ever since the cantilever debate began, there have been several references to the League's "mission" and founding purpose. Never having formed the clear definition in my own mind, I found the attempts made during the recent back and forth muddled, confusing and lacking. Yet each member needs a clear understanding and explicit definition in order to vote their conscience.
I started my first serious stint at the League with Ronald Sherr in the fall of 1990. I was his class monitor for a year and a half. His class was extremely popular and jam-packed - we fit 70 students in 2 studios. During the first night of a two-week pose, when painting spots were being selected, it would get rather chaotic (this is what I think Mr. Homitzky might have been referring to when he said . . ."it was messy but it worked"). As the two weeks unfolded, attendance varied and would gradually decrease. Toward the end, a core group of followers who were more advanced and seriously committed remained - the regulars.
This ebb and flow was a standard in almost all classes. I don't remember so many classes being closed as they are now. There were more opportunities to try out different instructors when you initially came to the League to CHOOSE which instructor you clicked with.
Not everyone is cut out to dedicate full time to creating paintings, drawings and sculpture - that needs to be a calling. There are many other creative types, art lovers who are also artists, and who have played a vital role in creating and sustaining the society known as the Art Students League: surgeons, writers, cinematographers, cabinetmakers, musicians, architects, art historians, actors, etc. They were your muse, your patrons and donors. They were the people who created the "buzz" around the League. Where are they now? Only the hardest core people have remained.
As I see it, the underpinnings of the League's founding as an educational institution are political. It was established as an autonomous society of artists who sought to create a world they controlled and had a stake in, where different artistic traditions could flower.
The proposed changes to voting procedures and term limits ensure that the membership will not have a voice again. When asked why the proposed changes are necessary, Mr. Salvatore Barbieri said, "it is needed to help maintain continuity." That response is obtuse. It does not address whose continuity it maintains and for what purpose.
In reality, both procedures maintain a continuity. The current voting procedures and term limits maintain the continuity of the will of the membership. Voting annually for the entire board ensures that it remains accountable to the membership AND ONLY THE MEMBERSHIP. We have the power to wipe the slate clean if the Board adopts policies counter to the League's founding principles. And that power is what creates the collective sense of ownership which is what being a paying member is supposed to be about. It is also what facilities the camaraderie and sense of fellowship.
The proposed voting procedures entrench the Board and give it the freedom to adopt and maintain its own will and agenda - as such the membership will cease to exist in any meaningful way.