The Art Students League of New York, if you’re not familiar with it, has been providing studio-based art education for 135 years. Its instructors work in styles that vary from the classical to the avant-garde and the first section of this book is devoted to a series of essays which explain their approaches to seeing and drawing as well as to the process of instruction itself. Even if the names are unfamiliar, the ground is well-trodden and the insights offered are fascinating as well as valuable.
The second, shorter, section is given over to a series of lessons which have a more obvious feel to them; they do not really break new ground and, being largely textual, have the feeling of a talking head to them. I think the League wants to emphasise its position as a serious school and that perhaps the idea of a fully illustrated course might have felt a little too lightweight. However, dip into this part and, once again, there are insights to be had. Ignore it, and you’ll still be getting your money’s worth from the essays.
According to the introduction, the purpose of the book is “to re-assess the art of drawing at the beginning of the twenty-first century – not as an artistic genre but as a visual language” – and you can’t get more high-minded than that. On balance, I’d have to say it’s mission accomplished.