Archive for category Author: James L McElhinney

Art Students League of New York on Painting || James L McElhinny

This new volume follows on from The Visual Language of Drawing that appeared a few years ago and drew on the work of a well-established institution to provide a variety of views and approaches to its subject.

This, unsurprisingly, follows the same formula. It’s subtitle, Lessons and Meditations on Mediums, Styles and Methods, might lead you to think it’s a bit abstract and academic, but you’d only be partly right. It’s more discussions than meditations and the thoughts of the instructors of the ASL are worth reading. While we’re deconstructing titles, the word Lessons doesn’t mean that there’s overt instruction here: it’s more of a seminar. If you want your books to get you painting with one hand while you read and follow exercises with the other, this won’t cut it. If, though, you enjoy reading about the practice of painting, you might well find the book hard to put down.

The essays that comprise the content are quite long, hugely varied and thoroughly illustrated – the quality of these is excellent, both in terms of the work presented and the reproduction. Above all, it’s not dull. You might find that the views of artists you’ve never heard of are harder to get to grips with but, equally, you might value the fresh viewpoints that brings. Money paid, choice taken.

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The Visual Language of Drawing || James L McElhinney & the instructors of The Art Students League of New York

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.

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