Back in 2006, I wrote about a conspicuous, if quiet, bright spot on the troubled countenance of contemporary art: The Harlem Studio of Art, which was presided over by the artists Judith Pond Kudlow and Andrea Smith. “The school,” I wrote at the time, “offers students something almost unheard of today: rigorous training in modeling, one-point perspective, cast drawing, and all the other technical aspects of art that, based in Renaissance practice, one used to assume would be part of an artist’s training but, for at least the last five or six decades, have gone the way of good manners and other accoutrements of civilization.”
In the intervening years, school has evolved, taking over more of the building it occupies on 117th Street in Spanish Harlem. It has also changed its name to The NYK Academy and has, in a modest way, gone global, with an establishment in Rome called the Atelier Canova. Ms. Kudlow looks after the New York establishment, Ms. Smith the Roman outpost.
I had occasion to think about the efforts of these talented and intrepid artists last night when I visited the NYK Academy for its annual open-house party. It will be a bit of a trek for most New Yorkers, but it’s worth it. Stepping into the studio is like stumbling upon an oasis after a long trek through the desert. Last night was a buzzing hive of conviviality, but it was impossible not to sense the seriousness artistic pursuits that unfold within. The walls were festooned with paintings large and small, student work cheek-by-jowl with the masterly productions of the school’s teachers.
Everywhere one looked was evidence of painstaking technical labor, of the mastery of technique and absorption of the lessons of traditional practice.
It was a jolly evening enlivened by a constant flow of friends. Even more gratifying, however, was the recognition that institutions like the NYK Academy still exist. If all you read were trendy salon-establishment publications like The New York Times, if the only art you saw was in galleries approved by today’s tastemakers, then you might think that the rootless parody of cultural life represented by today’s pseudo avant garde was all that was left of the once great current of Western artistic practice.
Fortunately, institutions like the NYK Academy exist to remind us that all is not lost, not quite. It’s a cheering realization.