On June 2, 1875, a group of art students gathered in the studio of painter Lemuel Wilmarth and adopted the name “Art Students League” for an experimental cooperative that would be devoted to rigorous art study and mutual aid. We do not often think about these young, unknown, rank-and-file students of the National Academy of Design, who struck out on their own and provided the real animus behind the Art Students League’s founding. Their names are not included in the impressive columns of famous ASL alumni, now a shorthand for the institution’s storied history. Nor are they listed in the textbooks that present a tidy art historical canon of what matters in American art. But their efforts are noteworthy as they set out a new kind of institution for educating artists.
So, this Founders’ Day, we are reflecting on the school’s inimitable learning environment, 145 years on.
This digital gallery presents a selection of photographs submitted and captioned by ASL artists, across generations and visual disciplines. These micro-histories—full of ambition, quirks, and humor—explore what has attracted people of all kinds to the Art Students League of New York. What they were seeking, why they stayed, who they met, and what unique place they made for themselves, all while learning from an incomparable corps of dedicated instructors. It also offers both a glimpse of the values that school’s founders embodied—egalitarianism, self-discipline, and community—and a fitting tribute to its longevity.