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Alumni Perspective: Avery Johnson (MFA 2023)

My first year at the New York Studio School was possibly the hardest year of my life. I had come straight from undergrad with a new idea of who I wanted to be. I wanted to be an artist. This realization had only begun sinking in two years prior. I was lucky enough to study in Florence, Italy, for four years. Living in that city makes it hard for anyone, I would think, to not want to be an artist. What I hadn’t realized was that I wasn’t an artist. I just liked to paint…and I was pretty good at it. That entire summer I sat around in my small childhood bedroom and painted. Why? Because I liked the feeling of it. I liked the satisfaction of making something two-dimensional become three-dimensional. It was like magic to me. And if I’m honest with myself, I was chasing the high of finally being good at something. And then the opportunity to get my MFA came. It was an easy decision. Sitting in a beautiful room all day and creating illusions, mixing color, making something. All day, every day. It sounded like heaven. So, I packed up, and moved to New York.

The first semester was brutal. There were a few times where I felt like giving up. It wasn’t the teachers or the classes (although they were rigorous). I would walk into my studio every day without a thought in my head of what to do or make. My classmates were making beautiful, well thought out, subversive pieces of work, and I was making portraits of myself. My classes were like boot camp. Drawing the same room over and over again or writing about my motivations over and over again! I would sit in the Big Drawing Studio, and wonder, “Why do I need to draw this stupid room every day?!”, it was like my professors were seeing something that wasn’t there, finding something and believing in that unknowable thing, that resided in that big stupid room. The question of “Why are you an artist? What inspired you to paint this,” rubbed my brain raw. “Because I like it! Because it’s the only thing that makes me feel satisfaction,” I would think. Wasn’t that a good enough answer?

I’m not sure when it began to change, but I think it started to happen in Linda Darling’s drawing class. It was my second semester. I was tired of the work I was making. I was making it just for the sake of making something. So much color and paint was becoming too confusing for me. Too much and too little on my canvas. I was lost in the painting, and not in a good way. I remember I was in Linda’s class drawing a model. And she began talking to me about line. How a single line can create an entire picture, with weight and volume and light. No shading, no color, just a line. Now that was an idea to chase. It reminded me of Clintel Steed, and the Big Drawing Studio. He could see something in that room, something in the geometry that was important and worth looking for. Something that excited him and gave him energy. That was what I wanted and lacked, a thing to search for. But the line…something so small that could make a universe! I had found my Drawing Studio. The New York Studio School is a place for artists, for people who want to look and see deeper. Before my MFA, I was a good painter, but felt that it stopped there. The School provided an environment and community where I could grow. And there were growing pains, but I’m not simply a painter anymore, I’m an artist who sees the world in nuanced ways and can translate my experience into painting and drawing and so much more.

Snapshots From NYSS

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