Let us now Praise Famous Men Art/Write: by Peter Pitzele

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Stan Brodsky birthday photo

On the evening of May 2nd one of those gatherings occurred that suggest something rather special about Art League of Long Island. More than fifty people came together to celebrate the 90th birthday of Stan Brodsky, painter first and foremost, teacher of artists second, who has presided over a modest corner of Tuesday mornings for more years than I know. I have been part of that tribe for four or five years now.

 

Let’s face it, reaching ninety with your faculties intact, your art still nudging you forward, and surrounded by students who revere you for your heart as much as for your head: this is a rare achievement. It was Hamlet who said “Ripeness is all,” and in the long Indian summer of Stan’s career and even into its winter, he continues to blossom.

 

So it’s not surprising that such a person has a following, though certainly not in the celebrity sense. And on this recent evening the followers— the artists, the collectors, the respecters, the students, and the some of the bagel boys who regularly schmooze with Stan at Panera— waited under the generous roof of Peter Galasso (class proctor and abstractionist extraordinaire) to give Stan a surprise birthday party.

 

The evening, so rich with feeling, prompted some thoughts.

 

It seems to me there are at least two kinds of classes at the Art League. One kind is the silent class where people are at work on their projects, drawing the nude or the bouquet, or paying close attention to practice under the watchful eye of their teacher. A class of industriousness and whispers. The other kind is the noisy room where participants give their two cents, disagree with the instructor, bring in their work for critique, and in general know one another as colleagues in an inchoate community. Brodsky’s class belongs to the latter category.

 

Not that he doesn’t have something to teach; but after four years in his class I can tell you what he has to teach has less to do with method than with madness. There is wisdom to the words “the letter killeth and the spirit giveth life.” His spirited classes are nurseries of originality; his critiques are an endless and patient effort to help his students find their own voice. Though partial to abstraction, Stan always delights in any painting that is alive.

 

So here was this birthday party out in the hinterlands of Setauket. A beautiful Saturday evening in the Spring with Peter Galasso, like an expectant father, peering out the window to catch Stan’s arrival. In he comes at last, Brodsky blinking, so to speak, at the flashbulbs, wading into the crowd of well-wishers, giving as much as he gets, and finally seated, at evening’s end, before a half acre of birthday cake and looking fondly at the gift of a scrap-book of his students‘ work that reflects something of his legacy.

 

But this story is not only about Stan Brodsky; it’s also about the Art League of Long Island, about the dedication of all its faculty many of whom, like Stan, have created communities of support and whose influence extends beyond the mastery of a method.

 

After all when an artist-aspirant signs up to learn from a teacher, he or she brings not only their work but their vulnerability. We who take classes are motivated by the desire to realize more fully an aspiration for creativity. We need to be seen with more compassion and insight than we can sometimes see ourselves, but at the same time we are not there to be coddled or patronized. Striking the balance between constructive criticism and careful coaching is no easy achievement.

 

An art class can form a kind of haven of support and dedication. Stan Brodsky is an example of a dedicated artist-teacher who has formed a world around him, men and women (most of them like me no longer young) bitten by the muse of art, and who see in their teacher someone who cherishes their nerve and whose class provides the space where they can grow.

 

Of course, I celebrate this man, his longevity, his dedication; and I also celebrate the institution that hired him, supported, and appreciated him. For The Art League of Long Island does more than teach individual artists the skills of a method or medium; it provides an environment to nourish friendships and collaborations, to sustain networks of creativity that serve not just aesthetic but also social, even spiritual ends. This nurturing mission, widespread and perhaps too little remarked upon, touches many lives.