New York City is home to some of the most prestigious art organizations in the world. Artists work and dream for years to reach the halls of the MoMA, the Whitney, and the Met – and for countless creatives, this dream will remain just that. But one New York organization is fearlessly breaking the mold of the traditional art gallery. The Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project is an outlet for any and everyone to share their creativity with the world.
Describing itself as “a free museum where you can touch the art,” the Brooklyn Art Library houses over 40,000 artists’ sketchbooks from over 100 countries, encouraging freedom of expression with no boundaries or limitations.
The term “artist sketchbook” may sound a bit pretentious, calling to mind news headlines boasting the discovery of lost, never-before-seen artefacts. But these sketchbooks, are much truer to form: they’re real contributions from contemporary artists, hobbyists, parents, teachers, writers, and more. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the project, and no one’s work is turned away. In fact, there is absolutely no artistic experience necessary, as founder and director Steven Peterman explains, “We do not believe in the statement ‘I’m not an artist.’ Because it doesn’t matter. Share your story, draw your stick figures, just own it.”
Participation in the project is easy: order a blank sketchbook from the website, fill its pages, and send it back to the library, whose staff will add it to their shelves for visitors to browse. For those with artist’s block, the project organizers suggest a number of open-ended themes, but many participants go off book and create whatever their mind desires. Past themes have included “tactile qualities,” “drip and drop,” “straighter than narrow,” and “pencil me in.”
The result is a vast collection of people’s thoughts, feelings, musings, and expressions that is overwhelmingly inspiring. There are sketchbooks based on the widest range of topics, from trees, music, and animals, to abstract concepts, such as “assisted chaos” and hope. Some include poems, photographs, and bits of fabric. Some are full of color, others are minimal.
And what would a library be if you weren’t allowed to take books off the shelves? When visiting the Sketchbook Project at the Brooklyn Art Library, you can search for any subject or theme, or just browse. The library also hosts a vast digital library just waiting to be browsed. Of the 40,000 books on the shelves, over 18,000 of them have been digitized and are available to view online. Visitors can search by a specific keyword, artist, or medium, or jump to a random sketchbook.
The library is clearly impressive because of the sheer number of its sketchbooks, and commendable in its mission to ignore the standards of typical art organizations, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for creatives who hope to bring their work into the hands and minds of their peers.
To learn more and browse the online archives, visit the project site.