There is a valid line of inquiry here though, are practicing artists better teachers? If you’re lucky enough to have the time outside of school to create your own work and develop yourself as an artist in your own right, does this benefit the students in any way? Can a practicing artist compartmentalise their own artistic style and separate those preferences from their teaching practice? Is an art teacher who does not practice their own art guilty of ‘giving up’ on the dream of being an artist and therefor not able to sufficiently inspire their students? It’s a controversial line of questioning and I’m going to present multiple view points because frankly, I don’t think any of these questions have yes or no answers.
Practicing artists typically have a signature style attached to their work so how do they, or can they separate that from influencing their teaching? Is there anything wrong with the students knowing that their teacher likes a certain type of art more than others? I’ve seen both positive and negative impacts from this. A positive side effect of the students seeing their teacher’s style is that they might be inspired from it and interested in learning about the techniques seen. They also may develop respect for their teacher because they are ‘bravely putting themselves out there’ and have an distinct artistic voice. A negative side effect could be that some students don’t connect with the style and therefor feel uninspired and alienated in the class because they feel like they need to tailor their work to meet the teacher’s preferences. Additionally, if you’re practicing artist and teacher who creates units and assesses students work with your stylistic bias in mind it’s not fair to the students. I experienced both the positive and negatives sides of this in college where many of the art professors were also practicing artists. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked in certain classes as long as my style was mine and didn’t adhere to the professors preferences, I wasn’t going to get higher than a C. Being stubborn I held strong to my own vision but suffered the consequences of a few low marks here and there. Moreover there were certain classes that I could do no wrong in because I meshed well with the professors style. It was a frustrating time but definitely a microcosm for how the art world works in general.
As far as ‘giving up on the dream’, for many of us, teaching is the dream and it’s a challenging, creative and noble one.
In conclusion, I don’t know if practicing artists make better teachers. I know that it makes me feel good to create my own art but only when I feel I can devote enough mental and emotional energy
Thinking back to what I loved about art class when I was growing up I remember the excitement that brewed in my belly as I walked to the art studio because I knew that I was going to do something fun, creative, and hands on. This was before the days of one to one laptops and before the time we’re in now when arts education has developed beyond the expectation that you’re just making pretty pictures for the campus walls. The expectation that art education now encompass history, social awareness, cross-curricular ties and more has undoubtedly improved the learning experience for the students in many ways. However, it has also increased the time students spend sitting at a table in front of their laptops researching, with no art materials within reach; a scene that could be in any of their other classes on any given day. Enriching the depth and breadth of learning in art class is important and necessary to meet current assessment criteria, but, at it’s core, shouldn’t art class still be the fun, creative and hands on part of a student’s day?
Using laptops to do research is an effective luxury and a rejection of technology in the art studio is not what I’m after, but, when a class goes by without any ‘making’ I start to get depressed and so do my students. Nothing is more of a buzzkill than the students bounding into your classroom with excitement and then hearing that they get to sit at their desks looking at websites about artists and take notes for the next hour. Researching about artists, artworks, techniques, cultures and more enhances their understanding to be sure, but spending an entire class period on this type of screen centered, passive and usually independent activity makes for a tedious class period. I’ve decided to restrict this type of activity in my lesson planning to 20 minutes. After 20 minutes we much take what we’ve learned and interpret it or build upon in with some sort of hands on activity; could be an illustration, photo collage, text art, etc. It helps the students to use their time researching wisely because they know that they have a limited amount of time during the class to do it and they know that they will be expected to interpret or build upon what they’ve learned so there is some pressure to understand what they’ve found rather than just copy down notes or write a basic summary.
There is of course the possibility of creating art work digitally which requires students to be on their laptops or work in a lab for an extended period of time. Yet again, I would argue that there are many ways to break up this time and develop their digital work with some hands on activities during each lesson. One example of a hands on activity to enhance student understanding while working in Photoshop is to print out different layers of images onto clear sheets of overhead projector paper and have the students play with the different layers by stacking them in various configurations manually. This activity allows them to develop their understanding of how the ‘layers’ concept works in Photoshop but also gives them a chance to work with their hands and potential get more social with their learning as they can easily do this in pairs or small groups. Printing out their work for the lesson and then artistically annotating their process in their sketchbook is another idea for how the students can reflect on their work and work with their hands at the same time.
Every art teacher has a different style in terms of the cleanliness and organisation of their studio teaching space. Some people maintain a relatively orderly room throughout the year and some just let the chaos rule. For me, the start to a year is always a challenge as far as the room goes because the students from the year before have taken their work home, everything is sparkling clean, new supplies are crisp and shiny; it’s weird. Personally, I love an art room where the walls are plastered with student art, examples, and sketches. I want the students to see materials that have some wear and tear, I want them to see that it’s okay to get messy and I want them to never feel the need to confess, “Um, Miss, I got some paint on the table, I’m so sorry”.
Balancing book/computer work with hands on work is more important than ever and challenging for art teachers, especially those who teach MYP Art and similar programs. Maintaining the passionate spark that the students walk in with is simply not going to happen if we do what’s easy and let the kids sit behind their screens in the studio. They may be comfortable there, it’s where they spend the majority of their time, but it’s certainly not going to make any of them remember art class in their futures the way I remember mine from my past.