Yesterday, Wendy Ximena Ordonez Hurtado, formerly of Cali, Colombia, now of Miami, Florida, wrote, “I’m 24 years old and about to graduate with a Masters in Art Education. I’m not married, although it is soon possible. Along the way I took painting classes with a classically trained professor. I’m at a crossroad in my life. Art is now my passion. I want to be an artist. But I have now received several job offers from high schools who would like me as their art teacher. Should I take a job and just continue painting off and on, or should I pursue my passion full time? The possibility of family, stability and the buying of our little home all come into the picture. I don’t know what to do!”
Thanks, Wendy. I appreciate the opportunity to think about your situation. If you teach, you’ll most likely neglect your art and you’ll always resent that you didn’t at least give it a try. On the other hand, if you follow your passion and achieve mediocre success you’ll resent your lack of security. Whether you teach or paint you will find both joy and disappointment. In both cases you will have the responsibilities of family. In both cases you will have art in your life.
It’s been my observation that you can live with practically any contract providing you know that it has an end date. Here’s what to do: You need to put your potential employers into suspended animation and contract with yourself to work your buns off for six months. Alone, with the benefit of books and other instructional media, you should be able to see progress in that time.
Contrary to popular belief, all evolving artists are in a full time battle with mediocrity. If you are able to successfully slash away at this awesome foe, you may decide to renew the contract.
John Lidstone tried it fifty years ago. I knew him well. In six months he learned a lot about himself. He panicked while working alone and discovered the community of art libraries and art-history. As a sideline he loved to get kids to make things out of cardboard and other goofy media. The point is, his six month trial-by-fire was a great success. He was to become a highly effective educator. He was one of my outstanding instructors. He came from a place of no regrets.
PS: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” (Henry Brooks Adams)
Esoterica: Teaching is a difficult profession. Artful teaching has a short shelf life that is not always respected by unions or the granters of tenure. Former libertine artists can be persuaded, as teachers, to cling for dear life to security. I recommend teaching contracts of no more than five years. Much less if the flame is burning low. The widespread practice of impassive teaching quells student curiosity and hatches dullards. Teachers need to be learners. “You teach best what you most need to learn.” (Richard Bach)
Artist and teacher
by Guillermo Ruizlimon, San Lui Potosi, Mexico
I am an artist from Mexico, and I’m a teacher as well. I discovered teaching when I was at the beginning of my university studies, and never stopped teaching since then.
I have had my share of an artist life: exhibitions, some mural paintings, many sales of my work and some of my work printed in books or magazines. But after many years of teaching, after a master degree in teaching, now I find hard to leave teaching. Sometimes I would like to quit teaching and my work at the university to be a full time artist. But I’m happy to be a teacher, I love teaching, and really like to see some of my students discover the passion for art.
by Mimi C. Ting, El Prado, NM, USA
I made a choice over forty years ago, when I changed my major to art in my senior year at college, got married and had a family, not to become an artist, but to make art. I had my first solo show in SF with a positive review in the SF Chronicle, and promptly changed my focus to my family, still working, but left the so-to-speak artworld, whose internal politics and machinations I knew nothing of. Over the years, I took 7 years to complete my graduate degree in studio art, began to explore performance work while my children were young, taught for 15 years part time at colleges and universities, watched my children grow up to become my dearest friends, showing my work intermittently at eclectic venues, and always kept working. It wasn’t until after my first grandchild was born, in 2000, that made me realize that in order for leave to her a full legacy of a grandmother who has spent her life following her passion, there is one facet of “an artist life” I had yet to follow through — that of advocating for my work and finding for them a place in the general scheme of things.
For the last decade, I have worked hard on advocating for my work, and am proud to have accomplished a tiny measure of success. Yes, there are times I wished I had started on this process twenty years ago, but the drive was not there. What I got was decades of being able to work without being affected by the commercial forces of the art market. As a result, I have great disciple both in work habits, and staying true to my vision. I too live in “place of no regrets” because I know each work I can do is my best effort at the time, and I am doing all I can. I guess I am a very late bloomer. Perhaps I am among those late bloomers that will last longer.
There is 1 comment for Late bloomer by Mimi C. Ting
Synchronicity, yet again…
by J.R. Baldini, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
I just finished reading Collecting Souls, Gathering Dust about two very different decisions about Art in the lives of American Artists Alice Neel (my favorite artist) and Rhoda Medary (whom I had never heard of).
For the last half of the book, I never put it down. When the book was closed, I immediately picked up a brush and proceeded to work on the unfinished pieces in my studio — remnants of demos, bad weather starts and almost dones…
I will look in the mirror each morning and say, ‘You will never live a Medary life.’
There are 2 comments for Synchronicity, yet again… by J.R. Baldini
by Deborah Elmquist, Port Orange, FL, USA
This topic is one that I lived and I agree with you Robert on what she should do. HOWEVER, this is a time to really try to understand yourself. It sounds easy or trite but it can make or break you as an artist or a teacher. I just retired from public education in Florida after more than 30 years of teaching (I choose elementary education instead of art education because it was easier to get a job back in the 70’s). First, what is your personality type? There is a test called the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory that I took some years into my teaching career. It helped me understand why I loved art but it also revealed, because of my high “F” (feeling domain), that I needed to be with people and share in a community of like-minded people. Teaching fits that bill. I was able to teach and paint and I have been a practicing painter for over 20 years. I do get lonely after a few hours of being in the studio but at least it isn’t all day every day. Second, I need security. Now I have a pension, a home, and am putting all my energy into my art. I still have to connect with people but I do it with teaching painting. I occasionally ask myself “what if” but all I have to do it look around at other artists who took the art road and see how they are struggling financially and say to myself, I made the right choice.
Third, I know several elementary and high school art teachers in Florida and some of them make time to create on their own. Most of these people have opted to not have children, which also needs to be taken into account. Last of all, teaching in the Miami-Dade area is very difficult and riddled with problems. She may find after a year or two of teaching that it is too draining for the small amount of income. A third option might be to take a job that has nothing to do with art. Her creative energy will be preserved for her own art and she will have the best of both worlds.
There are 2 comments for Understand yourself by Deborah Elmquist
Artists as educators
by Rhonda Bobinski, Red Lake, ON, Canada
When I was in university, completing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I was torn for the same reason. Should I be the bohemian artist living my own life, or go into the structured world of teaching? My mentor told me that I would regret being an educator because I would be sitting in class brewing an idea and wouldn’t be able to work on it, instantaneously. In some ways she’s right. I do have several, very thick idea journals brimming with sketches and concepts that have yet to come to fruition. It will make a good book some day. So many pros, so many cons…. I’ve been a teacher for 13 years now, in the art department of one school and have no regrets. Am I both a teacher and an artist? Absolutely. It’s called summer time, it’s called weekends, it’s called March break and it’s called scheduling. And if you have genuine family support you’ll be given the opportunity to use that time to still be true to yourself as an artist. And I think that students need to have artists as educators, so that they see that art is a part of your life and passion. I occasionally drag students to my studio or show them works that I’m creating at home and they find it inspiring. I personally think your question is a no brainer, and it’s not a matter of picking one of the other…. you can definitely do both.
There are 3 comments for Artists as educators by Rhonda Bobinski
by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA
My first husband and fine painter, Eugene Tonoff told me that you have to take a vow of poverty to paint. It is not nor will ever be a place for sissies. He was an explosively brilliant painter that few have ever heard of.
I have been in the arts all my life doing one form of art, or another. I taught 3 years at RISD. It took all of my time during the school year, even though I only taught for 5 hours. There were papers to correct, endless teachers meetings, syllabuses to prepare, distraught students to console and encourage and parents to confront.
There are millions and millions of yards of canvas that have been painted and millions and millions more being painted now. There are countless artists’ websites and blogs. The world is swamped with artists. There are acres and acres of garbage that have been turned out, the world is littered with it.
If you feel you cannot live without painting, and have something valuable to contribute, then do so. However if a life of comfort is more important, then teach.
There are no guarantees, none.
Life finds ways
by Lyn Dickason, Australia
I was interested in today’s letter as I found myself inadvertently in a similar position to Wendy Hurtado. I was never formally trained in art as my parents considered it to be an ‘occupation likely to be associated with drug users and with no future’ but I always wanted to sculpt and paint. I had to settle for a short career as a secretary and then married and had children and lived in the country. For nearly 20 years I only painted and sculpted with children’s paints and play dough but got involved gradually with school productions and ended up painting backdrops and costume making. Then came the day when a parent who worked for the Sun International group of hotels saw one of my backdrops and approached me to paint some murals (on canvas) for a hotel. Before I knew it I was heavily involved with commercial painting for a couple of hotels, a bank and a few other places and this continued for 16 years until we left South Africa and came to live in Australia. I must admit that I did feel in many ways stifled because I was given a subject and had to paint 26 scenes that related to it in a 5 x 3 metre format, but it gave me plenty of pocket money and a release of that craving to paint. Through this I found the courage and confidence to go to sculpture lessons and not only enjoyed them but found that this was my true niche. So to Wendy, don’t despair whatever you decide to do, as life finds ways to settle you and reward your talents later if not sooner.
Teaching is difficult
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
I have never had a job that was more difficult, nor more rewarding than teaching art in a public school. My first career was in the museum field. I became an exhibition designer and then a curator. I did that work for 25 years. Then I became an art teacher. The transition was a steep learning curve.
I had to learn how to act like an actor. I had to learn how to act as if I was angry. I had to learn psychology. Teaching is the most difficult career choice one can try. It is the art of arts. It seems simple in a way. I know this stuff, and I will teach it to you. It is not that easy.
For one thing, your typical student these days is text messaging. Your typical student also has an MP3 player, or some other music machine player. Let’s say you have a great lesson plan. Few kids will hear your words. Your students are not there with you. Be prepared to repeat yourself 20 times each period.
Let me put it this way. Your high school students will not know how to use a ruler. They will not know fractions. They will not know how to arrange their fingers on a ruler to draw a straight line. You will need to help most every child. They will love you for it. That is your reward.
I am saying to Wendy Hurtado that teaching is not what you expect. Expect to come home each day with a broken heart. That is just what must happen to you if you have a heart. Teaching is very difficult, and in the public schools it is heart breaking. One is a tough bird, or not. It helps to be old. The statistics say that 50% of new teachers last about five years. I beat those odds, but I was 45 years old when I took the job.
A humble opinion
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
I would definitely try what Robert suggests. As a professional artist, and adult educator, I constantly run into people that chose the ‘safe’ career path who thought they could keep their art going on the side. Only to discover that life, family, and work pretty much prevent that from happening. Now, years later, when they have retired, they are picking up where they left off. Also, once you get used to the salary, you will find it nearly impossible to give it up. The security will keep you locked in. If you love, love, love to teach then by all means do that, because that is your calling. If you’d prefer to do your art and teach on the side I have known many artists that successfully balance both. They are primarily professional artists that run after school programs or teach privately to boost their income and keep their brains engaged and growing. In other words it is a lot easier to try out being a full time artist first than the other way around. That is my humble opinion.
Talent will always be there
by Carolyn Rotter
Graduating college with an art degree in hand was one of my happiest memories. I had a job offer to teach art and I had blind ambitions to have a soaring career as an artist. I can tell you they are at opposite ends of the spectrum — like water and oil. Being an artist requires one to travel the road to self discovery, self realization, and self motivation. Teaching, by its nature, is selfless. I taught for more than twenty years before I realized that I had been neglecting the artist in me. Thankfully a friend convinced me to take a painting class and I rediscovered the joy, the bliss, the satisfaction that came from holding a brush again. I do not regret the years of educating children because they filled another need in me. These days I have the security of collecting a wonderful pension check, I teach adult classes, I paint joyfully in my studio, and I exhibit my work in local galleries. I believe art talent will always be there even if you postpone your pursuits in favor of a weekly pay check.
mixed media painting, 30 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Sonia Gadra of Frederick, MD, USA, who wrote, “Wendy should feel very fortunate to have a teaching offer where she can teach what she loves and help our younger generation find their way in life. She will be creating as well as securing her future so that someday she will be able to delve into what she really loves.”
And also Haim Mizrahi of East Hampton, NY, USA, who wrote, “To Wendy — Who says you cannot do both? Find an approach, technically speaking, that will allow you to fit in all your plans. After all, you are still young and the sky is the limit. And above all, it is all in a day’s work.”
Enjoy the past comments below for A place of no regrets…