Thoughts on teaching


Dear Artist,

In the incredibly dark and grubby Odessa airport, waiting for the short flight to Kiev, I find a crumpled copy of the English-language Herald Tribune. While most of its words appear well used by previous travellers, there’s an interview with 76-year-old American author John Updike. “I’ve tried to avoid teaching,” he says, “which for all its charm takes a lot of your energy and makes you doubt yourself.”


Updike (shown in 2006 at the Boston Public Library) writes from ‘an adolescent yearning to become a professional writer.’ (Robert Spencer for The New York Times)

Charming, for sure, I’m thinking. There’s that terrific feeling you get when you see the lights come on in students’ eyes. Watching improvement in others has to be one of the great highs. For those of us who love to spin knowledge, preparation itself opens up exciting new directions. Further, during delivery, the teacher finds out what she thinks by hearing what she has to say.

But teaching takes a special kind of energy. Lots of it. Frankly, I don’t know how they find it. Arriving home from the schoolroom, many of my art-teacher friends have to put their feet up and debrief with something like Vodka or the decorating of eggs. Exhausted, many have trouble getting to the studio. Like those undersized tubes of Ukrainian toothpaste, they are used up.

Updike’s third point — teaching makes you doubt yourself — is worrisome and worthy of consideration. Within words themselves there resides the potential disarmament of creative action. Art is a doing thing. It favours self-discovery and process while eschewing words and theory. It thrives on silence and contemplation. Some artists report that creativity requires a sort of blind energy and focused ignorance. The seeds of doubt may be sown by knowing too much. If this is the “teacher-mind,” and I’m not sure it is, the antidote may be enforced mutism. This may seem harsh in a free country, but with the mouth closed, stuff comes out of the brush — or pen. Even those who teach by showing and doing expend resources and might just be subconsciously cheapening their passion.

John Updike saw teaching from both sides. He understood what he had to do to become a creator. “Four years was enough of Harvard,” he said. “I still had a lot to learn, but had been given the liberating notion that now I could teach myself.”

Best regards,


PS: “The artist brings something into the world that didn’t exist before, and he does it without destroying something else. A kind of refutation of the conservation of matter.” (John Updike)

Esoterica: Or you might be one of those teachers who believes that the more you give the more you get. By sharing, guiding and watching, you become party to personal growth. For this exalted state, words and explanations need to be seen as expendable. By giving to others in a playful way we may leave ourselves more intact, and squeeze more out of ourselves. May we never run out of Squibb.


Understanding how humans learn
by Anne Hightower-Patterson, Charleston, SC, USA


“Angel of the city”
original painting by
Anne Hightower-Patterson

To assume that being an artist and being a teacher is synonymous is so wrong. If someone is a talented and skilled artist, it does not mean that he or she would be a happy and successful teacher. I am an artist and a trained, professional educator. This means that I have studied and worked in the field of education. Understanding how humans learn is a wonderfully separate skill than knowing how to paint a masterpiece. When a masterful educator exists in the same body with a painting master we have a true gift to give to the world of students desiring to know more about their craft. I will also posit that teaching private lessons and workshops is inspiring when the hungry students come to be fed. Teaching a class full of thirteen year-olds with walking hormones and not a full desire to learn, is far more challenging and liable to result in self-doubt.

There is 1 comment for Understanding how humans learn by Anne Hightower-Patterson

From: Brigitte Nowak — Nov 04, 2008

Art and teaching are both ways of communicating. A “masterpiece” which does not speak to those seeing it is a failed masterpiece. A teacher who only teaches facts, rather than imparting curiosity about the world and one’s role in it, no matter how well-versed in pedagogy, is a failed teacher.


Repaying the debt
by Jon Rader Jarvis, Vashon Island, WA, USA


“Dockton school”
acrylic painting, 48 x 48 inches
by Jon Rader Jarvis

The studio instructor and the writer follow very different protocols. Every artist who was well “taught” by one artist/instructor or many takes on a debt that must be repaid by paying it forward. Those who benefit from your instruction incur the same debt with the same imperative to pay it forward. I once saw an intelligent description of a “professional” as compared to a tradesman. A professional shares knowledge freely without trade secrets knowing that his unique abilities are a part of his nature and not accumulated knowledge that must be held in secret to protect his worth. I have tried to follow that philosophy sharing all of my knowledge with my students to repay a tiny bit of what my teachers shared with me. I have benefitted from the process and my art work is considerably more “honest” as a result. We keep only what we share and the waves we make will benefit generations yet unimagined. I make art as a visual communication language with artists I will never know. It is a way to touch the future and achieve a kind of immortality not open to any other communication form. To avoid teaching is to avoid repaying the debt, and we are made less by that avoidance.


‘Value added’ teaching
by Lynn Edwards, Dallas, GA, USA


“Hand In Glove”
acrylic painting, 9 x 3.25 inches
by Lynn Edwards

Teaching certainly requires a very high level of energy, commitment and focus. And yes, it does cut significantly into one’s own personal studio time. As an acrylics instructor in a local university’s Continuing Education department, I believe strongly in offering “value added” to my students. I reserve at least one day per week (in addition to class day) for creating handouts, planning exercises and mini-demos, organizing supplies and doing whatever I need to do to ensure I’m serving my students to the very best of my abilities. Rather perversely, my own muse loves to strike when I’m immersed in these preparations. All I can do is grab my journal and jot down those siren-seductions for follow-up later. It’s frustrating not to be able to act on them immediately, but surprisingly, the delay usually turns out to be beneficial. “Enforced gestation” seems to speed my own creative efforts along when I finally do get brush in hand.


Teaching serves artist well
by Bob Ragland, Denver, CO, USA


Bob in his studio

I have always instructed. Someone said, “To teach is to learn twice” — I agree with that artfully. I have been an artist for quite some time and I have put together quite a skill set. I am very adept at exchanging information in a very easy manner. I am a good demonstrator and a good explainer. I start people where they can start. I specialize in art career maintenance. I have paid for a house/studio and car with my art. Teaching has given my art life great traction. When I embarked on the art adventure, I noticed that many of my distant mentors all were art instructors no matter how famous. The artists Charles White and Jacob Lawrence are my best examples. Teaching as an artist in residence has and does serve me very well.


Teaching is Learning
by Kim Werfel, Pittsboro, NC, USA


“Red Maples”
original painting
by Kim Werfel

The art room of my childhood was a place where magic could happen. I adored my art teacher, Karen Hammer, for making me feel so special and encouraging the creative child within me. Hooked, I knew when I grew up I wanted to be just like her. I could think of no greater joy than to nurture the creative imaginations and self-esteem of children. My practical parents disagreed and I had to wait until my thirties to make my dream happen, when I could afford to put myself through school while working. It became my holy grail to become the sacred art teacher. When I got my first job as an elementary art teacher in NC, it was exhilarating, quite an eye-opener, especially coming from NY. I had to go against my quieter nature and be in front of a classroom – learn to take charge of a class, entertain, organize materials and presentations, work within a 45 minute period to make something happen and prove to myself and others I could pull this off. But the rewards were immeasurable! I was allowed to be a kid again too!

In teaching about art, color, texture and form and especially individual expression I allowed myself the same freedom. After about seven years of teaching K-8 and learning so much about life and art, I allowed myself to create some of my own work. Teaching was a passage I went through to legitimize my own ability. While I was encouraging children, I was also encouraging my own inner child again and re-experiencing my childhood joy.


Combating the energy drain
by Dorenda Crager Watson, Columbus, OH, USA


original painting
by Dorenda Crager Watson

As a long-time teacher I get great satisfaction from the knowledge that I am reinforcing the idea of art as a supplement to a full and rewarding life. There is a downside, though, the absolute energy-sucking drain of all creativity when you get to your own studio!

I do two things to combat this:

1. When I teach, I don’t paint (for myself) and when I paint (for myself) I don’t teach. This has been life-changing in my approach to avoiding burn-out in my own art work, as well as in my teaching. I am a great believer in the saying “If you try to chase two rabbits, both will get away!” Focus is the key in doing excellence.

2. I teach what I want to learn. When I offer a class, instead of only passing my personal knowledge to the students, I regularly integrate lessons that I have yet to learn. This can include a new way of looking at color, a new technique for my medium of choice, or a new approach to a common method — anything to “stir the pot” of procedure. Many times I may “fail” at these lessons; however, I use this as a lesson for my students to be fearless in attempting the unfamiliar.


Teaching is talent shared
by Wayne Wright, Wyoming, USA


original painting by
Wayne Wright

We need teachers and we need good ones. A talent is not a talent until it has been shared. If we are so blessed as to be an artist, shouldn’t we help someone just as someone helped us? I think that all artists could believe that in 50 years, a young student in a literature class could come across a poem that an artist wrote and it would make a strong impact in the student’s life. It is the same with paintings. We don’t know Monet, but we do know his work. Work is an artist’s legacy.

Artists can learn a lot from studying the great works. We can put that knowledge to work for us in some fashion or another. Then perhaps, 50 years down the road, we will be teaching someone in a manner which we have never dreamed possible.


Teaching the creative process
by Jeanean Songco Martin, Waynesboro, PA, USA


original painting
by Jeanean Songco Martin

Teaching the new student how to take the retinal image and “transfer” it through the selective process to a work of art is very exciting. These things are both easy to teach and are essential. The creative process itself is not so easily presented. Why? It is because we are all individuals and we all reach our own creative potentials in many different ways. I agree that too many words and theories can be confusing and debilitating and can actually stifle the creative process. I do not agree with the comment “Seeds of doubt may be sown by knowing too much.” One can never ever know too much. Acquired knowledge is a cumulative process that should never end. As a young art student I soaked up as much as possible until I reached the bursting point upon graduation. The ensuing years involved personal discovery and the cold, hard reality of the studio. I have found that my inspiration for creating art comes from everywhere; my surroundings, my family, my environment, my past work and future aspirations. Regardless of how much information I have processed or how much knowledge of art materials or theories I possess, I always feel humble. I feel like a novice picking up the brush for the first time in front of a new canvas. “Blind energy” is a good thing. When one begins to paint, everything you know should disappear and the emotional side should take over.


Tale of two careers
by Richard Brown


“Mill Bay Shores”
watercolour painting
by Richard Brown

It has been said, “Those who can, do, and those who cannot, teach.” That saying still boggles my mind. I spent the first thirty years of my career as an Art Director in the Advertising Agency business (doing) and the last fourteen years of my working career teaching Illustration and Graphic Design at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario — again by doing. Where did this negative idea come from?

I very much enjoyed both careers and always worked in a professional manner. In the advertising business it was the creative challenges that attracted me. In teaching, the creative challenge was giving of your gained knowledge to a body of young hopefuls eager to be a part of the advertising or graphic design process. There is great satisfaction in teaching and witnessing your students’ progress. Later, I witnessed when my graduates went to their first jobs and then reported that I was a part of their success. That’s satisfaction.


Education in America
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA


“Beach rocks”
by Peter Brown

I have been teaching art in the public schools of Oakland, California for 15 years. Each year the challenges seem more difficult. It has a lot to do with personal electronic devices. I have watched several plagues: The Walkman, the Disc-Man, the hand-held games, the cell phone, The MP3 player, the portable DVD player, and lately, “texting.”

Our school has a strong policy about all of these things, but in truth, it is a very difficult policy to enforce. One day about half my students seemed to be very sleepy. They all had one elbow on the table and were propping their heads up with a hand on an ear. As I looked more closely, I saw tiny wires running up their sleeves. When I walked around the class, I saw that my students were very proficient at palming the ear bud head phone out of their ears. None of these kids had been listening to m10 minute lecture/demonstration. Sometimes kids will pretend to draw with one hand while texting under the table.

An art teacher typically introduces a technique during the first few minutes of a class, a shading technique, for example. Then, the teacher walks around and concentrates on one student at a time, to see how each is doing. Day after day, I find that many of my students have been texting, or listening to rap music, or perhaps even watching a movie and have not heard a thing that I’ve said.

High school in America has degraded to the point that many, if not most, of my students cannot measure a line to a 1/4 inch tolerance. I have students who are six feet, four inches tall and cannot read a tape measure to confirm their height. Teaching high school is the saddest sorrow you can imagine. The only thing my students seem to have is a collective bad attitude. Who needs fractions if you are texting your girlfriend? We have 320 seniors at our school. Many of these kids are brilliant. We have 650 freshmen. Our drop-out rate is huge.

It is heartbreaking. I am sure that the stress involved has shortened my years of living on this planet. Why then am I involved in teaching? I’ve had several very great teachers in my life. I grew up in a poverty-stricken home. Art saved my life. I started to make money with art when I was sixteen. I retired from the museum field when I was 45. I began to teach, as a second career, because I still held a debt to my great art teachers in the public schools of California. Those few people saved my life. The tragedy of my life is that I have so very few students who can learn a whit from me. I am only involved because I am richer than I ever expected. Art has served me well. My students do not really care to learn the slightest thing. Not even the ruler.

There are 8 comments for Education in America by Peter Brown

From: Anonymous — Nov 04, 2008

What is really heartbreaking, is that you have decided to stay on in this teaching position with your disillusioned pessimistic attitude toward your students. It is no wonder to me that your students are tuning you out.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Nov 04, 2008

The anonymous commenter has obviously never been a teacher in a setting like you describe. When I was teaching in the public schools years ago, ruler skills were already in steep decline. Rather than blaming you, I choose to give you my sympathy and encouragement. I’m sure you are looking for new ways to connect and finding success with some students. Find some joy in your situation.

From: Darrell Baschak — Nov 04, 2008

Peter, although I emphasize with you and your students situation (I have been in the same boat)you must not give up on them and the latent potential that resides within them. Maybe you have to toss the curriculum temporarily and ask them what they feel is relevant with respect to their lives and Art. Once they are excited about something the ones that need to know the ruler will learn it, probably on their own. Good luck!

From: Claire DeLong Taylor — Nov 04, 2008

I give you encouragement, as well. As long as you are able to reach one child, all of the work that you do is not in vain. Who knows? Perhaps one of those students who seems so distant now is actually taking in a kernal of what you are teaching and won’t ever forget it. They may even go on to accomplish something great. Keep doing what you are doing. The kids of Oakland need you.

From: Tessa — Nov 04, 2008

I agree with both Darrell and Virginia. have you thought about teaching older people?

From: vincent — Nov 04, 2008

The masses can’t be brought closer to the elite, no matter what. They will always reach for the lowest common denominator. It is a noble quest to try and overcome this, but hopeless.

From: Carol Lyons — Nov 04, 2008

Peter Brown, what you say is sad, but true about many “students” today. When we find a responsive one who wants to learn, that student is as good as gold!

From: anon 1 — Nov 04, 2008

Understand that 48% of the population has an IQ of 100 or less. Under the “no child left behind law” everyone is “entitled” to a college education. Even though it takes an IQ of 115, or better, to graduate from college. The only way this 48% can get thru college is to dummy down the entire system. I am probably correct in assuming you are experiencing this travesty. You have my sympathy. I deal with these people at every level and in every store. They read poorly, can’t spell or do math and could care less. They understand nothing of the nuances of life. Fortunately there are a few brighter students who get through the system and are bright enough to carry on. You have my prayers as well.


Selective teaching
by Monica Kaminski Cavanagh, Ragland, NZ


by Monica Kaminski Cavanagh

Wearing the dual hat of art teacher and artist was a challenge for me during the years I taught and I would have agreed with Updike at that time. Creating sample work of watercolor, colored pencil, acrylics or charcoal left me with a longing for more, yet, there was never enough energy left to do so, especially with middle school students.

When I moved to New Zealand four years ago with my husband on a Fulbright scholarship, my longing days were over. Not only was the landscape amazingly gorgeous, the ocean, birds, the Maori people and a peace-loving country allowed my creativity the best adventure I could ever hope for. I had no excuses and came face to face with confronting a growing procrastination that developed from teaching full time in the states and saying to myself “I have no more energy left.”

I was delirious with creative time and no obligations. The energy bubble kept growing. But something was missing. I’m gregarious and missed teaching. Consequently, I got involved in the local community art center. For four years I was involved in a small group of people who, like sponges, soaked up all the knowledge I could give them. But, teaching was now different. It was more spontaneous, on my time terms and with adult students. We became close art friends who shared much. I learned that I had to become selective about who and what I taught to keep my energy level.

There is 1 comment for Selective teaching by Monica Kaminski Cavanagh

From: Marc — Jun 27, 2010

Having just finished a leave replacement position in a very challenging near inner city situ and delt with the daily electronic and potty mouth invasion of disrespect, I can only sympathize . Our society has run down hill and it seems there are very few who wich to reverse the trend. Teaching has become more adn more difficult year by year adn the violence against teachers makes it even worse. I find it hard ot give up, perhaps it is the Churchill in me but unless someone can offer powerful solutions to the current classroom situs I cannot see staying in for the reward of having helped a single chile. that is not enough. Further , too many people walk into the classroom with a candy coated idea of how things will be and school rerely prepares them for it. There is so much more to say but I am still too exhausted from the semester.



Painting and talking
by Betty Billups, Sandpoint, ID, USA


“Marshlands No 1611”
oil painting, 8 x 11 inches
by Betty Billups

One thing I always found was that when teaching, or talking, I could seldom paint. I have spent a long time trying to figure this out because there are many teachers who do both! I am not quite sure, but I think that artists who paint to somewhat of a “formula” can teach, talk and paint all at the same time.

I have never found a “formula” for anything that I paint! I know more or less the foundation for creating an image, but it is an ever-changing thing. There are a hundred answers to the same question! I am always on “the edge” when painting. I keep all of my preconceived ideas at the edge of my awareness so that whatever might come through is pure and hopefully original.

Although when talking and also trying to paint, I find myself in a horrible space of almost drowning! The two just do not seem to go together!! Creation is such an elusive thing, for the more we think we are in control, the more we remove ourselves from the actual creation.

There are 2 comments for Painting and talking by Betty Billups

From: Mishcka O’Connor — Nov 03, 2008
From: THe artist! — Nov 12, 2008

Yes, Mishcka, reading that book helped me understand the constant “changes in my head”… as I would paint, then talk… then get totally confused!! Reading this book, helped me keep my focus, when I started “loosing it”, when trying to share an idea, while painting… it is something I cannot do well… but I think those that can, possibly, as I mentioned above, that perhaps they paint more to an already known “answer” or formula… whereas, each painting or study I do, is always worked out with no known answers or solutions … like diving into an unknown body of water … never knowing what there will be to discover!! This little study for example, I almost threw away, cause it was not “familiar” to me, it did not go the normal “route” that I have journeyed in my art… so at the time, I thought it was a failure. HOWEVER, I usually will put a painting or a study away for a month or two… and see what it “has to say” at that time… just maybe, there was something there, worth saving!!

I do not believe all of one’s works are of the same level of “accomplishment”, nor statement…BUT, if there is an “honesty” and underlying power, then one must not prejudge that piece.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Thoughts on teaching



From: Rick Rotante — Oct 30, 2008

John Updike was a wise man and knew from where he spoke. When I give a public painting demonstration I’m always asked if I teach. I’m sure many artists have the same offer. I’m always flattered but usually answer in the negative.

No one can teach anyone to be a painter. One can be instructed in the techniques and methods of the painting process. From there it’s a self-exploratory road. Many think if they take lessons from a current master they will achieve some insight and thus move further up the chain to being an artist. All this is for naught and only enriches the coffers of the teacher.

As for self-doubt, this too is true. I was constantly challenged by the students to have all the answers and tell them the “secrets” to the process. When you tell them you don’t have answers except for maybe a technical response, the look on their faces would cause any teach to feel self-doubt. There is so much that is not tangible about painting that one has to find themselves on their own.

I did teach pastel years ago and I can say from personal experience that Updike was correct. It took an enormous amount of time to prepare a course that would be informative as well as challenging. I found it very time consuming. So much so that my work took back seat to the class.

I eventually realized I didn’t have all the answers. I had as many questions as the students.

After almost thirty years, I still have questions.

I jokingly once told my teach – “ skip the process and just tell me the secrets! “

As you paint day after day year after year you learn there are no secrets just hard work much ongoing effort and miles of canvas to be filled.

From: Richard T Pranke — Oct 30, 2008

The Perks of Teaching

I teach for nine hours a day, twice a week and it really burns me out. I love it for the people I get to meet,the artistic relationships we build and the whole spectrum of styles and subjects we paint. It is a never ending learning process for myself and my students. After classes I cannot wait to get to my own work cause when teaching it seems the old process and or tricks of the trade that lay dormant pop up and pushes me to always out do the last canvas.

From: Cheryl Webster — Oct 30, 2008

I’m not a teacher but am friendly with several teachers. Used to be I thought they had the greatest job – all those holidays – but on getting to know these friends they all told the same story just about. How tiring it was they said, almost in unison. I came to understand them and appreciate them so much more than I had. Recently, a new friend slipped temporarily back into the role she had previously given up when I was having trouble with a painting. Unknowing, I started leaning on her until she told me that she had been a teacher and found that she could not teach AND paint, that teaching sort of leached or sapped her, leaving her unable to paint for a while until she could regroup as it were. I’m a little dense sometimes, so thanks again for reminding me what a terrific debt of gratitude we owe to teachers and that we should never take that gift of theirs for granted.

From: Gabrielle Gamboa — Oct 30, 2008

I was surprised at how negative this post was. I have been teaching for 9 years, and I find that it has done nothing but enhance my art. As a teacher I am always exploring new themes, materials, and techniques to include in my curriculum. I learn much from my students, as they develop ideas I had not thought of. Self doubt is good. If you do not allow your beliefs to be challenged regularly, then how can you grow as an artist? Yes, teaching is exhausting, but if it is that draining for you, then teaching is not for you (which is fine.) To imply that teaching takes away from an artist’s work seems a bit selfish to me, and sounds like a way to justify the fallacy of “…those who can’t, teach.”

From: Debbie Lambert, Ashburton, NewZealand — Oct 31, 2008

I have been tutoring adults in oilpainting and watercolours for a few years now and find it an incredible uplifting experience. Yes there are times when I go home exhausted… but those times are far outweighed by the high I get when the lights come on in the students eyes…. and the penny drops. To see pupils grow in confidence as a person and an artist is special. I also find that sometimes students face problems in their painting ‘that I haven’t experienced before, and so we creatively problem solve. Fantastic when it all comes together successfully. As a teacher of art I am amazed how quickly the students become more, and friendships are formed. It also amazes me constantly how much impact we have on others lives, that we dont know about. I hope and pray that mine is all positive!

I have fellow artist friends that have great expertise and have gone down the path of tutoring, and their own work has either suffered or completely dried up. The ability to teach is a gift, I hope all teachers use wisely.

From: Debbie Lambert, Ashburton, NewZealand — Oct 31, 2008

Teaching is a gift. Used in a positive way it is a blessing to the pupil, used in a negative way it can only cause damage. Some are able to impart knowledge and skills to students but tutors who cannot are a complete waste of time and money, and are likely to cause more harm than good, and put people off. I am sure you all have had a teacher like this in your life. People like that you learn in spite, of not because of.

From: Joyce Callaghan — Oct 31, 2008

Well written and thought out and so true! I believe we learn more by teaching than we could have learned in a classroom. Art is an everlearning process – the more you learn, the more you know you need to learn.

From: Joan Crawford Barnes — Oct 31, 2008

I agree with “Esoterica”. I am a teacher of fine art in my home studio for mostly home school students, but also public school and adult students. I have a time frame for teaching – Sept – March. The rest of the months I devote to painting and creating. I am inspired by my students. And yes, it thrills me to see their growth each year. Since I start at the beginning, drawing, and take them as far as they want to go. Most of my students will continue for a five year period. I have seen some great artists spring forth, but not only that, I see what has happened to them personally as they have grown in confidence and self-esteem. I believe Art and Music are so important in the learning process for children and adults. I appreciated very much this letter today and it is so true that you expend a lot of energy teaching, that is why I do not try to mix the two. When I teach, I teach! When I paint! I paint! It seems to work for me. Love these letters that I receive every week.

From: Diane Leifheit — Oct 31, 2008

I had a ‘class’ last night. There are 5 retired teachers in it and 2 others enrolled. As a painter, I make no excuses for not being a teacher. I tell them I am an enabler. I can only show you how you can use the tools and ways to see. If you don’t draw a half an hour a day you won’t get better. Doing the work is up to you. Practice is the only way to get better.

Artists who teach or enable others to see are important ambassadors of art. They open the doors for others to step in and express themselves through the mechanisms of art. Even if these folks never get back to a sketch book, the will go to a gallery with a better appreciation of the value and labor of art. The student can’t help but ‘see’ better for taking time to explore art. It’s all good. Art need appreciators. It’s a two way street.”

From: Beverley Fitzwilliam Harries — Oct 31, 2008
From: Randy Davis — Oct 31, 2008

It is interesting to hear a couple of differnt sides of teaching. I am now getting certified to teach art in Connecticut public schools at 60 years old. Part of it is to develope something I can do over the next 10 years if necessary that doesn’t involve lots of physical labor. I do really believe that the giving that is involved in teaching is so important-I learn as much as any student does and it is a good feeling to see the “lights” go on. I always think of one of my heros in art- Hans Hofman, who was a magnificent teacher AND artist. Its in the eye of the beholder still!5

From: Randy — Oct 31, 2008

There is nothing negative about this RG letter. It succinctly covers the joys and pitfalls of the very tricky business of teaching.

From: Ann — Oct 31, 2008

How true, how true… When I began studying to be a singer, I knew that I wanted to perform, not teach, but eventually, I was wooed by the sirens of steady income and stability to open a teaching studio. I experienced all those “charms” you mention, watching my methods make a difference to my students, but oh, how it wore me out creatively. No time now to study for my own singing…all my energies were directed to preparing my students to do theirs. I lasted exactly one year before “rebelling” and going back to my own study and performance.

From: Gillian Hanington — Oct 31, 2008

I found teaching to be a fascinating experience and one observation occured to me. Through teaching I myself learned so much. Preparing classes and answering questions really kept me aware (or even revealed to me) what I was thinking.

However I also discovered voluntary mutism, and I realized that the more I talked about ideas the less I made them into art. So now, I do almost no teaching and little talking and my art seems stronger, more intuitive and more compelling. I now try to keep it on a level below speech and analysis-at least until AFTER the fact. When I can do that and see myself as a conduit rather than an originator the work is much more powerful.

From: Joe Cibere — Oct 31, 2008

Teaching does suck you dry at times but for some reason I keep coming back. I learn far more from my students then they learn from me. Another benefit is that I have to explain myself. Hard to do sometimes but I learn not only what to communicate but how to communicate. I have grown as an artist and a person by teaching and I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to do so.

From: Gail Harper — Oct 31, 2008

…Lifetime teacher..first in a private elementery school…which I TOTALLY enjoyed for approx 5 years…followed by teaching in my private studio, where I teach children 3 days a week for 2 hrs each session, and adults including high school folks ..2 ,2hr classes each week

An old fashioned axiom taught to me by my teachers of “returning your talent to God through sharing it with others”….has been the modus operendi

I prefer the term FACSILITATE to the term… TEACH

I like to think I am a good fascilitator.. I keep it light and fun and PRESERVE the individuality ot the student

Does it deplete me?…sometimes when I allow the student to depend too much.

Thank you for this letter Robert ….I am currently thinking of transitioning to website exposure and in a few years a smaller studio, concentrating on artwork exclusively

Your letter and these responses were truly food for thought.


From: Joyce Goden — Oct 31, 2008
From: Janet Sellers — Oct 31, 2008

As recently published in a study from Harvard Medical School (and as I have said for decades) not only can art be taught, but it can be learned! It takes a really good teacher, and an attentive student; the better the teacher is as an artist, the better the learning. Just manipulation of materials will not an art work make, as art will always require the “art spirit”. That spirit is not often readily available with “teachers” who grind through a class for whatever their reasoning it is to grind. They may not have the luxury of choosing their students or courses, which could damage their art spirit.

In my classes, we work from observation. I have found out that :

I get burned out making art UNLESS I teach. I teach kids, mostly, and they are very eager to do well, willing to learn/observe, and I often paint with them after they are well into their basics.

I use the teaching time as a practice, and I am SURE to get in the variations in my practice of drawing. I also do a thumbnail for each student to see “how it goes”.

I must admit that if I teach too much for me, I am pooped out, but in a happy and enriched way. It tends to make me stronger now; (but in the beginning years, I got into a bad place where I could only draw as example and not from myself due to most of my practice being at teaching).

Teaching adults is harder; they don’t pay attention as well, fight every step, and think they have a right to argue, albeit in “question” form. So they have to be won over often times, which can be tiring. They are better left to the demo classes where they just take what they can get from the demo.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 31, 2008

From reading all the above responses several things become clear to me.

1- Teaching is hard, time consuming and exhausting

2- “Seeing the lights go off the thier eyes” ..IS rewarding.

3- Little personal (teachers) work gets done.

4- Art can be taught (sic. only the technical, not the spiritual)

I wonder about those who teach full time, if they also have a viable thriving career as an artist?

If one is to teach and be good at it, it will and should take ALL your time. Which leaves little to no time for personal work.

I agree that there are good teachers, but few if any can devote what time is left time to advancing their own work. IF they think they are they are kidding themselves.

If one is really going to “teach” full time, then one will put; should put their own career on hold. Otherwise, you are just performing a the “job” of teaching and not inspiring their students.

There comes a time in every teachers life who decides its time to do your own work when teaching will either stop or be put on the back burner. Or else your doing it just for the money.

From: Sam Liberman — Oct 31, 2008

I have known so many artists who have turned to teaching mainly as a way to pay the bills and still work with what they love. Some of them contiue to make beautiful paintings, but others seem to lose part of their creative power. I have been asked occassionally to teach, and I have avoided it. Even though I am retired from another profession and somewhat financially secure, I sometimes feel the need to teach in order to pay for my artistic habits. Certainly my sales have not covered the expenses. I think many of the artists I and others admire gain their livelihood more from teaching than from sales of their work.

I wonder if teaching take more out of some of them than trying to distribute their work through galleries. I have found the latter to be a difficult and draining process, and having to both teach and market while still working to improve our skills might be very hard on some of us.

I appreciate your comments Robert, as well as those of the other contributers on this highly relevant topic. I think we each have to choose carefully our own path. One thing that worries me is that I think we need some time for other things, whether it be travel, writing, reading,sports or whatever.

So far I have done some demonstrations and I am still open to the teaching route. One of the benefits is the recognition and praise I have received from people who seem to appreciate my demonstrations, but this could in the long run become a distraction.

Art seems to me a lonely profession, but it has been a pleasant change for me. Formerly I was an attorney, and it involves dealing with the problems of others and with many people, who are often not at their best. I don’t know if I am ready to go back to the schedules set by others.

Anyway thnks to all who have commented.

From: Robert Redus — Oct 31, 2008

Updike’s 4 years were enough, where and who would he have been without instruction…The idea of teaching I believe is a calling. Certain people are designed to teach what they know (technically). Instructors can bring everything possible to the student, it is what the student does with the information that really shows results. I have re-read the 10 rules you wrote about recently and it seems teaching is more of a symbiotic relationship than anything else. I teach Developmentally Disabled adults painting twice a week, and frankly I walk away from class wih much more than I taught. This particular population is brilliant, creative and in many cases exceptional with little or any instruction. Perhaps we as the sudent require the message of producing art to be translated by teachers.. Thank you Robert for another great topic to think about….

From: Joyce Goden — Oct 31, 2008
From: JoRene Newton — Oct 31, 2008

I am a teacher. I have recently moved into a smaller house with out a studio and have debated on whether or not to try to continue painting and teaching. My friend Stephen Quiller reminded me that artists need to be painting for “one paints for that beautiful timeless state and interaction with the process and that is what we live for.” It is the same with teaching and so i will do my best to continue to do both. Thank you for you thoughts on the subject. JoRene

From: Jennifer Horsley — Oct 31, 2008

My grandfather taught full-time in vocational school, taught at night and Saturdays in his studio (a restored carriage house in our backyard) and still managed to paint, draw, print, carve, build to his heart’s desire. Okay, maybe “heart’s desire” was a little over the top. Of course, I can’t not mention my grandmother’s role in making this possible for him to do. With 6 kids of their own and then grandchildren (me!) running around, it couldn’t have been an easy task. We all knew not to bother Pop when he was painting. Quiet observation, though, was always encouraged. And as we got a little older, questions about the process. Pop was and IS a great teacher. At 86, he still has a few weekly students including me. For some people, like my Pop, that’s what it’s about; teaching and learning, learning and teaching.

From: Cynthia Nelms-Byrne — Oct 31, 2008

I have taught, and it surely depletes one’s energy. I am thinking of doing it again though, because of one painting I did that makes others ask “how did you DO that?” It’s kind of a karma thing – to give something back, so I may do it, even though I am exhausted by the end of the day. It might be worth it.

From: anonymous — Nov 01, 2008

I am a student in an accredited art school with a wide reputation. Several of my instructors are simply “burned out.” While they are wonderful people and excellent artists, they seem to live in a fantasy world of occasional group shows, occasional foundation purchases where their work goes to languish in some government basement, or faculty shows within the institution itself. I came to art school to learn how to be a self supporting artist and I don’t want to be an art teacher. I’m wondering if I am being shown the way by the wrong kind of teacher. Please tell me that my art school experience is not typical.

From: Ellen Rolli — Nov 01, 2008
From: Keith — Nov 01, 2008

Thank you for sharing your insights on teaching, and for your reference to John Updike. I humbly believe he is an author with an incredible insight into the human condition in the finest of detail. Your discussion leads to the question is this an outcome we want from our educational system. Shouldn’t it energize its contributors to the process? Your discussion really gets at the core of a key element to society’s well being. There is quality profit in a well educated society, and I applaud your discussion topic.

From: S. Renee Prasil — Nov 02, 2008

As a teaching artist and a professional artist, I have noticed that there are different styles of teaching, just as there are different reasons for teaching. Those of us who ‘teach’ because we are natural born exhorters (encourage and correct) and do ‘art’ because we must (I will often teach a full eight- to ten-hour day and work another five to ten hours on my own art), may experience exhaustion as a result of teaching. But, not depletion! Indeed, I have often found the opposite to be true: the success (or challenge) that my students have in a class often energizes me! Whether to experiment further or revisit a technique or medium already tried, motivation often comes from the ‘sharing’ of creative energies of teacher and pupil. Perhaps a simple change in the way we view the task of teaching -seeing it as an opportunity, as a ‘gift’, as opposed to seeing it as a ‘chore’, or a means to an end (money)- might benefit all of us involved in art with others.

As to whether or not ‘teaching’ increases self-doubt, I believe on occasion everyone experiences self-doubt-whether they are involved in art or rocket science or truck driving. I have also found the opposite to be true in this- the act of teaching art has strengthened my belief in my own art. Learning more about Art History and the derision inflicted upon past artists should give us all a basis for determining whether our self-doubt (or the criticism of others) is baseless or not or whether such negativity is simply a matter of personal taste or the ‘fashion of the day’.

From: Andrew Judd — Nov 03, 2008

Crazy!! Without teachers… we wouldn’t know what we know today!! Not only is teaching a great pleasure but it is a responsibility if we want to keep each other informed, and our profession alive.

From: Karen Dawson — Nov 03, 2008

Two mornings a week I run an art class at the Correctional Center nearby in South Burlington Vermont. Often I feel like it’s the most sane thing I do all week. I am aware that some of the students are coming to class merely to get out of their unit for the two hours. Many of the students are completely untutored in the fine arts. All have the problem of too much creativity and no proper outlet. There’s nothing much more satisfying than to watch an inmate who is a bit “resistant” become a star student. And if that student is a headache to others in the facility, it’s even more of a kick. What does this tell me? Not so much that my teaching is anything close to stellar; rather, that art let’s the humanity emerge.

I like to think that if I was independently wealthy, I would still be doing the same thing. I get a lot out of it — not only the satisfaction of helping others, but also the chance to work out my own ideas. Would I still do it if I didn’t need the money? I honestly don’t know.

From: Kittie Beletic — Nov 03, 2008
From: Linda Muttitt — Nov 03, 2008

Good teaching of any kind requires that the teacher be genuine, and stand as an individual before their students. This is something I have strived for throughout my teaching career. When I started to teach watercolour classes, this became true in a very personal way. Gifts come in surprising packages. One of these gifts walked right into my studio.

I have found myself challenged by many students’ needs, but by one student in particular. She got into my psyche and banged on some locked doors I didn’t even know I had under lock and key. She was honest and demanding about the kind of work she wanted to do – wild, expressive, and unconventional. At first I felt threatened by her demands, feeling like I had a responsibility to change how she was feeling. This ‘gift’ wasn’t feeling like a gift at all, just something I wanted to return. Then I realized it was me hearing my own voice in her words. Even though I knew on many levels I was honest with how I painted and what I wanted to express, my need to provide her with ways of finding what she was looking for forced me out of my own comfortable places – those safety zones where we linger too long. The zones that kept me still in my own work started to bare themselves and glare at me like an old armchair that suddenly doesn’t feel welcoming anymore. My need to challenge her and to invite her into the nourishingly dangerous and thrilling world of pushing the boundaries of comfort in one’s artistic work grabbed me around the neck and shook the protective breath out of me. I found myself gasping for new air; trying to find for myself what she hunted for in herself. Teaching had aligned me with a deeper sense of who I wanted to be as an artist. I think I travelled further and deeper because of those challenges.

My own need to be ethically present in the company of those I teach has kept me closer to the truth of who I want to be as an artist. I am so thankful that this student got under my skin. It loosened the old covering and helped me shed those parts of my artistic self that were not growing with the rest of me.

From: Nancy Cook — Nov 03, 2008

I was a teacher of Art to Elementary aged children for quite a few years. Contrary to what John Updike experienced (from College aged Students) it was a spur to my creativity. It WAS FUN to see the children find their confidence, and realize that they were able to “CREATE” (make something from “nothing”, as a 5th grader told me).

I found that I saw the world in a different way and it sparked my creativity. I gave them responsibility for their own actions, encouraged them to help others, entered their work in contests to boost self-esteem, and had FUN!!! So did they.

From: Warren Criswell — Nov 03, 2008

“Art is a doing thing. It favours self-discovery and process while eschewing words and theory. It thrives on silence and contemplation.” I don’t know about the contemplation — for me that usually comes afterwards — but the rest of it is right on. When I’m asked to speak to students it’s always hard to know how much truth they can handle. Of course it’s just my own truth, but that’s my point. It seems ungrateful, after they asked me to speak, to tell them that the only things worth knowing for an artist are his or her own discoveries, not mine or anybody else’s.

It seems counter intuitive to tell a student, who is there to learn things, that in creativity forgetting is more important than remembering. To for-get, to un-get, is to unconceive, to leave the womb of the mind/body empty and ready for the next image to wiggle in and take root. Of course I’m exaggerating to make the point, but I really do have feel like I’m learning to paint all over again with each painting. Otherwise the thing doesn’t come to life and is stillborn. Image making is re-membering: putting the parts back together again in a new way. How do you teach somebody that? They’ve paid good money to be there, and here comes some unschooled weirdo telling them they can’t be taught to be artists and shouldn’t be there. And it they do learn something from me, God forbid, then my thesis goes south. So yes, I can see how teaching could make me doubt myself.

Then again, is there any artist who does not doubt himself? Make that, any human being.

From: Sherry from Boca Raton, FL — Nov 03, 2008

I am an artist first, but began teaching about 6 yrs ago. After a summer hiatus, I began teaching about a month ago again. I have become aware of the draining effect. Not only am I physically exhausted but creatively, it is just not there. I have been painting and creating all of my life and never been at a loss for inspiration. My classes are always full usually with a waiting list. My students say I am the best teacher they’ve ever had, and I am now wondering how a person who is supposedly so good at what they do, doesn’t really enjoy doing it?! I have a couple of galleries that represent me and have had quite a bit of success in the past,but this year sales have been pretty dismal, ergo, the need for teaching. I have also been heavily doubting my abilities all of a sudden! What a mess! After literally doing hundreds of demos, I have such trepidation now. I was truly relieved to read this today and now understand the origins of my predicament.

From: Kim E. Mazzilli — Nov 03, 2008

After 13 years of teaching elementary art, I took a 2 year break to paint. My teaching years had left me feeling completely drained of energy. My plan was to not teach anymore, but I have been unable to acquire income in any other manner. I am now, therefore, in my 14th year of teaching elementary art. It’s better for me now because I did have two years off to paint and for one other huge reason: I give up. I’m not a painter, I’m a teacher. I devote myself to the classroom now, and I don’t go into my studio very often. While I accept my limitations, there is a big part of me that morns for the loss of my dream of being an artist. Trying to do both is too exhausting for me. BRAVO to those who can accomplish that. I appreciate this letter because it confirms that it really is a struggle, and that it’s not just me and my own weakness. I do find joy in teaching art to children and I am now focusing on trying to bring energy in from my students, rather than just give it out. I’m two months into my fourteenth year and enjoying it more than I ever did. However, as I walk past my studio at home each day, I look inside and see my unfinished work and my unused materials, I dream of a time when I can be active in there again.

From: Nancy Bea Miller — Nov 03, 2008

If Teacher Mind is knowing too much, I suspect that I only have Beginner Mind. Teaching has made me realize how much I do not know. Maybe this is what Mr. Updike meant when he said that teaching makes you doubt yourself? For example, standing in front of students and trying to explain the concept of imprimatura, methods and history, I suddenly realize with terror the immense gaps in my knowledge base. Sure, I can show them a few different ways to put an imprimatura down, and talk a little about why it is a useful practice, but one could write a book on the subject! I only know a little bit! Why did I think I could lecture on this extensive topic? Then there is also the struggle of finding ways to clearly communicate things which you know instinctively, but have never put into words before.

So, yes, I agree with what I think Mr. Updike was saying: that teaching can be very humbling. And it is surely exhausting. Lots of restorative cups of tea are needed after a class! Teaching is both an honor and a challenge. It is exciting, emotionally rewarding, and as a bonus, highly instructive for the instructor.

From: John Ferrie — Nov 03, 2008

“…creative energy requires blind energy and focused ignorance…” Are you kidding me! This is a quote from the sorry ass likes of John Updike? Question, what could he ever hope to know about being an artist? I am so glad to hear that someone has solved the equation of what it is to “be” in this world. While at some point I hope to get to that conclusion myself (probably on the day I leave this earth), I would rather be where I am today and just being an artist. What I do, I do for pleasure and there is some voice in me that needs to come through. I agonize about my work and paint everyday. But it is also something I am good at and I have sacrificed my life to be an artist. I come from a family of brokers and business people. I also believe that to be a true artist is to teach. It is only when we give back that we come full circle. Then at the end of this diatribe John Updike say’s “I still had a lot to learn, but had been given the liberating notion that now I could teach myself.” Isn’t that more something like “Gosh darn it, my publisher is paying me umteen-bizzillion dollars for yet another book I have yet to think about, I better get busy!”…

My paints are calling me.

From: Norman Ridenour — Nov 03, 2008

A great topic. I tend to agree with Updike. I am lucky that while I teach (22 contact hours weekly) and have taught for 16 years, I do not teach art. Teaching English gives me the emotional upper of watching and helping mostly young people expand their knowledge, awareness and ability but it does not sap that part of my energy which goes to art. In fact I crave non-verbal activity after teaching. Teaching language does take away from my own reading and expansion. I just get to the point where I want to scream, “No more words..” Therefore I can see where Updike’s complaint originates.

Teaching is impossible. When I train Czech teachers of English, who are locked into 19th century German teaching methods, I try to beat in this concept. No one can teach, BUT people can certainly learn and a good ‘teacher’ can certainly aid and guide this process. Technique (grammar) is part of it but the support of ‘error’ is essential. I once knew, for a short time, a wonderful lady who avered that we only learn through our mistakes. There is much to be said for this concept. Teachers (classes) give a safe haven for making mistakes, i.e. for experimentation. For the teacher who complains about the questions of his adult students – turn it around, give your students the questions. I am convinced that the root of education is questioning.

Teaching does aid in building links to real life; people and activities out of the studio. Teaching also gives me my sense of returning my own fantastic educational opportunities to the community. I was never able to teach in the States and here I have the opportunity to reach a wide international community; Arabians, Sudanese, Kaziks, Turks, Slovaks, Czechs, Belorussians and so on. I am able to bring my life as an artist and historian to the classroom full of prospective businesspeople. Often the very concept that art is more than HOBBY is revolutionary.

There is one other complication. I attack each lesson as if it was a piece of art; a striving for unreachable wholeness and perfection. That takes time and energy. On the other hand though I am old enough to be my students’ grandfather, I do not have time to get old.

From: Tiit Raid — Nov 03, 2008

I taught art on the university level for 36 years. Though it took “a lot of time” as Mr. Updike states, it was also one of the greatest teaching experiences for me, the teacher. As a result, I know considerable more about art and its history and the ‘making’ of it than I would have not teaching. True, it “makes you doubt yourself”, but doubt is part of the territory. It is what keeps you sharp and working to find what and how to teach. The ‘trick’ is to accept that you will never truly know everything. And, if you are committed, honest, and serious about your efforts you will always learn about how to do it better.

Another great thing about teaching is that you learn to find words for explaining something which is essentially a mystery. What goes into the making of a work of art and how the solutions arrive is impossible to fully explain using words. The visual world, the realm of the artist, is wordless and silent. But, in the course of attempting to find how to teach and communicate this mystery, you learn a lot.

Mr. Updike talks about “teaching yourself”. That is something artists do everyday in the studio, and that is what you also do when you teach. There are books about how to teach and how to paint a painting, but essentially you teach yourselves.

As for teaching taking a lot of energy. It does do that. During my early years of teaching I found myself, as you state, “exhausted”! But, the longer I taught the more focused I became in the classroom, the less fatigued I was at the end of the day. And, as a result I had plenty of energy to spend an evening in the studio. My basic conclusion is that the more focused you are on a task, the less energy depleting it is.

From: Linda Saccoccio — Nov 03, 2008

There is something to the magic of gestation, that is not letting out all the mystery perhaps by teaching or talking, and allowing it to come through the process of creativity anew. I think it takes a certain person or practice to not give all one’s energy away while teaching. I agree with John Updike that we learn through education, that ultimately we can teach ourselves. Education mostly trains us how to learn and what we each need to learn. It is the discipline and relationship with self that can develop in a class. It does help to expose us to ways of doing things, especially techniques. It offers practical information and the possibility for collaborative creativity. Yet for most fine artists and spiritual students, it is the time alone that allows the fire to burn and for originality to birth. Exposure to the work of others may inspire, but it should not be used to compare with one’s own gifts, for that would stifle the process of originality. We cannot foresee that which has not yet been created, therefore we need to build a strong connection with inner, essential potential and learn how we each manifest creative impulses. The thrill of creating something with a vitality of its own, will bring us back to the studio again and again. This is what we must learn on our own. No one can really tell you how that will be for you or how to get to that zone. But they can tell you there is a zone to discover.

From: Deb Bremer — Nov 03, 2008

I teach and love it so. And you are so right about the look in your students eyes when they get it. There is nothing more gratifying that seeing that! You can tell the instant it happens just by their body language alone! I get just as excited as they do I swear! I teach decorative arts and we have seen our student numbers go down and down over the last few years. But we hang in there. I cannot imagine never teaching again, it would take out a piece of my soul I believe. My mother was a gifted artist and teacher and I saw the wonder of the student teacher relationship unfold before me at an early age and wanted that for myself and my students.

From: Lorna Neufeld — Nov 03, 2008

I taught information science at a graduate level at a major international university for over 20 years. Not a class went by when I did not come out of the classroom or lab knowing a different world than the one I went into class with. Always knew how to do it better next time. Unfortunately it took so much energy, I could only dream of my first love, oil painting. Now I spend all that energy in ART, but think so wonderfully of the years teaching and all the marvelous students I had and how they are now changing theirs and others worlds. The most rewarding human activity!!

From: Charlotte Rollman — Nov 03, 2008

I teach watercolor where we had a great tragedy on our campus and we are not alone. My teaching has become better I think and my art is changing. I have always assumed that nature was my teacher when I really needed help. But just now I agree with John Updike. Being a giving teacher, I am convinced that my well of knowledge is filled when my student’s new wells quietly replenish mine underground. Mother Nature, being an angry old woman right now, is not cooperating. I even thought global warming must be menopausal. Am I not honoring my teacher enough as well? Who is my teacher when I need help?

From: Lori Woodward Simons — Nov 03, 2008

Lately I’ve discovered that I have a passion to teach, write and communicate… much more so than just painting. While I adore the process of painting, my personality craves social interaction, be it online or face-to-face. I prefer the online version because I can pretend that I’m tall and have a great speaking voice. In reality, I’m short and have a high, squeaky voice. But with words, I can pass on what I know and encourage other artists. I love that!

While some artists (where art is the true passion of their life) are dragged down by teaching, others are natural born teachers… where teaching becomes their artistic outlet. However, in order to be a decent teacher, you must have experienced how it is to make great artwork. So, in reality, teachers have to be good artists, able to communicate, and want to see other artists grow.

I don’t think any artist should teach just for the money. It’ll make them worse at their art, insecure – as you suggest – and sometimes downright miserable.

From: Kasey Harrington — Nov 03, 2008

Wonder and passion lose their power through dissection. Breaking the elements down and codifying them into various responses can be deadly. It is important for artists and writers, dancers alike, to keep their passion in check. Disenchantment is an unfortunate threat…but not an inevitable one.

From: comaj — Nov 04, 2008

There is not as much difference between the two processes as you might think. Teaching and creating art can coexist and enhance each other. In both disciplines, the muse moves you as the teacher/artist makes new discoveries, one solitary and one with others. Good teaching is about bringing out creativity through a sharing, and an exchange of ideas. Teaching techniques and principles only provide a “toolbox” for the students, and serves to reinforce the artists own skills. The teacher can “work” on his own art as he engages his students.

To paint by oneself for hours and hours in a lonely studio is not as appealing as being around young creative people. There is time for both, and they both can stimulate the “artist life”.

From: Tessa — Nov 04, 2008

Some of us are more or less extrovert and tend to be energised by people and some of us more or less introvert and have a need to be energised by taking some time alone and to complicate things further we’re a mixture of these and all different as is apparent from the diversity of comments on this topic.

‘The teacher finds out what she thinks by hearing what she has to say’ These words sound to me like those of an extrovert, ‘It (art) thrives on silence and contemplation.’ sound more those of an introvert. In addition to that in teaching as in life some people tend to drain ones energy whereas others energise.

Taking these observations into account the relationship between teaching and creating art deserves ongoing monitoring so thanks to both Robert and other posters for giving me so much to think about.

From: Bill Skrips — Nov 05, 2008

Wow! What you had to say about teaching was like a slap in the face – it brought me to a “Duh!” moment when I considered the adverse effects you mentioned. I had considered teaching recently, with a thought of just how much I like influencing and stimulating students or even other artists. This has come about at the odd time while showing my work and talking with my audience – some of these people seem to come away very inspired – almost like they can’t wait to get home and start working – it’s quite a feeling to bring this out in someone.

Although I wouldn’t expect quite the same “aha!” reaction while teaching, day to day, the idea of imparting good stimulating stuff was on my mind. But you are right – even though I might be able to summon up great amounts of energy to teach, there would be very little left over to do my work. S’pose I was thinking somehow that one inspires the other. That just can’t be true – well, at least not for me. Chances are it’s the student benefiting far more than the teacher.

Thanks for the insight – as for the doubting thing – I do enough of that in my daily work… I’d like to keep it, but only as a self-generated kind of doubt.

From: Suzanne Morris — Nov 07, 2008

While I found teaching to be exhausting, I also found that it constantly reinforced just how much I do know about painting and how much I have to give. I think like all other worthwhile endeavors, moderation is the key. When I only devote one day a week to teaching, I find that my work is usually better because I have thought about all the “right” things to do in my painting. And critiquing a whole class of students makes me more aware of a mistake in my own work when I make one. I also find that one day does not exhaust my creative spirit.

From: Betty (Elizabeth Jean) — Nov 11, 2008

About teaching…

For art to have a solid foundation, there are basically two “places” it really needs to come “from”….that of intelligent decisions, but also that “from the heart” … emotions! I do believe, without either, the final expression can either be pretty “empty” or pretty “cold”.

The thing I found about teaching, because the “process” is so much from the right brain…but the creative experience is from the left brain…when I teach, it helps me ground my thoughts so that I CAN UNDERSTAND that which I have discovered, and thus thru teaching, I become a better painter myself!!!

BECAUSE HAVING to put it into words, to explain to someone else, it also lays things out for me to understand!!! This may sound like some insane person is writing this,

BUT, to learn, to become good at what one does… one must have FACTS, not merely FEELINGS! If it were only for feelings, then even the neighborhood cat could be called an artist!!!

ALSO with facts and understanding, gives an artist freedom…freedom to discover the weakness in their work, and solve it…otherwise one would end up with so many “unfinished messes”. Understanding brings strength and power to any body of work!

BUT teaching also requires reaching out to a student, while giving them the foundation, also helping them realize, that within them is a special voice, a voice that no one else in the world has ever had, or will again…it is for the teacher to nurture this specialness, and not over power it with what the teacher “thinks” is important, in the final expression!!

So, to me a teachers place is not only to open new insight and physical knowledge to those who are studying, but also to see the specialness any one person might have, and nurture that, and have the student become aware of their own unique voice!!





Peaceful Life

oil painting
by Sharon Wareing, Victoria, BC, Canada


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 Garth Palanuk of Winnipeg, MB, Canada, who wrote, “It doesn’t take long for students to sense the ability of an instructor and to judge whether this is going to be a good experience or a bust. So prep, prep, prep.”

And also Kasey Harrington of Kingston, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Wonder and passion lose their power through dissection. Breaking the elements down and codifying them into various responses can be deadly. It is important for artists and writers, dancers alike, to keep their passion in check. Disenchantment is an unfortunate threat, but not an inevitable one.”

And also Michael Chesley Johnson who wrote, “Teaching is an essential form of payback. Most artists (including myself), owe a lot to our teachers and mentors. It’s only fair to take our knowledge and ‘pay it forward.'”

And also Paul de Marrais of Kentucky, USA, who wrote, “Contrary to the modernist dogma, painting is a brainy activity. Thinking, in my view, is always welcome at the easel. Teaching itself is an art form that rewards those who make the effort but it’s not for everyone.”

And also Lori Levin of Pennsville, NJ, USA, who wrote, “I used to go to a Saturday art class in a lovely small town when I was a kid. Whenever we students started talking too much, our teacher, Jim Repenning would say, ‘Less jaw more draw!’ ”

And also Mary Beth Frezon of Brainard, NY, USA, who wrote, “Wow. Did you see the big flash of light in the sky where my brain stopped and said ‘whoa’? This so totally explains why, as my own skills have improved during my time of teaching, my “desire” to actually do something of my own with those skills has faded. OK, time to pull in the reins a bit and as Updike said, teach myself.”




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