Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Art teachers and artist teachers

I've been asked about the "art teacher versus artist teacher" dichotomy on interviews within the past few months. My answer always remains conditional as it relates to me; for others it may be more monolithic. The distinction strikes me as subtle but profound. Obviously, the education of children is paramount. What I discuss below has that as the foundation; however, the outcome may be vastly different.

Let's discuss categories. When I refer to "art teachers," I'm speaking about a specific brand of art teacher, someone focusing on breadth versus depth. Namely, those who believe they should know a little about everything and be master (or, near-master) of no particular discipline. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't prefer one discipline to another. Their focus is on broad exposure, or breadth, so they don't believe it's necessary to take regular classes to refine or update their skills. And, so, they don't. The reasons for their attitude will run the gambit from lack of funds (either personal or district reimbursement) to indifference.

When I speak of "artist teachers," I'm referring those art teachers who teach but believe it is incumbent upon them to push forward in their own artistic development. Or, they already have gallery representation or simply sell their work regularly but privately. In the end, though, their attitude is on personal growth and development. Their own artistic development is part conduit, part bridge to helping their students move forward in the beginnings of their own artistic journey.

Some districts for all grade levels believe that exposure is paramount. Period. Personally, I don't believe art should be the subject where kids are encouraged to dabble. I think it's a poor message to send; at least, a poor one for high school. What other subject is that the norm? As the school years progress, exposure should shift to a more mature expression and approach. I'm sure some would disagree with me. So, personally, if a district is looking for an art teacher whose focus is on breadth versus depth then I may not be the person for them.

If a district is looking for someone who believes it's important to continually practice and grow in his own art, then I'm their man. To me, this is foundational. Mind you, the practice of this will look different for me than someone else because of where I am in my life.

For instance, I have a four year old and a two year old. My art was--for all intents and purposes--put on hold because being a father for me was (and is) paramount. That, of course, isn't where I want to be. I want to be taking classes and working on my art at home. It's just hasn't been possible until now. Thus, my class at Fleisher.

Since I'm coming from the private sector and not specifically from an education background, I was doing non-classroom work. During that time, I do my best to remain creatively engaged but this wasn't in the artistic output I would have chosen for myself. Namely, I was last working in the Internet industry as a creative director and project manager. As such, I worked with clients and provided them with my creative output and guidance. There were other outlets for me creatively as well, but none were on par with the work I so deeply desired to be doing: representational painting.

But, like I said, I've been able to start taking classes; the first was Still Life Painting with David Berger at Fleisher Art Memorial.

I'd like to hear from those who agree or disagree with me on the two categories I've laid out above. What are your thoughts?