What Artists Can Learn from Teaching
There’s a mountain of evidence that arts education is valuable, even transformational, for all sorts of students, from young children to inmates at Rikers. It has been shown to improve emotional regulation, teamwork, and academic performance. Under the right circumstances, it can even act as a catalyst for social justice.
But flip the script: How does teaching influence teachers? Whether it’s critiquing an MFA painting class, giving a museum tour to a group of six graders, or leading a drawing workshop for developmentally disabled adults, working artists are often at the front lines of arts education. Many see teaching as a valuable practice, beyond simply a means of financial support. It may even shape how they approach their art practices. Below, six artists weigh in with the lessons they’ve learned from their work as educators.
Be More Adventurous
“Looking at the wild, inventive things my students created visually affected me,” says
Don’t Privilege One Practice over Another
Teaching has trained Pretty/Dirty,” a retrospective spanning four decades of Minter’s career in video, photography, and painting, is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum.
Curiosity Is Key
“The curiosity that is at the heart of my teaching—How did an artist make something? Why did they choose a certain process? How will viewers react to those choices?—that curiosity is also at the heart of my studio practice,” explains MoMA, the Jewish Museum, and the Whitney, relishes the uncommon access to great art that comes with working in a museum. “I get to study objects when museums are closed to the public, and that is an absolute gift,” he writes in an email. He also draws inspiration from the careers of artists before him: “I get to see artists who worked so diligently to get their work into public view. It encourages me to just keep at it, keep going to the studio and showing.” Epstein’s mixed-media compositions will be shown with Vane at Pulse Miami Beach this December.
Collaboration Is Influential
“I’ve learned that the role of teacher or student is about compassion. Whenever I begin something new, I begin as a listener,” writes
Play Can Be Transformative
“I get to see what communicates widely and what doesn’t, I get to experience art through fresh eyes every day,” writes artist Freight + Volume, included a film in which a coven of witches mete out an especially painful brand of justice on Donald Trump. “Although I make moves in my artwork that are more irreverent and politically charged than I can in my teaching life, the humanity, humor, and visceral connection to the materials remain the same,” Goyette says. Working with LAND Studio & Gallery, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit serving artists with developmental disabilities, has been particularly influential. “It’s amazing to introduce an introverted person to the world of performance art and costume play. It’s uplifting and transformative.” Art and teaching are symbiotic practices, she says: “Being on fire in one always leads to gold in the other.”
Teachers and Students Should Be Brave
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