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The Art of Teaching Art – by Robert Glenn

art instructor001The Art of Teaching Art – by Robert Glenn

In the live comments of a recent clickback, I noticed a response by "Another in Anonymity": "At the peril of upsetting others," he or she wrote, "I think my main secret was my decision early on not to teach. It was a selfish decision, I know, but I thought I would be poor at teaching art or even talking about the subject. Art was a mystery to me then and it still in a way is, and that's the way I like it. Without a side income from teaching I was more inclined to concentrate on my own improvement until I became accepted by excellent galleries."

Thanks, "A in A". Without going into "Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach," this writer is making a point while not mentioning who paid the rent while he or she was concentrating on improvement.

While many art teachers insist teaching invigorates their own art, many others find at the end of the day there is little left of their own energy. Furthermore, the mere act of speaking and demonstrating may steal the thunder they must take to their own easels.

We cannot discount the value of skillful teachers who save students from potholes and pitfalls. In fact, in its best sense, the teaching of art is guidance away from the bad habits that come so naturally to many who struggle alone. In my experience, the best teachers are often mature part-timers who live in the real world. Perhaps the best one might be a private mentor. While these are hard to find, she might be persuaded to take a motivated fledgling under her wing.

Robert Henri, one of the outstanding art teachers of all time, notably said, "All education is self-education." In the best of all worlds, there is a balance--the passing of knowledge, skills and techniques by qualified instructors, and the determined work habits of dedicated and exploratory private workers to follow their own noses.

The "mystery" that our writer mentioned may be key to the secret. Unexplained and unvarnished with many words, the act of art becomes a doing thing that never ceases to puzzle and challenge. It wakes the artist in the morning and puts him to sleep at night. It's a constant and unending game he plays against himself, the joy of which lies in never being absolutely satisfied.

Best regards,


You can read more of Robert Glenn’s articles at The Painter’s Post – he has given Artazine.org permission to share his insight.

PS: "First he wrought; afterward he taught." (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Esoterica: One of the main problems in art instruction these days is that career teachers themselves are often burdened with bad habits. This is partly due to the freefall of technique that continues to be rampant in some jurisdictions. The situation is compounded when students absorb attitudes similar to those of their instructors. "Poisonous pedagogy" stalks many art schools and campuses. In the great cathedrals of art education, the idea is to grab what you can from the priests before they get to you, and then go it alone with courage, optimism, and full-on individualist character.

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