Quality in Art and Art Teaching

Downtown Lancaster seemed like it would be a good place to visit while we were in South-Central PA. We found that there was a free Lancaster Museum of Art and some other cultural stuff that looked interesting. We found that the art museum was in a really interesting part of town, with row houses and an “old-town” feel. Here’s a panorama that I took to try to capture the look and feel of the neighborhood:

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(Click on this to enlarge it.)

On display in the art museum were award-winning works by local high school students. There were drawings, sculptures, paintings, and mixed-media pieces. At first it was a little disappointing that the exhibits were only works by high school students, but that disappointment faded quickly as I began to look at their work.

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To say that I was impressed by the art these students produced would be an understatement. I can’t show you any pictures, because photography in the galleries is not permitted. (And art without pictures is, well, inadequate.)

I found myself thinking about the art teachers. I found myself thinking about the difference between being an artist and being an art teacher. Clearly, being an art teacher requires a certain amount of artistic ability. But also, equally clearly I would think, being an art teacher requires something more. It requires a special kind of knowledge. It requires not only a knowledge of art, but a whole host of skills in working with people. You have to know how to motivate people. You have to know how to communicate with people. You have to know how and when to challenge people, how and when to encourage people, and how and when to let people know that their work is unacceptable. None of these are the same skills that are needed by practicing artists. And none of them is easy.

In light of these things, I think it’s clear that if you want a great art teacher, you need to look beyond the pool of great artists. In the same way, you cannot expect to find great math teachers by looking to the pool of great mathematicians or great science teachers by going to the pool of great scientists. And yet, there seems to be an interest among politicians and the general public to do just that. “Oh, if we could only get some real scientists interested in teaching,” you sometimes hear people say. In fact, from time to time there are programs proposed to give practitioners an easy pathway to become teachers. As if that would solve whatever perceived problems we have in our schools. Great teaching doesn’t occur magically, just by someone being good at what they do. Great teaching is a gift, and it should be respected. And that’s what I was pondering as I was looking at the products of these great art teachers.

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3 thoughts on “Quality in Art and Art Teaching

  1. interesting perspective on the challenge of finding one who understands the concepts and related skills associated with a given discipline but who also has the ability to communicate those ideas to a broad constituency.. Although I teach mathematics, I have often told my students that the most important class they are taking is English… No matter who wonderful their insights and ideas are, if they can’t communicate them to others, they may be worthless.. of course, there are different methods of communication.. and art is one of them 🙂

    are you coming to north east pa? you would be welcome to stop in for a cup of tea! jt

      • ahh, the north east region.. we are in bear creek – just south of Wilkes Barre.. it looks like you are getting around.. figured if you pass through here.. it would be fun to talk about your travels.. but.. if you wait till June.. you will have to come to Mt. Desert Island ( acadia nat. park) to see us – we will be there for 4 months.. but the teapot will still be one… wait.. if we put northeast pa on one side of the scale.. and acadia national park on the other side.. how lopsided can one be!! come see us in Acadia 🙂 jt

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