Tuesday, March 18, 2008

on teaching

Do you ever read a phrase or sentence or paragraph that answers a question you never even knew you wanted to ask? That just happened to me and it was so surprising that it made me stop reading so I could roll around with the idea awhile. The book is Double Vision by Pat Barker. ("Double Vision is about war and the ravages of violence on the human mind — but with a provocative twist, visceral and thought-inducing". ~ Gordon Hauptfleisch) One of the protagonists is a sculptor who comes up with this little nugget:

The trouble with teaching is you're using the same part of your mind. It's creative if you're doing it properly. Worst possible job for an artist. Or a writer I suppose.

So why is it almost assumed that artists must teach? It can't be purely economic, compelling a reason as that is. There are many reasons I found I couldn't both teach and paint, not the least of which is that I'm no one's idea of Superwoman, but this is something that never even occurred to me. I just accepted the fact that my range was severely limited. And I was exactly that sort of teacher: I loved curriculum development more than anything, making my own resources, covering all the bases, trying to make it interesting for both the students and myself. It was totally exhausting, and after I'd taught something once I hated teaching it again, setting myself up to repeat the pattern. I'm surprised I didn't burn out sooner than I did. No wonder I balk at the idea of supplementing my piddling income with teaching. Pondering the question lately I thought it might be kind of fun to get my Class 4 driver's license so I could drive one of those mini buses for the elderly and handicapped. Those of you who do both creative work and teach are way out of my league.

Interestingly, of all the things I've taught (secondary art, secondary Social Studies, elementary ESL, adult ESL, Adult Basic Education, Grade 1 and Grade 2) the one I found most challenging was teaching art!

(As for the image, I'll be putting a few of the Oceans Ten series in my Etsy shop over the next week or so.)


Blogger PeterAtLarge said...

Iteresting post. Thanks for this. A writer myself, I taught for many years in order to "make a living," but I never really felt athome in that role. It always amazes me when I hear artists and writers say how much they get from their students. I envued them, and wished it coult be true for me, but it never was.

18/3/08 2:47 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Ooh! I can tell you'll net more than a few comments in agreement with this one!
If ever I'm asked to "show someone how to do..." I am happy to do it once, but hate the repetition if it has to be on a daily basis.And the most fun I had with the kids was when I could use some creative element in the lesson. Thinking outside the box, I suppose.

18/3/08 3:45 p.m.  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I know it may be gauche to talk money, but out of necessity, I started teaching art (specifically clay classes) to children in the past 12 months. It's augmented my income by over $12,000/yr part time. I know it's not a lot - but at 10-12 hours a week during the school year and on my schedule, it's not too shabby.

It seems like there are a lot of parents out there that really support supplementing the measly amount of art education their children get in public schools.

That being said, after teaching my classes, I've decided not to pursue a license to teach art full time. It's exhausting and draining though not uninspiring - and let's face it, that 10-12 hours a week takes away from my time to make my own art work. I can't imagine that a full time art teacher would find the time or energy to do their own work, except during summers (maybe).

I've also been substitute teaching - something I will not be doing after my daughter leaves her elementary school next year. It's flexible, but not exactly relaxing.

18/3/08 4:29 p.m.  
Blogger Caroline said...

I've never taught but I used to work in software research which was meant to be very creative... I found all useless meetings and the cynicism and scepticism of most of my colleagues stiffled my creativity (though I was still known as the creative one!).

During this time I exhibited a few times at work (there was an art space where they brought in different artists every month) and the hardest question to answer was from someone who obviously felt there was a limit:

"How do you have enough creativity left over to make all this art?"

Well I could hardly tell them that their wonderfully "creative" software lab was the least creative place in the world could I? Or maybe that I'd not actually sold them my soul and was reserving the best for myself...

Other people also showed amazing nonwork creativity in various other ways... they'd attracted all these creative types then stifled us!

Thanks for reminding me of this. It feel important.

19/3/08 1:08 a.m.  
Blogger Ilva said...

Yes teaching takes a lot of energy and concentration if you want to do it well. I did enjoy it though but I don't miss it AT ALL!

19/3/08 1:52 a.m.  
Blogger Casdok said...

That book sounds interesting.

19/3/08 2:14 a.m.  
Blogger Peter said...

I find the development of materials interesting and stimulating, but like you the repeating of them is stifling. I'm thinking of developing some materials and then applying them more on a mentoring or coaching basis to wannabee creative people of all ages. Might be more flexible and interesting.

19/3/08 2:59 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was very interesting to read! I had been looking for a job these past few months and the idea of anything repetitive made my brain hurt.

Hence, one of the many reasons why I have chosen not to move forward with that idea, lol. Glad it's not just me.


19/3/08 8:01 a.m.  
Blogger Donn said...

One year I taught a few Classes on Cartooning at the U of M's Festival of Life and Learning.

I had intended on discussing the process of submitting work to the big syndicates in the US but the students just wanted me to draw their favorite characters on the overhead and write obscene remarks in their bubble?!?!

When I was a kid I took all sorts of Art Classes on Saturday mornings..loved all of them especially sculpting and painting.
I realise now that the Instructors were all enthusiastic and helped me with technique and 'cheats'..
you still need to have a flair for it and/or a desire to learn.

My parents were quite adamant about their notion that I could never 'make a living' in ART but inexplicably kept bragging about my skills to all of their friends??? Weird?

That being said, I believe that it is very important to have Artists/Mentors 'teaching' in order to encourage young people to grow, explore their talent, and ignore their parents.

Somewhere in Heaven Bob Ross is putting a nice little tree over in the corner by the stream.

19/3/08 8:17 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Peter: It seems like a natural environment (or extension of it) with one good outcome being the social aspect we don't get while doing our "real work" -- but both require such super-concentrated amounts of attention that one almost cancels out the other.

Dinah: I think the most effective teachers (i.e. not easily bored)are there for the human interaction far more than the subject matter.

Cynthia: I know! I could make $200/day here as a teacher-on-call but I'm not interested in the stress!

Caroline: There is nothing as soul-numbing as the ubiquitous staff meeting, is there?

Ilva: I feel exactly the same way: I enjoyed it but I don't miss it.

Casdok: Can't put it down!

Peter: I co-wrote/illustrated a teacher's resource book once on kites, but found that working with someone else who also had strong ideas was challenging and the remuneration at the end of the day was a drop in the bucket compared with the hours invested.

19/3/08 8:20 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Andrea: Good to see you visiting! I think finding the right job fit is a very exacting process. When you have it, you hold on for dear life! I had a teaching job like that once but union rules pulled it out from under me. I was angry for months!

Donn: I can see you teaching cartooning to a bunch of kids! And you're right on about having Real Artists teaching/mentoring. I felt so bad about the fact that I wasn't able to do any art while teaching it -- and couldn't figure out why one seemed to cancel out the other (for me anyway).

19/3/08 8:24 a.m.  
Blogger Tori said...

Very insightful. I have been trying to figure out for years why I didn't love teaching, in fact, why I loathed it, perhaps this is a large piece of it.

19/3/08 8:32 a.m.  
Blogger Cestandrea said...

Hi Andrea, very interesting, your post!
At the beginning of my career as a translator I trained to be a language teacher, then I did one year in a high school in France, teaching german, my mother tongue.After that, I knew that I never would like to be a teacher for children.
Perhaps art for adults?:) I wonder what your experiences were while teaching art...
Have a wonderful day

19/3/08 9:09 a.m.  
Blogger girl work studios said...

Some of the best art teachers I've had took as many sabbaticals as they could to go off and create and exhibit. I wonder if managing teaching/art aspirations seems to work better in blocks not as consistant careers.

I've always envied those who purposefully took a repeditive, mind numbing job for extra money, then go and get really creative in their spare time. I don't know how they can do it. When I do work like that, all I want to do is go home and vegetate more in front of the tv.

19/3/08 10:36 a.m.  
Blogger Angela Rockett said...

I've discovered over the years that having a job and me just don't go together very well. No matter how much I liked the job, I always ended up resenting how much time and energy it took away from life in general, and my art in particular. I really don't know how people find the energy to have a job and create when they get home.

And forget teaching. I tried that a few times, and it just sucked the life right out of me.

19/3/08 1:25 p.m.  
Blogger Janvangogh said...

The Ocean series is great.

19/3/08 5:37 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting post, Andrea, and you have obviously struck a chord there! I teach workshops for adults and find it depends a lot on the energy of the group whether it drains me completely or inspires me. When I have a group of people who don't interact creatively, but just seem to want to suck me dry, I am exhausted at the end of the session. However, if the students get excited and explore on their own, it can be really inspiring.
I refuse to teach kids. But that's just me. Having two of my own is as much as I can handle. Teaching kids too often seems like having to keep them out of someone else's hair for those hours!

19/3/08 11:30 p.m.  
Blogger Cestandrea said...

Hi andrea, I'm back to add just another little comment (and laughed about Laura's remark about teaching kids):
I left my job as a PA years ago to go back to artschool, and today I have a parttime job in a gallery of photographic art, it is just enough to cover social security and some of the artmaterial, but its ok because it is not a drainging job and it is very "calm". In the morning (and on weekends )I paint, draw etc, in the afternoon I work at the gallery. It demands a very organized way of living though.
And I agree with several of your commentors here, it is difficult to tear oneself away from what you are doing artwise in order to go work for someone else, even if that is fun.
On the other hand, it forces you to go "out" to have a schedule and to stick with it, which sometimes is not so obvious when you work the whole day in your studio..
Ok, I let you go now,
have a wonderful day, and I'm looking forward to all your future creative work,

20/3/08 12:30 a.m.  
Blogger HMBT said...

I'm not much of a teacher myself, I find it challenging to keep teaching my own budding artist here at home (he's 9)...I get side tracked too easy, so he just tells me...Mom you paint, I'll watch and copy you, if I have questions I'll ask. He's great! I love your new work...and I am uber happy to be back reading from you regular like.

20/3/08 3:19 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Tori: It seems to me that only the act of teaching can help us determine that.

C'estandrea: Kids are challenging, no doubt! Teaching adults was way easier, except when one of my students started stalking another... :) Gallery work does seem like a much better fit, psychologically, and I find that when I have a time structure to my day/life like that I get more done as I'm forced to be efficient. Don't you?

Girl Work Studios: Good point. Working in discrete chunks of time is really the only way to tackle it if you do both, like university profs do. I sure can't fracture my focus without both (or all) parts of the focus being destroyed.

Angela: It's taken awhile but I've learned that there are a few of us who don't adhere well to the requirements of Real Jobs.

Jan: thanks. They were a fun break when i did them.

Laura: I remember when I was pregnant my doctor said that being a teacher was very compatible with family life. OK -- so the schedule/holidays are the same, but I found I went quite nuts at a time of my life when I was with kids 24/7. Time by myself became the most valuable commodity in the world.

HMBT: Your son sounds like the perfect creative type: self motivated and independent! (and thanks *blush*)

20/3/08 2:50 p.m.  
Blogger carla said...

Well, as usual, I'm late to this party, but I'm going to add my bit anyway. I can totally relate to your thoughts on teaching and art. After almost 24 years teaching, I am more than ready to call it quits. Like you, the curriculum development is usually very exciting, but there is just so much other "stuff" that saps my energy - physical, emotional, and creative. I have found that there isn't much left over for the things that are truly important to me - my family, my art, and positive relationships with people. I have been really grappling with this in a huge way over the past few years, particularly as I've come to realize that the times I feel most alive are the times when I am creating art... and I have so little time for that as it stands now. That's why I've made the decision to become a life coach - something that allows me to share all the best qualities and skills I have in a way that will energize not deplete. And... I can give myself more space to be an artist as well. I think finding that balance between personal and economic fulfillment is tricky - it requires the curiosity and tenacity to search oneself for the right direction to take. Anyway... Your idea of painting house portraits is brilliant!!! (Maybe run an ad in the local paper???) And this lobster drawing is very beautiful. Did I see it in person at artstream? I'm looking forward to your new work! Glad you're back in cyberland:> xox - carla

21/3/08 8:04 a.m.  
Blogger zooms said...

Lovely lobster.
I expect everyone's life has, at some point, been diminished by someone who should never have been a 'teacher'
Teaching, real teaching, is a vocation, a gift, a talent.
Real teachers transform and enhance our lives and abilities, bringing out the best in us.
This comment comes with the greatest of thanks to my English teacher, Miss Lloyd, and my friend, mentor and art teacher,
Roy Marsden.

22/3/08 5:00 a.m.  
Blogger Hayden said...

What an interesting connection - I'm sure you're right, it just "Feels True."

Love the lobster! He'd be handsome in my new kitchen (when it's done) if I only had a free inch of wall space...

23/3/08 11:41 a.m.  
Blogger ValGalArt said...

Glad you know are interactive again! Love this piece and I like the series title too! I find teaching art extremely difficult, i taught in the elementary school level and a few private art centers and the prep time killed me. It sucked all the life out of it after a while. Low paying and tons of prep time and driving all over the place to schools was a big drawback. They just kept cutting back the funds too. I know what you mean it seems like something totally non-art or teaching related would be better and maybe end up giving you fodder for your art. :>

24/3/08 10:14 a.m.  

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