Teaching with Contemporary Art

Questions for Artist-Educators


Last week’s column reflected on the different ways to pair and juxtapose Art21 photographers and/or artists that use photography as a tool in their work. Throughout the conversations that inspired my last column I also had the experience of often using and discussing the term, “artist-educator.”

The term itself implies that an artist is one thing and an artist-educator is another, not better or worse, just different, or perhaps something more? Lari Pittman, whose painting Once a Noun, Now a Verb #3 is pictured above, is an artist who also teaches at the University of California. Other Art21 artists also spend time teaching in various settings, including Kiki Smith and Mike Kelley.

There are many points of view around whether or not “those who can… can teach.” So here are two questions to stimulate thinking and discussion this week:

Can an artist effectively teach without any kind of educational background or experience?

Can someone successfully teach art, specifically art production, without being an artist themselves?

Please share your thoughts and post a comment…


  1. Dawn says:

    Tricky question. I think it can be done, but not everyone can do it. With kids you have to be extremely intuitive, it helps to know the different types of learners and how to reach them- it causes less frustration when you have the proper training and tools. You can certainly pick some of this up by being in the classroom, but it takes time. A charismatic person, who connects with people on every level, will be a better teacher if you don’t fill their head with pedagogy. But there are so few of these people that work their way into education and stay there. Hope this helps- just one gals opinion.

  2. Joe Fusaro says:

    Thanks for your comment, Dawn.
    Some of my best teachers over the years were those that didn’t have an education background, but the settings were very different than those we face in the public schools or even in university classrooms. Being able to connect with students, especially children, is something that is both learned and intuitive.
    Other perspectives?

  3. Sue says:

    I work in a College prep visual and preforming arts high school. All of the studio teachers are artists in their own right. I feel that it is necessary to understand art making on a very very deep level in order to teach it at an advanced setting. Of course this is not always the case and it can be done other ways where the students are only getting formal art training and surface art history. There is much more to teaching art than that. Learning to draw is important and holds up everything else. But it often is the ‘everything else’ that is not understood by many instructors.

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