Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Do Some ART Teachers Refuse To Teach ART?


It's been about a year since Jake Parker and I started our SVS online Live & Recorded illustration classes...WOW! We've had a lot fun and gotten to know so many of you who we've met on Facebook, Twitter, or on our blogs. I'm going to introduce our newest class at the bottom of this post but before I do I want to talk about the title question: Why Do Some Art Teachers Refuse To Teach Art?

I can't tell you how many artists have told me via facebook, twitter, youtube, this blog, email, skype, etc that they have learned more from our short SVS classes than they did in four years of Art School at 500 x the price! As much as I'd like to pat myself on the back I won't. I won't pretend that I'm doing more than any art teacher should be doing.


How can this be happening? My theory is that art was never treated as a serious subject in K-12 and as a result students enter college completely unaware of what they need to learn in a visual arts program. "But Will, I had a great teacher in H.S." It happens, but more often art teachers spend most of their time managing students that were dumped in their classrooms from the counseling dept. - I know - I taught H.S. art.  I believe that teachers that don't teach either never became accomplished in their own work and never learned the rules. Perhaps they've simply become lazy and willing to take advantage of the system -a system that pays them for being a great teacher or a lousy one. It could also be that they are afraid that they will create clones of themselves who will take away their work - pure nonsense.

Drama majors, English majors, Music majors, and Dance majors come to college with much more experience than illustration or art majors. They come with more experience because in Drama, English, Music, and Dance they are taught rules. You can't have a school play if the actors are taught to act their "feelings". Obviously you can't write a story without learning rules about plots, sub plots, climax, resolution, and of course grammar. You can't make music if everyone is doing their own "interpretation" of the song and you can't be an effective dancer without learning "moves" moves that were developed by other dancers.


"But Will, you're talking apples and oranges." Baloney (see what I did there?) In a play you have a climax - that's called a focal point in a painting. In writing you revisit the same theme throughout the story - that's called repetition in an illustration. In music you you have to have balance, unity, divisions, and emphasis and it's no different if you want to visually communicate in a picture.

Art teachers on the other hand have been getting away with murder. Not all of them - I know many many great art teachers at the college level and I have to put in a plug for UVU where I teach - a great illustration program with teachers who rock! I also know many who have perfected the art of NOT teaching. Their apathy towards their students is sickening. I hear reports that teachers tell students to "paint their feelings" to "experiment" to "explore" and just "figure it out". I had an illustration teacher tell me over and over: "If I tell you how to complete the assignment you won't learn anything". I'm not saying that telling a student to experiment is a bad thing - but if that's the only "teaching" a student gets - IT'S BAD!

My question is what's different about the visual arts? Why and how do these teachers get away with NOT teaching the Rules of art? Are there rules of art? If there are rules for actors, musicians, writers, and dancers why not for visual artists?...THERE ARE!

If you were never taught to keep your elbows off the table you could be offending people without knowing it. If nobody ever taught you to floss - your teeth might be falling out and if you were never taught to swim - you might be reading this from heaven. My point is that awareness comes from education and without it you might be walking around totally unaware that you are in desperate need of something.


One of our most important classes is coming this MAY and it's called Creative Composition. Many artists don't realize that there's a big difference between drawing and designing and that in order to create a GREAT image you need BOTH. We grew up like weeds. We were given pencils and paper and told to have fun. Having fun is good but without instruction it's just play time. Does your art look like play time? Our Elementary teachers had no clue how to teach art and most of our H.S. teachers never learned the rules of design either (and I'm talking about a lot more than rule of thirds).

I get about 50 to 100 emails /interactions on social media per day asking me about how to get better at art. Most aren't serious. Most don't have the kind of commitment needed to improve. Many want me to tell them how good their art is as if my blessing will help them convince themselves that it isn't that bad. It's bad. We all start out bad. I was horrible and I've blogged about that often. Horrible with a capital H - so don't think I'm rude when I tell you that if you never learned the rules your art is probably suffering. It's hard to give a good critique but honesty is the only thing that will help you get better. It's time to stop pretending to be an artist and start being one by taking control of your future.

If you're serious about getting better I promise you that this composition class won't be a waste of your time...and we won't tell you, "Just experiment."


22 comments:

  1. Interesting post. Love the image very much as well.

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  2. Will, Composition is one of the major things I have a problem with! I had ok teachers in High School but what saved me, is that I took Gifted and Talented classes and boy, those teachers knew what they were doing but I still have a had time with Composition. I actually found a really good book on composition in College that one of my teacher incorporated into her classes. I am very proud of that but why was there not a book they were using before this? In fact, I was looking at this book the other day and I going to sit down soon and do some sketches. Thank you for everything!

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  3. I think it's because so many people still see visual art as a kind of magic. Instead of drawing skills coming from practice, knowledge, and observation, people think they just sort of magically develop. And you can't teach something if you believe that it just effortlessly flows from gifted students. Maybe that's how your "If I tell you how to complete the assignment you won't learn anything" professor thought.

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  4. Very insightful post, Will! There are some great public school art teachers out there, and I am friends with two of them (both now retired from art teaching). These ladies worked their butts off. The kids loved them and they both got great results. It may look like a cushy job on the surface, but teaching art in a public school is really a very demanding and time consuming job. With my teaching certification in Art, all levels, I had the opportunity to teach in public schools, but I passed it up. I realized I would never have the time/energy to do my own art, so I went into different areas of commercial art/ production art instead. I also think that many of the really good art teachers are teaching workshops instead of regular classes. That's where the money is. Also a higher percentage of dedicated students.

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  5. I work hard as an art teacher to teach the fundamentals, despite what they put into my class because of a broken arm, a conflict, an emotional disturbance, etc. I can tell you that it is a challenge but it is my job. My tax paying parents get MORE than their money's worth with their children in my classroom.

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  6. Hi, just wanted to say thanks so much for your blog posts. Have been going through them and finally looked up the SVS site. As a recent art school grad, I completely agree with this post. Doing my best to "catch-up" now :)

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  7. Very true. I have learned from some local Teachers that they aren't even teaching Art &/or Music in the K-12 schools anymore. Those were my favorite classes growing up. Keep up the good work Will. I hope to take the Composition class, that was always a mystery to me. Teachers teach the basic rules but not how to apply them in different situations.

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  8. So agree! All my art teachers with the exception of one were rubbish. I wanted to learn but my art teachers did not want to teach. I needed to learn the rules of perspective, the colour wheel, how to shade, types of media, how to draw a figure, how to use my beloved waterclour paint box properly. What did I get? Nothing. It is never too late but my life would have been so much richer if I had been taught properly.

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  9. Nailed it again...from a very appreciative high school art teacher!

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  10. ...I am learning from you every day...

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  11. Will, you always manage to articulate your subject so well. I am a public school art teacher who went through the public school system. I loved my high school art teacher, but the only thing she taught us was the color wheel and how to imitate the impressionist artists with tempera paint. I didn't learn about the principles and elements of art until I was taking college classes. My art minor required very little in the way of actual art classes, and none of them taught me how to break down that material to be able to teach it to future students. I am constantly trying to find things that interest my students that will also teach them the fundamentals (including all those kids that are placed in my class because they need the credit to graduate but could care less about art, and the students who are here because none of the other teachers want to deal with them). It is draining and frustrating...but I'm still here and I just keep teaching myself as I go so that I can pass it on to my kids :)

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  12. Wow - so many good comments - so many points I hadn't considered too - thank you!

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  13. You are so right, Will, about the visual arts not being treated with the same level of seriousness as even the performing arts in our public schools.

    My daughter attended a magnate school for the arts in our community, and in the four years she was there, I watched the effort and attention given to the visual arts students by the administration dwindle progressively. The hardest cut I saw was taking away half the student art gallery space (the only space besides the library provided for the VisArts) to display athletic trophies! Meanwhile, the drama and music students got huge budgets, had access to two auditoriums and were publicized in the news regularly. When my daughter and 12 other students won Scholastic Silver and Gold awards there was not even a peep in the school news.

    Don't get me wrong, the teachers were fantastic. They taught the foundations of art that I never even saw until I went to college so I'm not complaining about teachers. Although I know there are those are teachers out there who are taking the so-called free ride, sometimes the problem lies in the school's administration not providing support to visual arts.

    The Visual Arts students and teachers were the proverbial red-headed stepchildren of the arts school.

    If that could happen and one of the top magnate schools in the second largest county in Virginia, it could probably happen anywhere.

    But on a completely different subject… The illustration you used in this blog post is amazing! It just has all the warm fuzzies! :)

    Keep up the great work, Will, you provide a clear and honest voice in the greater illustration community. I love hearing what you have to say.

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    1. Great story - yes teaching comes in all degrees...

      Thank you Tami! :)

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  14. Well said, Will. There are problems on both sides of the teaching equation. I taught a semester at Weber State and really put my heart into it. After the semester probably half of the students said they had previously learned what I was teaching–which was impossible because I innovated at least half of the techniques I taught. I'm sure there were a few students who got what I was trying to communicate. But I was surprised that most students just wanted to have student critique–which were generally misinformed– and hang their work in the hall. I was stunned. Your comments are right on regarding the state of learning.

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  15. Hi thanks for offering this class. I was wondering if there would be weekly critiques available in this composition class or would individual critiques for the homework be given only in the sixth class/ last class.

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    1. The last two nights will be reserved for critiques. The critiques will be from the exercises I'll be giving out - or from a personal project you're working on.

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    2. Thanks Will. I ended up getting the pre-recorded videos. And Im gonna get the one on colour and light as well (one of my favourites).

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  16. I am blessed in two ways. First, I thought you had to be born with talent in order to be an artist (or writer, or athlete, or dancer, musician...), so I never took courses. Coupled with the fact about how much lab time I saw my college friends spending totally deterred me from enrolling. The blessing is now I have hope that I may become a little bit of an artist.
    Second, biggest blessing is that you and will are my first art teachers. How lucky is that.

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  17. I highly suggest you read "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe. With the rise of popularity of Modern Art, art schools gradually stopped teaching basic fundamentals of drawing, anatomy, painting, materials, composition, color theory, technique in fine art classes. I think this had a ripple effect in all areas of art such as illustration and animation as well as fine art. Fortunately, there were dedicated artists that continued teaching art fundamentals. I am grateful for the generous gift of your time and effort to share your knowledge. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks for the tip - I'll find it - sounds like a good read...and thank you! :)

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