On Teaching Art


I sometimes speak about being a mother and an artist, but I often don’t speak about homeschooling my two daughters. I’m not going to now either, except to say that before I had kids I taught community art classes, and various kinds of art classes to other homeschooling children in my neighborhood. Now that I’ve tasked myself with guiding my two children through their studies e.v.e.r.y.d.a.y I have quite burned the urge to teach clean out of me. I have a 2nd and 7th grader which means I still have much to do. This past year, in 2013, I fretted about this a lot. I felt torn, a lot.

In 2014, I’ve decided I’m not going to be too hard on myself. I’m going to set aside all notions of teaching my craft to others in my community, for now. I previously created a tumblr space to use as a photography teaching tool, but I’m going to repurpose it for the time being. When I created it I had written a little essay about why I would even want to teach art. It ends with me clarifying that question for myself and realizing that I just want to ‘spread the love’.  Well, for now I’ll just have to spread it when I’m making my own work and trust that it will ripple out into the world in its own quiet way…and lord knows I’m spreading so much love to and through my girls.


For a long time I rejected the notion of teaching art simply because, miraculously without instruction, I could see amazing compositions everywhere I looked. The same structures of an image that I found in art history books. I understood color and the way it interacted with itself.I couldn’t fathom teaching something that was inherent in me. I kinda looked at it as an “either you’ve got it, or you don’t” situation. It felt like a special super power—that I could see beauty because I framed it that way.

So, why did I even take art classes???

In college I gravitated to the discipline and practice of fine art because it involved a language that I intuitively understood and felt normal and familiar conversing in. I took as many fine art classes as possible because it was the only way I could bear to finish college, a parental requirement. Even so, beyond the technical aspects of how to manipulate a medium I didn’t learn much. I was lucky. I didn’t go to an actual ‘art school’, but a liberal arts college with an underfunded fine arts department. I was able to experiment and explore, and no one taught me what they considered to be good -vs- bad art. There was zero competition. While this was freeing it was also depressing. I wondered if I was actually any good and would my work stand up anywhere else in the world.

Eventually, because I had no idea how to play the fine art gallery / business part of being an artist I resigned to teaching. I continued post undergrad schooling to get a license to teach k-12 art. That’s when I was formally introduced to the elements and principles of design as thing. I felt very disappointed that these secrets I knew intuitively, about what made an image ‘sing’, were being taught. If anybody could learn it what would separate an artist with real natural-born talent, from just a regular person who decided to be an artist?

I didn’t want that second category of artists to exist. I was worried there wasn’t enough room in the world for too many people to play the artist/career game. There aren’t, after all, that many people who buy art (I thought).

I’ve felt a little guilty that it wasn’t my desire to fill the world with artists that led me to want to teach it. (I’m still working on being a more generous person!) It’s two things:

The first is, the very fact that I have a process with which I can reflect and understand my environment, my place in this world, my inner world and relationships, has made living more than bearable. It’s made it exciting and wonderful. I can greet each day with enthusiasm because of my artistic practice. If I can guide another person to that by teaching a class, it would be the icing on the cake for me.

Secondly, I wasn’t raised in a family that supported my artistic drive. I don’t think they were being evil, I just think they felt very afraid of a life pursuing art. It didn’t equate to safety or security for them. My blood father admitted that he liked my work, but was not able to understand it because he wasn’t proficient in the language of Art (his words).  He’s a retired Doctor of Sociology, he’s fluent in the ideas brought forth by Carl Jung, but he felt inadeqaute when looking at visual art. There is benefit in helping others read this visual language. This language is not only an essential item in the artist’s toolbox, it’s also useful for the viewer, the appreciator of fine art, to have in their toolbox too—so they don’t feel illiterate and alienated in the presence of art.

I guess you could say, the urge to teach art is just my version of wanting to spread the love.
*** I wrote that a year ago and I still feel the same way. I’m not sure where those feelings, those facts, will lead me in my lifetime. We’ll just have to see…***


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