Saturday, June 24, 2006


Well, Jenna, and the mysterious "Anonymous," have asked what I didn't like about teaching...

When I decided to go to grad school, I knew that teaching was pretty much the only reason that people get MFAs. Not that I don't know plenty of people with MFAs who don't teach. It's just the standard career track - BFA, MFA, teaching position. And then you're expected to produce work and exhibit while you're teaching. And I do think that being in the creative/academic environment would be beneficial to keep one in touch with the art world.

So I went to grad school and kind of secretly hoped that I wouldn't have to teach. But I was eventually asked to teach a basic drawing class. It turned out to be two sections of basic drawing during one semester.

Now, I knew that teaching would be hard. Preparing lessons, finding still life items, doing demos and lectures - it all takes a lot of time and energy. And it turns out that all of that was even a lot harder than I had anticipated.

But, honestly, what turned me off to teaching (at least in the university environment) was that the students really didn't want to be there. I guess I had an unrealistic expectation that college students are adults and they wouldn't be there unless they wanted to be. Basic drawing was made up mostly of students in their first semester. And at least half of them really didn't care. They would do the absolute minimum (if that much), make lots of excuses when they couldn't, and expect a good grade.

I also didn't feel qualified to teach the material. I had been able to draw at one time, but it's definitely a skill that you have to practice. So I really felt like a fraud. Someone pointed out that I knew more than they did, and that was really the only way I made it through. I felt like I was just a step ahead of them.

I know when I take a class, the enthusiasm level of the instructor makes a big difference. If someone is really passionate about the subject and really loves to teach, then you'll probably have a good experience. I feel like if I can't be that, then the students are being short-changed.

That said, I do love to teach encaustic workshops. And I would love to teach bookmaking. I'm excited and passionate about those two things, and I feel comfortable with the material.

The encaustic workshops are a completely different audience. They're excited to be there and really want to learn, so it makes it really fun for me to teach.

Perhaps my perspective about teaching would be a lot different if I had felt that way about drawing.

So I guess I should have said that I decided I didn't want to teach art in a university. I enjoy teaching the workshops and I'll probably continue those as long as I can find people who want to take them.

There are artists who make a pretty good living teaching workshops along with selling their artwork. Some of them even develop a following. So workshop teaching is definitely a possible teaching venue for artists.

I'll talk more next time about some other career options.


Suzanne said...

Amen. I never went to graduate school myself. I think by the time I graduated I was burned out and didn't see the point any longer. Most of the folks I knew in my department went ahead to get their MFA's and are now teaching and I know I wouldn't be happy in their shoes.

With the large number of my peers teaching college, it made me wonder if I was the only one without a desire to join in.

Deanna said...

I think grad school can be valuable, even if you decide not to teach. There's definitely something to be said for being among a group of creative people who support you and help you grow artistically (if you're lucky enough to find that kind of environment).
But there is an expectation that you're getting that MFA so you can teach. "You're not going to teach? Then why bother getting an MFA?"

zane said...

Hey Deanna,
I too am a recovering designer who worked for over 10 years in the design field and decided to go back to school after being laid off ( for the third time!) I am nearing complition of my M.F.A. and have taught several 3D computer graphics classes and am slated to teach an advanced graphic design class this Fall. I have this bad feeling in my gut though that I am going to be stuck teaching graphic design classes because I don't have enough work shown, talks done, papers written, etc about fine art. I am hoping that my fine art can sprout some wings before i splat on the floor of the graphic deisgn computer lab.

Deanna said...

Yeah, I feel torn about it - graphic design definitely pays better (ok, it *pays* compared to fine art, which doesn't - yet). So on the one hand I wish I could have the financial rewards of graphic design but on the other, I kind of like that I've left that behind. I think that if I want to focus on fine art, then I need to just jump in and do it. But financially it's maybe not the best decision...

Marissa Voytenko said...

I truly connect with what you have written about teaching. A friend of mine said to me "You are just going into teaching because you are afraid of being an artist." I did not want to believe it at the time, but he was right. An MFA degree, and seven years teaching under my belt- I am realizing that my friend was right. I was never truly satisfied teaching-- I can do, but it is not my passion. Next year, I will be an artist full-time and I feel completely at peace with the decision. I am finally doing what I have been created and called to do!