Friday, January 15, 2016

Do you know how to identify a good art instructor?

My new watercolor class started yesterday at a local arts center. I started my course with the basic lessons about art materials -- I explained the different types, grades, uses, properties, and care of the various materials we use in class -- paper, paints, brushes, and more. How the materials are made, what the ingredients mean and why they are added, explanation of art and painting terms, and on and on and then moving on to drawing and design before getting into painting techniques.

(Annie Strack filming for television)

Most of my students have been taking watercolor painting classes from other art teachers at that center for years, and after the class they confided in me that everything I taught was new to them! Their previous teacher/teachers just SHOWED how she painted, but never EXPLAINED her processes -- like what makes a good composition, or why she choose certain colors, or the importance of values, or how color temperatures work, etc., -- nothing. The other teachers had never explained the differences between artist grade and student grade materials. Or the difference between washes and glazes. Or how to mix colors, or clean their brushes properly, or the difference between opaque and transparent colors, or, well, anything.

(Annie Strack's students at Nunez College)

Sadly, I've seen this all too often. A person can be a great artist, and at the same time, have little or no knowledge about art. There's nothing wrong with that. But being able to paint beautifully does not mean that they automatically possess the ability to teach art. I’ve watched lots of talented self-taught artists paint, and many of them have no idea how they create – they “just do it.” Some of these artist can enjoy great success, and their paintings are featured in magazines and even win top awards in major juried exhibits. These are the idiot savants of the art world. People who were never taught how to mix colors or hold a brush, and yet they can produce a beautiful work of art through instinct -- without understanding how they did it. It’s like the people who can play an instrument “by ear,” but can’t read a note of music. Their music can sound perfect, but if they don’t know what key they used, or can’t name the chords, or know the difference between flat and sharp, then they really can’t teach you how to play the instrument.

(Annie Strack's workshop students in Mississippi)

Anyone can call themselves an artist, and any artist can call themselves an art teacher. This is why it’s so important for students to make sure that their teachers are good teachers, as well as good artists.

(Annie Strack's students at the Bayou Lacombe Art Center)

Before you sign up for an art class, make sure the instructor has demonstrated knowledge of whatever it is that she is teaching. Besides experience teaching in legitimate and prestigious venues such as schools, art centers, arts supplies stores, and artist organizations, look for teachers who have glowing references and recommendations. Most art instructors publish tutorials and lessons, and you can usually find samples online and in print. Look at their online videos and check out their DVDs. Read their tutorials that they wrote for art magazines, for art supply companies, and online blogs. You need to see evidence like these examples that prove the artist's teaching abilities. If you can't find any evidence, then it probably doesn't exist -- and that is a red warning flag! 

(Annie Strack demonstrating artist materials at Plaza Art Store)

The funny thing is, the bad classes are often the same price as the good classes. Would you rather spend your time and money in a class where you won’t learn anything, or would you rather spend that same time and money taking a class from a professional artist who has the knowledge, experience, references, qualifications, and credentials that prove her worth as an extraordinary teacher?

(Annie Strack teaching at the Louisiana Watercolor Society)

Don’t sign up for a class just because the artist is a remarkable painter, make sure the artist is a remarkable teacher, too! Same goes for those of you who book the workshop artists and hire the art instructors – the good teachers don’t cost you any more than the bad ones, so do your homework and get the good ones!

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posted by Annie Strack @ 9:26 PM   4 Comments

4 Comments:

At January 16, 2016 at 8:28 AM , Blogger SHY said...

Amen Sister, my first teacher was not a real teacher but year after year she worked at a name brand craft store "teaching" and held classes in her home weekly. I have heard so many workshop teachers say "it just happens, or it just paints itself" because they don't know why or how.

 
At January 16, 2016 at 8:57 AM , Blogger Annie Strack said...

Thanks Shy! I see that with many workshop instructors, too. Often they are hired solely because they have AWS and NWS after their name, and have won a lot of awards. That doesn't always translate to teaching ability, and some of them don't even know how to mix paint -- much less how to apply it.

 
At January 15, 2017 at 4:38 PM , Blogger Terri Sanders said...

My one and only WC teacher had a great video on YouTube and a beautiful studio so I was looking forward to learning from her. However, she never got out of her chair and there were some people there who were really in the weeds and could have used some help. She also would make disparaging side comments about the students' works. She is still highly regarded. I don't know, still aggravates me today. The points you've made tell me you are a teacher who engages and invests in your students' success!

 
At January 15, 2017 at 4:38 PM , Blogger Terri Sanders said...

My one and only WC teacher had a great video on YouTube and a beautiful studio so I was looking forward to learning from her. However, she never got out of her chair and there were some people there who were really in the weeds and could have used some help. She also would make disparaging side comments about the students' works. She is still highly regarded. I don't know, still aggravates me today. The points you've made tell me you are a teacher who engages and invests in your students' success!

 

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