Monthly Mentor

Matthew Neylon (July)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Matthew is a graduate of the 2017 NAEA School for Art Leaders and cofounder of CONNECT, an organization that connects art teachers from independent schools around Atlanta with resources and relationships to excel and thrive. He has presented to hundreds of educators and artists annually, on various topics including wellness through the arts, trauma-informed arts education, storytelling, leadership, STEAM/art integration, and curriculum design. Click "GO" to read his full bio.



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September 23, 2019

Artist-As-Teacher Balance: Finding the Time to Create 

By Benjamin Tellie

I thought I would address the issue of the artist-as-teacher early in this week’s blog post for pre-service teachers, practitioners, and scholars to reflect upon for further discussion. These are two identities that are oftentimes separated in art education—the artist, who creates work in the studio setting and exhibits, and the art teacher, who resides in the classroom setting teaching art as a subject. I always hear how hard it is for art teachers to balance teaching with studio practice. I am also in this situation myself! Although, some do it magnificently while others might struggle with the balancing of the two. This can apply to any subject that is taught—music, language, history, math, and more. The question becomes how can teachers engage with their practice and feel connectivity while deeply engaging with the teaching of their subject. 

I believe staying connected to artistic practice as an art teacher can enhance student learning and inform curriculum to create meaningful experiences for students. Many art education programs throughout the United States prepare students as artist-teachers but it is often times hard for teachers to implement this model due to the demanding aspects of their teaching jobs (Graham & Zwirn, 2010). Ever since the mid-19th-century, authors have been thinking about the idea of “artist as a teacher” and bringing the knowledge of the artist into the world (The artist as teacher, 1855). For one example, artist-teacher refers to a philosophy of teaching where individuals incorporate their idiosyncratic talents, skills, and ways of being, as an artist, into their teaching practice (Daichendt, 2010). Artist-teachers construct meaning from lived experiences and information in the world around them by engaging with artistic practice (Freedman, 2003). The concept of practicing what you preach holds strong value. Being strongly connected to the practice of making art and teaching can develop our thinking in new ways—the ways in which we respond to our students’ needs and how we empower our students to grow as individuals in our society.

Many have conducted studies on the topic of artist-teacher and discuss the benefits of having both identities merge into one, that informs the other, to help contribute to student learning and curriculum (Ball, 1990; Graham, 2008; Hatfield, Mantana, & Deffenbaugh, 2006; Zwirn, 2002). Sullivan and Gu (2017) state that “there is a general acceptance that ‘thinking and doing’ embraces many learning modalities that not only instill competencies, but also build confidence, affirms individual and group identity, and generally develops capabilities for effective decision making” referring to artist-teachers (p. 55). In a qualitative phenomenological research study, Graham and Zwirn (2010) examine several practicing artist-teachers and discover their practice shows evidence of enhanced conversations and mentorship between teachers, students, and a studio environment for art-making. Evidence also suggests that “teachers who were engaged with the problems arising from their own artwork were sensitive to the artistic challenges of their students” (p. 223). Studio art-practice and teaching opens new doors and places for students to create new possibilities (Sullivan, 2010). The artist-teacher not only informs one another but strengthens the other. 

Here are some questions for thought: 

- How do you engage with your artistic practice throughout the year? How can you stay connected?
- What are some things that are holding you back? How might you make more time for yourself to make your own art?

Perhaps, through scholarship, making art with your students in the classroom, family art nights, carving out some time to make art at home on the weekends. There are many small and large things you can do to stay connected. Depending on how far you would like to take your art making and teaching. I would recommend finding what might work for you and scheduling that time for yourself, allowing yourself the time to create.  

- BT


Ball, L. (1990). What role: Artist or teacher? Art Education, 43(1), 54-59. 

Daichendt, G. (2010). Artist-teacher: a philosophy for creating and teaching. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

Graham, M. A., & Zwirn, G. S. (2010). How being a teaching artist can influence K-12 art education. Studies in Art Education, 51(3), 219-232.

Hatfield, C., Mantana, V., & Deffenbaugh, C. (2006). Artist/Art educator: Making sense of identity issues. Art Education, 59(3), 42-47.

Sullivan, G. (2010). Art practice as research: Inquiry in visual arts (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Sullivan, G., & Min, G. (2017). The possibilities of research-the promise of practice. Art Education, 70(2), 49-57.

The artist as teacher. (1855). The Crayon, 1(14), 209. 

Zwirn, S. (2002). To be or not to be: The teacher-artist conundrum (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.



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