Saturday, October 10, 2009

Choosing the Right Teacher

Do you mind if I share a pet peeve of mine? I really object to artists who hang out their shingles as art instructors when they still have so much to learn themselves. I'm not sure why some artists who have barely passed out of the amateur stage think they have the skills or abilities or right to teach, but I've seen it happen time and again. Since there's nothing we can do to stop them, it's up to the would-be art student to determine who is really a good teacher.

So how do you find a good teacher, someone with real credentials to teach? How can you tell when you yourself know relatively little about art, which is why you're seeking lessons in the first place? I think you should ask the prospective teacher a lot of questions before you sign on for private lessons. Here are some of the things to look for:
  • A formal education is no guarantee that he or she has mastered the craft of painting, but I'd like the teacher to be able to say that he or she has pursued a lot of instruction with other master artists through schools, private lessons, and/or workshops.
  • A lengthy track record of exhibitions, awards, and sales. This shows that peers and other experts have acknowledged that this teacher is a good artist.
  • High quality in other students' work. Have any of this teacher's current or former students gone on to become professionals? How does their work look to you? Case in point: My teacher, Tina Tammaro, has trained so many of us local artists who have become professionals that we were invited to have a huge group show in a gallery. (Even more impressive was that none of our works looked like hers because she helped each of us find our personal voices!)
  • And finally, a true teacher is going to talk about training you in the fundamentals. I would steer clear of any teacher who talks about step-by-step projects, formulas, or anything that sounds like the teacher is trying to make it easy. Learning to paint is not easy, and any teacher who says he or she has found a way to make it so is not really teaching you to paint. Ditto for teachers who focus on helping you to "express yourself."
What else? Do any of you have further thoughts on selecting a worthwhile teacher? Let me hear from you.


  1. Those are same of the same thoughts when I see those expensive "how to paint" DVDs and books. Some good ones out there but mostly I'm reminded of the saying "Those who can, Do. Those who can't, Teach"

  2. If those can can do, and those who can't, teach, then who do you learn from? What a conundrum!

    I think the best way to choose a good art teacher is by referrals from other artists.

    Just one little thought on "artists who call themselves art instructors who have more to learn"

    Everyone has more to learn, even someone who has been teaching for 30 years. You never stop learning. One great way for one to learn is to teach.

  3. They are lucky artists who live in a large community where they can teach an on going class over time rather than with the constriction of 4-5 is very difficult to pass on much during that time. However, I know many teachers who really work hard to pass on as much as they can during that brief visit. As long as there are groups who want instruction there will be someone raising their hand to do it. Just as in any field there will be those who are qualified and those who are not. I also have seen this in math, music you name it. We all have much to learn. I hope I am 80 learning something new. I will never know it all and that is the beauty of it. I also want to say, some instructors never hung out a shingle as you say...but people liked their work so asked for instruction...they found themselves thrust into a world they had not sought...and sometimes I think they are the best. One last comment. I am finding that groups want to be entertained...they are looking for people to teach that are performers...I have seen it. I have seen that instructor come up with ways to teach something FUN....but not their style really. That is sooooo disappointing...but those people are always teaching as word travels that they are fun to much the student learns I have no idea...but I do not think we need to entertain...but unfortunately that is what is being asked for. I believe the drama queen or king will win...because not everyone is trying to be a serious is for enjoyment and so there you go...I think the odds are I will not be teaching as much as I would rather stay home and take my work seriously.

  4. I just saw a teacher I had 20+ years ago. I have only taken 2 art classes in my life, but I remember him. I don't even remember if I learned very much from him; but what I do remember is that he cared enough to try. While we talked at an opening we were both at he was approached by no less than 4 other ex-students. They had him at different points over his 40 year art instruction career. This is his last year teaching college art. He will finally have the time he has always wanted to paint. We are going to paint next Friday! What he taught me this past Saturday night is that as artists we share out gift but as a teacher you give your gift to others.

  5. Jennifer,

    I agree with nearly everything you wrote.

    I do, however, think that a teacher can teach both the fundamentals and how to express onesself. If the teacher helps the student find his/her own voice and gives the student the fundamentals, then the student has the tools necessary to create art full of expression and meaning.

    I think you were probably refering to teachers who disregard the fundamentals and focus on letting emotion simply fly off the end of the brush. I agree, those instructors wont teach anything of real value.

    Sometimes, though, I have seen fabulous artists who are terrible teachers. I have also seen less proficient artist who are fabulous teachers. To understand and teach the fundamentals of art is different than having the level of talent to produce great art. Teaching is a different talent.

    This makes choosing the teacher even more difficult, because you cannot always assume that a strong resume or reputation means that the artist is a good teacher. The fruits of their teaching labors are a much better indicator. Who studied under them?

    Thanks again.

  6. I think you are right. I see a lot of teachers out there who "have to teach" because they can't make a living with their art. I look for teachers who have taught successfully at accredited ateliers. And, teachers whose work I admire. I eventually want to teach, but I'm still learning.

    Nice blog!

  7. I have had some students / instructors that have admitted that they have never painted before teaching watercolor. They have said that they took one watercolor class from a (well known) instructor who offers for a fee that anyone can be an authorized accredited instructor. This means to be an official instructor you pay a yearly fee and their buy products to sell to the students. What an interesting idea - but doesn’t seem too ethical to me. You really want an instructor that knows their medium and knows how to teach, taking one workshop does not truly make an instructor