For the first time, I am teaching a regular class on sketchbook journaling and, it is some thing I really look forward to each week. I have an awful lot of students (25 or so) and our classroom is a less than inspiring place, but each Tuesday night we talk about drawing and journaling and the wide world of art, then we draw and write together for a couple of hours. Many of the folks in class are new to drawing but all are plunging in with courage and enthusiasm. Some have become instant sketchbook addicts, while others are still hanging around the shallow end, getting their bearings. This week, one of our exercises was to break an object into abstract parts and explore each one deeply. I then combined all of the individual drawings and revealed what we had been looking at collectively: a picture of our new President-elect. There was wild applause and excitement when the group mind came together. Teaching a class is forcing me to really think about what drawing is and how to communicate what I have taught myself over the years. It is is very challenging but the support and pleasure of my students inspires me mightily.
Ironically, this morning I was called out by a professional art teacher, here on my blog, who questioned whether I was disrespectful of art education. I hastened to explain:
Hi Danny. The book looks great, but I have to admit, upon viewing the little videomercial, despite the beautiful imagery, I was a bit turned off by what I perceived as a slight jab to my profession . As an art educator, I work my butt off day in day out turning kids onto art. The smiles on their faces when they enter the art room say it all. Their work says even more. I know too many good folks who are on the same boat as me who would feel the same. Am I overreacting here, or being slightly too sensitive? Maybe so. Still, in these trying times, when school budgets are getting cut left and right, and art educators (or,as we called them back in the day, art teachers) are either finding themselves out of a job, or not being able to find a job, the last thing we need is someone dissing art education. I’ll certainly buy the book – how could I resist something this good? Still, please talk me down and tell me why I’m getting my panties in a bundle over a tiny, little sentence (or don’t waste your time on me at all).
I hear you. Let me unravel my thoughts. First of all, I believe art education is vital to both children and adults. My son goes to a high school that specializes in art education and he takes two hours a day (!) of drawing classes. We have put him in several summer and after-school classes to develop his love of art too. So, I am all for art education … when it is done well.
I was deeply scarred by my art teacher’s abusive and derisive comments when I was a boy. I receive so many emails and letters form people who had similarly traumatic experiences when they were young too, dismissive or overly rigid teachers who made them feel they could never draw, would never amount to anything. These teachers are the exceptions in a profession that takes a lot of self-sacrifice and commitment, besieged from all sides by budgets and support for the football team.
So, while I do not diss art education in general, there are without question times when it is poorly taught. A bad teacher might be careless with comments, or overly programatic and rigid, or create a negative environment. There are people who are second rate in all professions but the ones who are incompetent or indifferent at art education can have long and deep impact on the very people who come to my site and books looking for a way to repair their creative instincts.
I realize that this may not be the answer you sought. But please know that a) my book contains work from fantastic several art educators (Rama Hughes, Roz Stendahl, Kate Johnson, Brody Neunschwander, Kurt Hollomon, Gay Kraeger, Christina Lopp, and more) and b) that I consider much of my mission to teach people to teach themselves art so I am also a sort of an art educator ( In fact, I am currently teaching a class here in New York).
And finally, Steve, I am often careless myself in the way I express myself here and elsewhere. I appreciate the rebuke, gentle though it was, and the opportunity to clarify.
I hope you enjoy An Illustrated Life: and that it brings ideas and inspiration to you and your students.
I hope this seems like a fair and valid answer. I really don’t want to add art educators to the long list of people I piss off.
Speaking of insanely great art teachers and students, here’s a drawing Jack did in class last week. Several of the students in the class have been blogging about their experiences on Tuesday evenings. Check out Seth’s first hand reports.