5. …quiet co-working on a common task (either individual or collaborative) is a form of teaching. The more the lines between student and teacher are blurred, the better.

I do agree that working collaboratively is a very valuable form of teaching. I don’t agree about blurring the lines entirely. Students, in my experience, want the teacher to have authority and not just to be a chum. Treating the students with utmost respect is crucial, but I don’t see the point in everybody in the classroom just being friends on the same level; the teacher is expected to have greater experience and knowledge, and their ability to be helpful and encouraging should come from that, otherwise it doesn’t mean much.



8. We point to specifics to signal our sense that something is lacking. Often the actual problem will lie somewhere else entirely. This does not render our gesture useless.

I agree with your first two statements but the third (about the gesture not being useless) doesn’t make sense to me. I think you need to clarify a bit more.

9. Teaching art is like shouting from one vessel to another in the middle of a force ten gale.

OK, if you say so!

10. There is no necessary connection between the ability to write or talk fluently about art and the ability to make it. This is not to say that ignorance is ever a virtue.

Thank you for saying this! Absolutely true.

11. A familiarity with culture beyond the visual, some knowledge of history, geography, languages, some familiarity with the sciences, a keen interest in the world; whilst these are not essential, they’re helpful more often than not.


12. Work made under constraints of time, materials, theme, constitutes the artist’s five finger exercises. An artist is someone who, abandoned in a deep forest or on a desert isle, with only a pebble to mark with and a rock to mark upon will nevertheless make something of interest.

I think this is an extremely important point. Learning to create within limitations and constraints is necessary training and will pay off in spades later on.

13. We teach and learn in the world we inherit and not the one we might want. We should encourage engagement from the beginning and no quarantine period is required or appropriate. Nonetheless, we should probably start in the shallow end.

Again, I’m not really sure what you mean here.

14. We should actively consider the possibility that interpretive dance might be a better medium than words for the teaching of art.

If your point is that talking about art is of limited usefulness, yes, for sure — but it’s still the means we have, and so we have to use it. Teachers need to be able to explain what they mean, but also to be ready and able to use visual examples.

16. A refusal to be easily satisfied, a restlessness, a feeling of only-as-good-as-one’s-latest-work, the capacity to work flat-out; also, the grace to accept gifts, to know when no further work is necessary or when to grit one’s teeth and continue – in short, a mature artistic conscience – cannot be imposed but developed only from within .

Yes, this is true, and it seems to me that one goal of art teaching should be to help develop the strength of character necessary for the young artist to continue and persevere in spite of obstacles so that eventually they can develop a mature artistic conscience. It helps to have mentors and to hear about their own process and struggles; it helps to read about the lives of other artists. Somehow, the young artist must learn and face the fact that it is going to be a long and quite lonely road with many reversals and much doubt, rather than sudden and continual “success.” How we prepare them for this is a question more about our own lives than about theirs, I think. The best teachers of mine were scrupulously honest about their own paths and struggles, and they continue to be “companions” for me, even though most have left this life.

We need to impart, through our own lives, that the path and the process are more important than any individual work of art, prize, exhibition, or reward, and that if we base our efforts in that direction, this is a way of life that can be deeply satisfying.

17. If art is a form of knowledge it is a very odd one.

Yes. I don’t see art as a form of knowledge, but as a way of life.


No problem at all with these points.


I’m coming to this exercise as a professional visual artist, writer and editor, but also as an amateur musician — and ironically it’s in music where I’ve had the most formal training and “art education.” The creation of modern visual art is considerably more subjective than, say, classical music performance, and teaching it is necessarily quite different, but three things stand out. One is that patience, discipline, and practice are valuable in all artistic fields. Students may not need or want formal academic training but understanding composition, line, volume, color, etc will help them immeasurably no matter what they try to do later on – our problem as teachers is to find ways to make this interesting.

Second, we need, I think, to equip students to be problem solvers for themselves. A writer has to learn how to edit themselves, the artist needs to learn to see and sort out difficulties, the musician needs to be able to take apart a difficult passage or unfamiliar work and see how to tackle it both technically and interpretively.

Third, and many of your points touch on this: if we believe that art can be a lifegiving, lifelong pursuit, and that everyone is creative, our efforts as teachers must focus on encouragement for the long haul. I think it is tragic how many people have told me they were told they “couldn’t sing” or “couldn’t draw” and so they gave up early in life. So, art instruction must strike a balance where it is adapted to each individual with the goal of always encouraging, never crushing – but where genuine teaching is also given. An adult friend joined a writer’s critique group recently, and all the instructor did was praise each person’s work. This was not only unhelpful, but it was completely phony and my friend (a lifelong music educator) knew it and left the group after two sessions. The best teachers manage to draw out the best in their students, and I think they are able to give genuine criticism that is encouraging and deeply respectful at the same time.

 Elizabeth (Beth) Adams, publisher and artist