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Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~Pablo Picasso

Thoughts for the Teaching Artist is devoted to an ongoing exploration of the role of the arts in education. I believe that the arts are an integral, essential part of every person's education. Arts education develops 21st Century Learning Skills, supports all core subjects, creates empathy & builds bridges, and helps develop voice & vision.

The views expressed in Thoughts for the Teaching Artist are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other persons or organization.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Artist and His Ego

What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left. ~Oscar Levant

Artists have egos, just like attorneys, heart surgeons and auto mechanics.  This is not to say they have over sized egos; in fact, it has been my personal experience that people who are actively engaged in the pursuit of any artistic discipline tend toward the more emotionally healthy end of the spectrum. It does not seem to matter if they are professional artists, or if their work is purely avocational (I won't use the detested word "amateur." That's a subject for another post.) Suffice to say that creating art feeds the ego, or the soul, depending on your spiritual leanings.  That's a good thing.

So what are the implications for the Teaching Artist?  First of all, when you are in the role of the Teaching Artist, there is an immediate shift in your priorities.  This occurs whether you are an acclaimed professional who takes a day away from the studio to teach a master class, or if you have spent most of your life in the classroom.  During your time as a Teaching Artist, you are putting aside your personal artistic journey for a time to focus on your students.  These students may be very young children discovering water colors, or teens sweating their way thorough a jazz combination, or senior citizens in a journaling workshop.  During your time with your students the artistic journey belongs to them.

 This shift is not always made easily. Many of us have grown up saying to the world at large "Hey everybody, look at me!  Look at what I can do!  Look at this bright, shiny wonderful thing I have made!" We may have been rewarded for our art, comforted by our art, and even in many ways, defined by our art. But in the role of the Teaching Artist, we are no longer defined by our own art; instead, we are defined by our students' experiences.  Note that I am not saying we are defined by their work; their work is what it is, at whatever their stage of development. They are responsible for their own work.  Your job is to teach skills, provide context, guide,connect and inspire. In an experientially based arts class, the most important thing a student takes away from a teacher is the confidence to take the next step.

None of this is to suggest that we should abandon our own art. Far from it! The best Teaching Artists are those who are actively pursuing their own artistic work outside of their teaching time.  Those who let their own artistic journey end and become only teachers, rather than Teaching Artists,  are subject to disillusionment, burnout and bitterness.

So continue with your own journey.  Find joy in your own process that you can share with your students.  Make discoveries that you can bring to the classroom.  But when we are with our students, we must say to the world "Hey everybody, look!  Look! Look at what these kids can do!"


  1. Wow Darcy, your comments regarding the importance of continuing to be a Teaching/Performing artist speaks to the very core of who I am as an artist.

    It's important that as teachers we continue to place ourselves in performance situations that will challenge us, keep us connected to our ever changing world/audience and most important help us refine and develop time tested artistic communicative skills that we can then share with our students.

    Teaching from what we've experienced while honing our craft is invaluabe and I believe highly respected by our students. Having said the above the most difficult challenge is to juggle the scheduling of both demanding professions; that of a teacher and a performing artist!

    However, it is my belief that if an artist fails to continue to take creative risk, their work may become stagnate.

  2. Dear V,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I completely agree with your comment about the challenge of scheduling! But as you said, the rewards are tremendous. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and please share this blog with other artists you know. It's great to have dialogue about this stuff!