Serving Art Educators
and Students Since 1994


Why Have Art?

G. James Daichendt, Ed.D.

The profession of teaching art has a rich and complicated history. From apprenticeship relationships to contemporary art education research degrees, the goals and standards in the field of teaching have changed dramatically. But has this change been progressive?


The majority of degree granting art programs never talk about what good teaching looks like - despite the fact that art instruction influences the way it is made. In fact, the two fields of art education and art rarely interact or collaborate. The result of this dilemma is art departments with no exposure to their own history of teaching and art education departments divorced from the art world - a pity for both parties that results in poor teaching. However, the concept of the artist-teacher represents a successful integration of education within the core discipline of art production. The unfortunate division is frustrating but I believe those who value art instruction at the highest levels will embrace the concept of the artist-teacher.


Why We Need the Artist-Teacher
The differences between the field of education and the field of art are at the root of this divide. Artists are certainly interested in different or contradictory goals than teachers. The role of the artist and the role of the educator each hold their own history, theories, and training. An artist is generally thought of someone who creates art on a full-time basis and regularly exhibits in galleries or museums.


imageOften, a teacher works in a much more structured format like a school where the main emphasis is the development and education of students or student-artists. Mentors in the same field then reinforce the artist and teacher roles. Those brave souls who then choose to tackle teaching and making art at the highest level have to adjust to the tension these two roles play in their dual professions.

I can remember my own struggles as a young art teacher. The professional day encompassed meetings, curriculum planning, professional development, and on top of that - actually teaching! Trying to mix studio time into this hectic schedule became difficult and frustrating. However, I had my priorities set wrong. The field of art education values teaching but often misses the essential core of art instruction - which is art! It was only through studying the lives of great artist-teachers that I began to see how art and education really compliment one-another. It was through these artist-teachers that I finally understood how powerful this concept could be and how art making can be central to teaching practice.

The term artist-teacher, teaching artist, and artist-educator have been used in recent years to qualify a commitment to each of these roles (art and education). Emphasizing the word artist in one's title clarifies the importance of creating art. However, I suggest that this term is more than just a descriptor but an actual concept for bringing art making philosophies into the classroom.


I found that the very best teachers are not pedagogy experts but those who actively embrace their studio thinking processes in the classroom. Re-inventing what it means to be an art teacher involves being an artist and applying this desire in the classroom.


imageBy viewing the classroom through the discipline of art, this space becomes a canvas in which the artist-teacher manipulates the students and curricula like the elements and principles of design. As a philosophy of teaching, artist-teacher is not considered a dual role but it involves the integration of artistic experiences in the classroom. I feel these two activities - teaching and making art - actually supporting one-another, despite being difficult to balance.

Becoming better teachers in our colleges and high schools requires a strong commitment to the field of visual art and education. Art departments are short sighted in their collected memories and art education programs need to strengthen their relationships with art departments. Each field needs one another and is encompassed within the concept of the artist-teacher.


I want to encourage artistic thinking and teaching at all levels and not simply mimetic approaches to teaching. Trends and weak philosophies will not sustain interest nor will it fulfill the ambitions of great art teachers. The activities of artists are some of the most exciting and ambitious thinking happening - our teaching of art should reflect this same experience. If you are interested in becoming an artist-teacher or you feel that you have lost that essential core to your teaching agenda - I encourage you to study the great artist-teachers of the past and reflect what you can draw from their experiences.


G. James Daichendt, Ed.D. serves as Professor of Art at Azusa Pacific University in southern California and is the author of the books: Artist-Teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching and Artist Scholar: Reflections on Writing and Research. To learn more visit: or read his book, Artist-Teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching.. [Click on the images above for full size]