The Prospective General Teacher of Art

The teacher of vocational courses in art should be thoroughly trained in his craft and, if possible, should be a practicing artist. One might hope, of course, that he might also be a person of well-rounded education.

To hold this image of the art teacher as the sole ideal for all students, however, would be to miss important possibilities in the teaching of art and to misuse the talents of captive artists, forcing them to dissipate their energies on unreceptive subjects. For the majority of students, those who have no intention of going into the field professionally, the teacher of art might well be of a different sort and should be trained for his particular task, not as if he were to teach only future painters.

To be sure, the prospective general teacher of art should have some training in the practice of art and should have some talent for it, although there is no need for his fancying himself an artist. He should, first of all, have a broad general education in the humanities, out of which his study of art should grow naturally and not be considered a thing apart. His initial studio training should be basic, directed toward the development of usual judgment, an understanding of two- and three-dimensional composition, and a sensitivity to the relationship of artistic form to material structure. This basic study should be sufficiently broad in its foundation to comprehend a wide variety of forms of art. The training should strive consciously to develop visual sensitivity and critical capacities rather than to perfect manual skills.

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Closely linked to this studio training should be the analytical study of works of art so that matters of composition and form do not separate themselves from artistic content. The close association between the analysis of works by great artists, past and present, and studio practice should serve as a model of procedure for the future teacher. suggesting ways in which a bridge can be formed between what a student does himself and what is to be found in the work of an artist. Toward this end, imitating styles and copying details is not an efficient way to study. The student should be taught to use his eyes, not simply caricature with his hand. The quality of great works should not be reduced to a beginner’s level, but the student should learn to respect transcendent artistic quality. He should discover that there is such a thing as creative looking as well as creative painting.

Lisa Norton, Cheap Project with Heroic Message and Cheap Project with Heroic Message: Plan, project: tin, steel, fabricated, 17 x 13½”; plan: intaglio print, 29 x 30”

To support this combined training in analysis sis and doing, the prospective teacher should have a survey of the history of art, studying all major periods, including his own. In such a survey, it is more important that he learn to look with genuine sympathy and comprehension on a wide variety of expressions than to memorize the clichés standing for historical processes. In this study there should be two points of specialization: he should pursue one historical field further, to understand the meaning of historical research in art, and he should have further preparation in art and theory leading to the art of his own time. If the teacher is to make the art surrounding his students come alive for them, he must not be ignorant of its aims and sources.

The third increment of the student’s specialized training might be placed under the heading of education courses, for the courses would be devoted to birth educational theory and practical problems for the classroom. It is under this latter category that training in the various popular technical projects might fall. If the basic studio training has been sound, the study of different technical procedures need not be difficult.

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Contrary to most present practice, the training In judgment must be basic and the study of techniques secondary, not the other way around. To suppose that if a person works long enough at a particular craft he will automatically develop a widely applicable artistic judgment is a fallacy continuously and embarrassingly demonstrated by many art-school graduates. There must be a conscious intellectual effort to accompany the training of the hand. One can readily forgive an artist for not being able to judge works of art different from his own or for being verbally, inarticulate; one cannot so easily forgive a teacher.

The ideal teacher of art, then, for all but the most specialized professional training, should be a person broadly educated in the arts with a developed taste and the capacity for making clear the nature and basis of his judgments. He should be alive to the full content of art, not just its technical execution, and recognize it as a serious and meaningful human endeavor. At the same time, he should be sufficiently trained in the techniques of art to lead the students through their own work to an understanding of the work of others. He should be capable, in other words, of taking students through the period in which they are satisfied simply to make things and, still utilizing this desire to do, lead them at the crucial moment to a realization that these very means in the hands of an artist may continue to provide them with many rewarding experiences.

The above is excerpted from an article “To Do and Not to See: the Teacher of Art” by Joshua Taylor from The Journal of General Education, Vol. XII, No.1 (January 1959) pp. 65-66, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA 16802, and is reprinted here with permission.

By Joshua Taylor
Metalsmith Magazine - 1988 Winter
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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