What Happens When A Student Is A Better Artist Than You?

Most art teachers are also practicing artists, and we each have our own strengths. We often have students that share those strengths, and we can always help them improve. On rare occasions, however, we have a student come along that is even better than we are with certain media or techniques.
 

So the question arises: what happens in your classroom when a student is a better artist than you?

 
Better Artist than you
 
I have had three artists come through my classroom fitting this description–all within the course of two years, oddly enough. Looking back, I am glad I was able to see the situation for what it was: a chance for me to improve my teaching, my own artistic skills, and an opportunity to work with supremely talented artists. I’d like to share a little of what I learned about dealing with students working at such a high level.
 
1. Check Your Ego at the Door

I’ll be honest–when I first ran across a student better than me, it wasn’t easy for me to accept the fact they had that much talent. How? What? Where did this come from? She’s only 17! How is she better than me? It seems odd, as a teacher, to go into class with the knowledge that you’re teaching someone more talented than yourself; but the sooner you can accept that situation as a reality, the better off you will be. Don’t be too proud, and don’t be too stubborn, because you need to see the situation for what it is: an opportunity. For you and your student both.
 
2. Learn Together

SAMSUNG

In this kind of a relationship, there may not be a teacher-student methodology any longer. My expert student ceramicist was able to help me improve my throwing, and together we researched crystalline glazes, different ways to trim the foot on various pots, and methods of fitting and finishing lids. Look at different techniques and styles that interest him or her (or interest you, even) and learn those things as a team. You’ll each be better for having gone through that experience.
 
3. Good Advice is Still Good Advice

AshleyDigital2

Physical talent and impeccable technique don’t always match up with decision-making skills–especially with high schoolers. You will be able to help them with composition, subject matter, and your more experienced artistic eye. One student, as a sophomore, could digitally paint circles around me and everyone else with whom she came into contact. I was able to help with almost every work, however: balance, rhythm, movement, the rule of thirds and more on the technical side, and ideas, brainstorming, and editing on the conceptual side.
 
4. Get Their Work Out There

You probably do Art Shows for your students already, but can you do anything beyond the school-sanctioned competitions? Look at blogs, online galleries, and other ways to display their work digitally. In addition, some juried exhibitions don’t have an age limitation, or they have an age 18 minimum (which will work for some senior students). Look at both online and brick-and-mortar galleries for these juried exhibitions, and help your students enter when they can. They may or may not get into the show, but allowing them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the process will only be beneficial in the long run.
 
Of my three superstar artists that came through my room, one is thriving as a painter in New York, another is on the way to an MFA, and the third hasn’t made any art in the past two years. You never know where they may end up, but you would be remiss to not recognize the opportunity to collaborate with, help, support, and guide a very talented individual. Please make sure you make the most of it.
 
 

Have you ever had an art student more talented than you?

How did you handle the situation?

 
 
 

Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

Related

  • I have a former student who is in College studying to be an art teacher :) – she is one of my favorite artists and I have some of her work hanging in my home! Her art is different than mine and we often critique one another’s work. I see talented student-artists as a blessing and I hope to play a tiny part in helping them grow:)

  • Chris Noel

    I have had a couple of students come through my classes who were better artistically than I was, and had well developed artistic visions. We had more in- depth discussions & critiques than I am sometimes able to have with students. I tend to assign artistic problems/concepts and students have some choices in how to develop them. This gives the gifted student as well as the other students, opportunities to expand and grow. In both cases, having a truly gifted student in class improved the level of achievement for everyone. I was able to act as a sounding board, adviser, and advocate. It is a very rewarding way to be able to teach. We entered their art work in every competition we could find. One student is now teaching art at the college level and the other is working as a painter. A number of students from those classes have gone on to art related careers.

  • Cynthia Gaub

    No artist or art teacher can be good at all mediums. I teach an exploratory class that touches many mediums. So I often have kids that are better as some mediums than I am. I can acknowledge it and still guide them since I still have more life expereinces and more breadth.

  • Mr. Post

    I’m thinkin’ coffee break – “Hey talented kid, takeover. I’ll be at Barnes and Noble reading books and drinking coffee. Call me if there’s trouble.”

  • Ms. C

    Oh, my goodness! Is this a real issue? Maybe it’s because I teach AP, but I see my students as fellow artists and “better” is relative! (Better at what? Being a wise old lady? Nope.) It’s awesome to have those surprisingly high level kids, and if they know a lot already about their craft, they can still learn to put a good portfolio together, how to step out of comfort zønes, how to manage their time or how to be humble and still work hard despite their obvious advantages. Besides, kids teach US. All of them, in all different ways.

  • pnv

    I actually taught a middle schooler who was brilliant at comic-style illustration, an area I know nothing about. When we did a lesson on portrait drawing, I had him teach a mini lesson so we could all see how he approached his drawings. He chose me as his model, which was so sweet, and I still have the drawing. Since he was only brilliant in that one style, he was very open to me pushing him in other directions so he could further explore his talents (like painting). He’s currently attending an excellent art school. I loved that kid. :)

  • Mickey

    Oh yeah, I show true appreciation for their hard work! I encourage them to share ideas and techniques with other interested students. I use it to remind all the students that no matter how good someone is, there is always different skill levels, and odds are you will meet people where ever you go that will be both better and worse than you. You help each other out and learn from each other.
    (I have a drawing class this year, that I feel the talent and hard work is off the charts!)

  • Lela

    I kinda love it when they are better than me. (There will always be artists better than you, I got over that in college.) Because every day is an exercise in balancing your excitement over what they are creating, and figuring out the ways you can help them improve. And as this article says, they may be better at it technically, but you’ve got years of experience dealing with color theory and composition. Thats the tricky part. It only sucks when they know they are good and are proud of it to a fault, I’ve had one that would barely listen to me.

  • Lee Ten Hoeve

    Thank you for this article! I recently experienced this myself. It truly has been an amazing learning experience for me as an educator and an artist.

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