Professional Practice

Make It Work! 8 Lessons Art Educators Can Learn From Tim Gunn

Sitting in a room of 3,000 plus art teachers, but feeling like you were in an intimate conversation with the Project Runway master himself, Tim Gunn?


During his Super Session at NAEA 2015, Tim Gunn, educator and design mentor extraordinaire, shares some of his lessons in teaching and in life – Here is what we learned from Tim to push us to the next level in our careers as art educators.


8 Lessons Art Educators Can Learn From Tim Gunn


1. Art Saves Kids – Why is this relevant? Becuase art is the class that saved Tim. Art class got him out of his shell and brought him confidence to follow his dreams.

2. Art Teaches Discipline – Art class taught Tim to be self -disciplined and finish what he started. It helped him always want the best for himself and push. As he put it “art helped me to soar!”

3. Your first path isn’t always your destination – Tim started in architecture, then moved to literature and eventually ended up in fine art and sculpture. This journey brought discovery, helping Tim get closer to his true calling.

4. Loosen Up! Tim mentioned an initial stiff nature to his artwork. One day, his teacher decided to challenge him by giving him a loose, gestural drawing assignment with a stick. This taught Tim to loosen up and get out of his rut. Creativity flowed thereafter.

 5. Quality of Character is just as important as the quality of your work – Tim believes we have a huge responsibility to the world to be a respectful citizen. Amen!

6. Don’t Settle for the Basics – Tim always believes in the power of digging deeper, incorporating art history, design history, architecture and other disciplines in everything he does. As art educators, we get it, but sometimes forget it! He tells his students to ‘Find a nugget of information you think no one else will discover.”

7. TEACH  – This is Tim’s coined acronym for success in teaching. It stands for Truthtelling, Empathy, Asking, Cheerleading and Hoping for the Best.

8. Only critique something they can change – When giving students feedback, Tim tries very hard to only critique something they can change. Is the piece already red? Color can’t be changed.. so let’s talk about what you can add to enhance it. Any other advice is irrelevant and a waste of breath.

This was a wonderful session and an honor to see Tim in person. Check out his new book “The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making it Work!


Did you know Tim Gunn was an educator? 

Which lesson resonates with you the most? 



Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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