Professional Practice

Do Art Teachers Have to Be Artists? (Ep. 017)

Do art teachers need to be artists? Absolutely! We don’t need to be creating work at the highest level, pursuing gallery shows every month, and constantly chasing sales. We do, however, need to be creating in some fashion; the habit of consistently creating artwork makes us better, more engaging teachers. Andrea Slusarski returns to the show as she and Tim talk about making time to make art (8:00), the higher standard to which art teachers are held (11:30), and how being an artist helps inform our teaching (15:45).

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Welcome to Art Ed Radio with the podcast for our teachers. This show is produced by the The Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Do Art teachers have to be artists? Damn right they do. We teach an incredible subject and we have the chance to practice what we are passionate about. Why would you not take advantage of that? If you’re immediately listing off the reasons in your head right now, why you don’t create anymore, I want you to stop. We need to quit making excuses and get into more creating, more art making, more doing. Andrea Slusarski will make her triumphant return to the show and we’ll talk about making time to make art, how making art can inform your teaching, and all of the personal and professional benefits that come with consistently creating work.

Let me get two things out of the way before we even start this discussion. Number one, I’m not using the phrase artist here as in a professional working gallery showing artist. I’m using it in the broader sense, just as someone who creates. Most of us don’t have the desire to live the life of an artist. We don’t want to feel pushed to produce, or to pursue shows and gallery representation, or to live your life based off of commissions and sales. Secondly, I have no patience whatsoever for teachers who ignore their students in order to work on their own art. That is unprofessional, that is irresponsible, and it does students a huge disservice. Andrew is not going to be here on this episode but he could not resist chiming in on this exact topic.

Andrew: I have known so many teachers who look at their job as being an art educator and they look at it as, “Well, this is the job that just pays the bills but my real passion is my own artwork.” Those people just need to get the heck out of the way because they’re doing their students a disservice, they’re doing their program a disservice, they’re not growing it. They spend their time in the classroom, and I’ve seen this firsthand and other people that tell me about programs that are withering and dying, they’re not jumping in to help students, they’re often in the corner doing their own artwork. I just think that that’s like a complete disservice. I think about Art Education as being passionate to help students and you don’t have to be an artist who’s making artwork all the time, and getting artwork into shows, and promoting yourself. I don’t think you necessarily can do that, because it takes a lot of the oxygen out of the room for you to actually be engaged and involved with your students.

Tim: He makes some good points there, but at the same time, we can’t go too far to the other end of the spectrum, we can’t ignore our own work because we spend all day and night focused on our students. You have to make time to make art. The excuse I hear all the time is people saying, “My teaching is my art.” Stop it. Your teaching can be your priority, and that’s fine, it’s my priority, but it should never replace your actual art making. If you are so concerned about your teaching, how are you really passing on what you love, and passing on your passion to your kids if they don’t see you practicing it. If you’re not creating work, how do you expect to show kids how much they can love the art, how much they can love what you love? It’s not a good example for your kids if you never create work yourself.

The other argument I always hear is about, “We don’t expect English teachers to write books, or Science teachers to do experiments.” Actually we kind of do. Two of my colleagues that teach English are published authors and they happen to be two of the best English teachers in the entire school district. Coincidence? Maybe, but probably not. Even if they’re not writing, they’re reading the literature they teach and other things that they love. Science, Social Studies, PE, all of those teachers do the same. The best teachers are the ones who are actively involved with their subject matter outside of school, because it’s what they’re passionate about and following that passion makes you a better teacher.

If you’re listening to this and you have a passion for art, all of us do, and you have talent, don’t you? Follow that passion and do something with your talent. All of us went to school for years learning different ways to create, whether it be, painting, drawing, sculpture, or anything else. I find it so sad when someone with talent is too busy, or at least saying they’re to busy, to utilize the skill they developed or something they’ve been successful with in the past. Their excuse for not having time to make art is the same excuse of why you can’t go to the gym or why you’re not eating healthy enough. If you want to make time you can, but if you want to make an excuse you can do that as well. It’s up to you to decide, but I want you to think about this; do you ever hear somebody say, “I’m so glad I don’t have to bother with making art.” It just doesn’t happen.

No one’s happy about not creating, and it really isn’t that hard. Draw along with your kids in class, take 10 minutes out of your night. Are you trying to tell me you don’t have 10 minutes? If you don’t have inspiration, you can find it. Sketch book challenges, different assignments, different drawing challenges are out there, they’re easy to find. There really are no excuses. Everybody is busy, everybody has demands on their time, everybody has a tough schedule at school, we all do, it’s what we signed up for. It’s part of our job, but we can’t let that take away an important part of who we are as teachers. Even if you’re not making much, at least you’re making something.

Two years ago I finished a grand total of two artworks. So far this year I’ve barely gotten one started, but a few hours put into work is always better than no time at all. Because the point is, I’m still creating, I’m still producing, and I’m still doing something I’m passionate about. In just a second I want to bring on Slu to talk about how she finds time to create and follow her own passion, and how that really does help her teaching.

Before we bring on Slu I need to give a quick shout out to Matt Christenson. He’s an awesome Art teacher from California who’s joining The Art of Ed as a writer with his first articles being published throughout the month of June. He’s going to be presenting at the Art Ed Now Conference on one of the exact topics we’re discussing today, using your own work to help your teaching. His talk is all about how one summer project can provide valuable instructional resources and an exemplary art piece to guide future student work. He’ll discuss how you can create your own art and use your own brainstorming, sketching, photography, and finished art piece to enrich your future classes. You can register at and while you’re there check out the awesome list of presenters including Andrea Slusarski who’s with us now.

First Andrea, how are you, and second, can you tell us a little bit about your conference presentation.

Andrea: Great. Thanks for having me on again. This summer my presentation is all going to be on color and science, so studying color kind of more in the science lines; how color works in our brain, why we see color, what color is. I apply that a lot to my beginning painting classes, so that’s what I’m going to be talking about over the summer, so you can join us in the conference.

Tim: All right. Cool. That’s going to be good, and everybody can go listen to the first time you showed up on the podcast, and that can be their homework before the conference, right?

Andrea: Absolutely, yes.

Tim: Perfect. All right. Lets jump in though and talk about being an artist and teaching at the same time. I think the biggest question that most people have about this is, with you being a practicing artist, how do you find time? I guess more accurately, how do you make time to create your own work?

Andrea: Well, time is the most epic Art teacher battle. If we only had more times to do all the things that we like to do. I personally have to find time as my releasor at the end of the day, which usually comes pretty late at night. What helps me really is scheduling my “art time”, because I bet most people, most teachers, most professionals who are busy, we’re making to-dos, or calendars of our weeks, but we forget to put a lot of times in there, time for us. To me, creating art is just as important as making my 7:15 yoga class, so I actually write in my planner, like at 10 PM you’re going to stop doing all these other things and you’re going to go paint. That helps me stick to my plan a little bit easier, and especially during times like fall or spring breaks, and definitely over the summer, which we’re getting real close.

I make creating art one of my biggest priorities because the biggest … Unfortunately during the crazier the school year, making artwork seems to be the thing that gets cut off. However, during those crazy times I always keep my moleskine sketchbook and do smaller sketches, and journaling, just because you can’t invest in a large project. Because it’s too crazy during school or you’re too busy, it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from 15 minutes of sketching or just doodling.

Tim: Yeah, exactly. I’m big into that and I think … Like you said, if you don’t create that huge project, just little drawings, little sketches are really worthwhile. I kind of like that idea of scheduling it so it’s not an afterthought. It’s not easy to push it away if it is really part of your plan. I always hear all of these excuses, and I talked in the opening about that, about hearing from people just all the reasons they don’t create work. My question for you is what would say to those people, or what advice would you give them? Why do you think it’s important to make time to make art?

Andrea: In my first few years of teaching, I was definitely one of those people. Recently in the last couple of years I started to feel pretty disconnected with myself from creating art, and I wasn’t feeling like an artist. As Art educators, we teach our students every day the benefits of art making and instill that value of creativity in so many people. Without engaging in that process on my own for myself, I don’t feel as if I’m as energetic about my teaching. You can find creativity big or small and we can start there as a goal of, “I’m going to draw for 15 minutes in my sketchbook.” Like you said in the intro, you don’t have to be selling and showing and going wild and making up this huge thing, you should just be creating for yourself. The benefit for that is it’s going to make you a more enthusiastic and a better Art teacher.

Tim: Yeah. I like that. I like that. That’s a really good point. Talking about I guess selling and showing and going wild, like a lot of people think we should be this really high-end practicing artists along with doing what we do. Do you feel as a teacher that your held to a higher standard than other teachers? Because people expect that art out of us but they’re being expected to be working in their field along with their teaching. A lot of other teachers don’t have to do that. Do you think that there’s too high of a bar set for our teachers or do you think we should have to do both?

Andrea: Well I got maybe two sides to this answer. First, ideally, I think teachers should be able to have the opportunity to work in their fields and teach, at least high school at least, but that’s not how our school system works, and I’m not going to rant about my teachings idealisms, I’ll focus more on the question because I could go on. Art teachers are looked upon by our colleges sometimes as these magicians, that work just appears or happens, and it’s because … Well, we make things look easy. The majority of Art teachers have some very great skills that many other people have no experience with. We know how to use Photoshop, we understand how to do a great design, we’re able to draw things accurately. I can’t even tell you how many times I’m asked to write on the whiteboard in a meeting because it’s like, “You have nice handwriting.” It’s like, “Well, everyone knows how to write…just because I am the art teacher.”

Tim Bogatz: But yours is prettier.

Andrea: “Well, yours is prettier, and you pick all the right colors,” and you’re like, “Okay, fine. It gives me something to do instead of sitting here.” I don’t think that bar is too is too high, but it tends to fully takes some education about art making and it’s process to some of our colleges. An example is, I had a co-worker with a great idea for a mural in their classroom, she came to me and asked me like if this was something that I could do. She was in such shock after she realized how much time, and what I would charge for something like that, but that’s just a general misconception by the public, and that’s value in art and value in the artist’s time. However, I’ll say it again, you can just create it for yourself, you shouldn’t feel pressured by any means about your art making by anyone. That’s an example of the bar being too high.

Tim: Yeah, I agree completely with that. Thinking a little bit about the work you make or even just creating for yourself, for you how does that work? What does making art do for you personally?

Andrea: Well, making art is creating, that is my release in my connection with my own thoughts. It’s very therapeutic, it’s calming for me. Teachers especially, we have so much going on and that’s not just at school, but we also have lives and relationships, that’s kind of a foreign thing to some of our students sometimes. The older I get and because I’m such an old woman, stuck in a 26 year old.

Tim: Okay.

Andrea: Sometimes I like to make the joke to my students, I’m like, “I’m such a grandma,” and they’re like, “You look like us.” The more investing in myself is becoming clear. I cannot provide a fun classroom environment if I’m not in a good place myself, and making art helps that. Creating art and then going back even deeper, creating art is where all of this started with me. If I were to go back in time and tell the 15-year-old, me who’s up in her room, painting for hours, listening to John Mayer on repeat, that we stopped painting, that we stopped doodling, she would be so ticked. Creating art makes me fall in love even more with the process, even more with the art, and as an Art teacher, having that strong connection with it is what makes me a more engaging teacher.

Tim: Oh yeah. That’s a good point, I want to talk about that to you. That’s one of the other things that I think is just so disappointing where all of us here, everyone who’s taught art has some kind of a passion for art, and we love making it. It’s just, like I said, disappointing to see people fall away from that, or to get away from that because it is something that we all can and should be passionate about. Kind of circling back around, with the part about you becoming a more engaging teacher. How does being a practicing artist help inform what you do as a teacher?

Andrea: Well, going deeper, going further than just being more passionate, and then engaging about my subject, it’s sort of a way to walk the walk to my students.

Tim: Right.

Andrea: I’m not just teaching them painting skills out of nowhere, I’m out there in the trenches with them, discovering new ways to paint or to grow myself as an artist. I love sharing with them my career as an artist separately, and that could be through … They follow my art Instagram account, sharing situations with them in my painting. I recently just bought a really nice set of water colors and I like brought it in, I was like, “Oh, I like when you’re an adult and you have money, you could be fancy.” Or even just like, “I sold a painting last night.” To our high schoolers, that is really cool, that they could see someone taking what they love, and it’s not just my day job, it’s my life. That shows them a little bit more about myself and that’s not only super helpful in creating my classroom environment, but it also brings some validation that like, “Hey I know what I’m talking about here when I tell you this is how we mix these colors, because I do it.”

Tim: Yeah absolutely. Yeah, exactly. I find that kids are just so fascinated when they see your work. I bring my drawings and then the kids just are amazed. I’m halfway happy with it, but it’s like the greatest thing that they’ve ever seen. I love having just some of my old drawings around, where you’re trying to explain a concept to your kid and you’re like, “Hang on a second,” and I sneak into the closet and come back out and be like, “When I did this drawing I did this and here’s how it worked out.” Just being able to show that example, like you said, gives you a little bit of legitimacy but it also shows them a very concrete example of how to do things. I think that really helps get your point across.

Andrea: It really does. I even have sketchbooks of mine from high school that I have in my classroom and it is so awesome to show them where I was in high school, and then compare them to my sketchbooks now.

Tim: Yes. Absolutely cool.

Andrea: Right now they see me and they think like, “Oh my God! There’s no way I could ever draw like that,” or, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then I show them my high school equivalent and they’re like, “Oh! Cool.”

Tim: Yeah. I was not really good in high school and so I’ll show my kids, because they’ll get down on their work and I’ll just be like, “Guys, you are so far ahead of where I was.” I can show them my old stuff and they’ll be like, “Oh! All right. This makes sense. Okay, I’m better than I thought,” and that really does help them. It kind of lays out the path for them like, “Hey, if you guys work hard enough, here’s where you can get to.”

Andrea: Exactly. Even a funnier thing in the connection is I was talking with my studio kids, we did a final exit interview where we just sat down the two of us, teacher student. What I was finding was all of my students were really … I asked them what their favorite medium to work with and they were like, “Pencil and pen,” and, “Pencil and pen,” and, “Pencil and pen,” and I’d like … It was a great reflection for me, I was laughing with them, I’m like, “Well, you guys, I think my art practice is coming out a little too much. Next year we’re going to have to ditch the really fine details that I like to do in my work and expand ourselves a little bit more.” They were laughing because we were like, “You’re right. That’s what you’re passionate about, and that’s what we’re finding ourselves passionate about.” It fun to see those correlations.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely, and you do have a big influence on your kids. I think that hits home the point that we’re talking about here, about how being an artist can help inform what we do.

Andrea: Absolutely.

Tim: One last big question for you, do you think that teachers or yourself even, do you need to sell work to be validated as an artist, or do you think just the act of creating is enough?

Andrea: Not at all. Keep that mindset that the creating is enough, because once you don’t, you’re going to turn art making into work, which is just going to add more onto your plate. I think of myself very lucky that I’m in a place where I don’t need to sell the painting, however some extra cash here and there is pretty nice. It’s a nice little balance that we can find ourselves in is, “I don’t need to sell this to pay my bills,” so making art for just the creating purposes is enough. One thing that I found super helpful is setting up my own Instagram account that is solely developed for sharing my art. I post on there my larger paintings, little doodles, follow other artists. I always keep a personal Instagram, but there is a whole community out there that you can engage with right through your smartphone, through Instagram. It’s a very easy way to find inspiration from other artists online and find new ways to expand your art making. For example I’ve been contacted by an outdoor blanket company that paid me to create a few designs for them.

Tim: That’s cool.

Andrea: Yeah. I’ve been asked to be a part of some really fun art shows by different local curators on Instagram. In the next couple of weeks I’m actually meeting up with a few artist friends to go on a hike and practice our outdoor water coloring, to kind of like learn from each other. There’re many ways you could take your creating that isn’t stressful as making at another job, because … You’re right, like showing and doing a lot of that extra stuff, it could be really overwhelming.

Tim: Yeah, very. I think those are some really good suggestions on how to keep that inspiration going and how to keep that passion going, so thank you for those. Just real quick before you get out of here, where can people find you, like your Instagram, website, anything like that? Do you want to share them?

Andrea: Yeah. My Instagram account for my art is @drawingfromnature, so just drawingfromnature on Instagram. I also maintain a website with a lot of my pieces, and that is My biggest thing is Instagram is a cool way to share your artwork and you don’t even need to leave your home for it.

Tim: Nice, very cool. All right. Well, thank you for joining us again. I love having you on the show.

Andrea: Yeah, thank you.

Tim: I’m sure you’ll be back again, so thanks a lot.

Andrea: Yeah. All right, thank you.

Tim: Talk to you soon.

Andrea: Bye bye.

Tim: That was another awesome interview with Slu and I am so glad she was on the show again. I love what she said about her art making not only informing but energizing her teaching, it’s a great point. For me it really comes down to this; people all over the world have for centuries found a way to make art, to make creativity, and make creating part of what they do in their everyday lives, and you’re going to tell me you don’t have 10 minutes to draw on your sketchbook? Let’s look at what we’re really doing, what we’re really passionate about, and let’s follow that passion. You became an Art teacher for a reason and you should not ignore that love of art. It’s possible to follow your passion to create your work and not take away from your teaching. In fact I can almost guarantee that actively involving yourself in art making will make you a better teacher. Quit making excuses and start making some art.

Art Ed Radio is developed, produced, and supported by The Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Please subscribe to Art Ed Radio in iTunes or your favorite podcast app and go back and listen to some old episodes. If we’re being completely honest, Andrea and I have been killing it for about four weeks straight. It’s worth your time to give those last few episodes another listen. You can find us at where we’ll put up the show notes and some great resources from the one and only Andrea Slusarski. New episodes are released every Tuesday, so we will see you then. Thanks for listening.

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.