Monday, November 02, 2009

MAM Poll (Nov. 2009): What makes a good art teacher?

This month the Making A Mark poll tries to identify what makes somebody a good art teacher.

What are the characteristics of a good art teacher?

Peter Monkman - art teacher and winner of the BP Portrait Prize 2009
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I guess most of us have had a teacher who at some point in our lives has a made a very real difference to who we re today.

The question I'm posing this month is what are the attributes of a good art teacher? What makes them somebody who can make a real difference to how their students develop and the art they make?

Do you think one or more of the following factors might be important? This month's poll allows for multiple responses - please try and work out which are most important.
  • active artist; produces good art
  • very knowledgeable (eg art history / specific media)
  • good at demonstrations / explaining techniques
  • tightly focused classes (beginners; masterclass etc)
  • adapts teaching to student's learning style
  • enthusiastic/passionate about art
  • strong belief: everybody can make art/draw/paint
  • promotes originality/creativity (not just copying)
  • promotes learning and self-evaluation
  • sets appropriate / challenging goals
  • encouraging - provides constructive feedback
  • effective communicator
How do I vote in the poll - and where is it?

If you'd like to participate in the poll you can vote for more than one response in this month's poll which is in the right hand column - just above the Blogger Followers widget.

Most of the people responding to this poll will have very different experiences of art teaching - from those who have only been in art class at school a very long time ago to people who have recently graduated with degrees in fine art. However that doesn't matter in the least. What's important is what YOU think makes a good art teacher.

Do please feel free to comment on:
  • anything important that I've left out and/or
  • your own personal experience of how important any specific aspect is
When commenting it would be helpful if you would identify whether you're a past or present student of art and/or whether you are an art teacher or tutor.

Deadline for responses: The poll closes early on 30th November. The analysis of results will be posted later the same day.


  1. Look forward to seeing these results. :)

    I'm a former student, possibly to become a teacher in the next year or so! I went an alternative route and studied with a working artist for nearly 3 years, rather than art school. (for various reasons, not necessarily an aversion to art school)

    Personally I found having a teacher who was flexible, encouraging yet pushed me slight was the best. I'm incredibly stubborn, will try anything, and have daily changing obsessions. Bless her (Annette Johnson, btw! ) I don't know how she didn't kill me in the process. ;)

  2. I eight years of art college I had some superb teachers and some truly dire ones. However one thing I've discovered is that there seems to be no correlation between the quality of the art the teacher produces themselves and the quality of their teaching. The most famous, most professionally successful, artists and designers who taught me were generally speaking the worst tutors.

  3. I think an alternative to your 'tightly focussed' is Differentiation

    I teach workshop style with students setting their own agenda with subject and medium. Levels are mixed - beginners to advanced.

    Adults don't always assess their 'level' well anyway I find. Larger egos overestimate their talents and shrinking violets don't realise how good they are.

    I help each develop in their own way, push them to experiment a bit, try things out, observe, read, use sketchbooks etc etc etc

    I've got student doing illustration for books, landscape, observational drawing, more abstract work developing ideas, watercolour, pastel, oil pastel, acrylics, oils, pencil, charcoal and more - all going on at the same time. It means they get to see different ways of working and thinking and can discuss the ideas and techniques and they learn so much. They then often experiment with media or ideas they would never have considered.

    They are a great group and I see my job teaching them as being a catalyst to develop their own voices and interests.

  4. As an artist and professional trainer of adults (non art subjects) the most important training technique, I believe, is guided- discovery. Pretty much what vivien said.

  5. Hi Katherine
    Really great poll, can't wait to see what you find!

    I'm fortunate enough to have a teacher with so many of these qualities--life is good.

  6. I think the answer depends on the position of the student in their own learning and practice. When I consider the teachers I have had over the years there have been the ones who have been inspiring not because of their technique but because they have been passionate about art and supportive. There have also been those who have had good technique and have been able to communicate that well. I agree that it does not necessarily follow that artists who are successful make the best teachers. The worse artist/teacher is someone who gives their time and experience mainly to those students who reflect their own ideas and style. It is dispiriting to sit in a class when this is happening. The best teacher for me is someone who is able to encourage you to keep working despite what you produce.

  7. Thanks for all the really great comments folks - and keep them coming

    I produce a detailed analysis when the poll is over which draws on the comments as much as the votes to explain people's thinking and preferences.

    I also highlight the name of anybody who has made a particularly good comment and link to their blog in the analysis post.

  8. I think anybody who participates in a workshop has a deep desire to learn and is dissatisfied if this is denied.
    Some teachers don't seem to have a concept at all, but I do believe this is essential.
    With a good concept and structure it is much more easier to have participants of different levels within the same group.Those workshops usually don't end up to be a "lala workshop", which feels like a waste of time and money.
    I found out that if a teacher respects this learning desire and the students' work (regardless of the level) students are willing to endure all the ups and downs which go along with making art.

  9. I have two art teachers and both are great in different ways. One teacher is helping me to improve my skills in one media (pastels) and so in this case we are covering fairly advanced techniques which stretch me. The other teacher works with a variety of media and her focus is to encourage creativity and experimentation with different media without worrying about the end result too much. In both cases developing an individual style is encouraged and there is always lots of supportive feedback - even if the end result is less than perfect! I find this encourages me and other members of my art group to remain passionate about the art that we produce. I'm somewhat of a perfectionist and so have a tendancy to be unhappy with my work but with both teachers I leave the room feeling happy with the work I've done and there have been real moments of delight when I've managed to produce something that I'm truly pleased with.


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