Artists As Teachers: Helping Us Reach Potential

In spite of increasing scientific evidence that the arts can enhance brain power and help connect people more deeply with their communities, art education in elementary and secondary schools has been slipping away for more than three decades. Tight budgets and over-crammed classrooms have forced those making school funding decisions to give priority to the educational programs whose benefits can be more readily measured, such as math and science. What they miss, however, is that engaging in the arts can have a profound effect on aptitude in these other fields of study.

This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Professional Artist. Click here to download or purchase other archive issues.

Contains excerpts from her book Vision, Passion and Purpose: Artists As World Changers.

Artists who choose to resist the political implications of such thinking and become educators both inside and outside the classroom are some of the most essential contributors to a healthy society, one in which every individual can attain his or her greatest potential. Good teachers have a passion to share their knowledge and motivate others. They are endowed with a compassionate, empathetic and positive disposition. They are patient, non-judgmental, and refrain from criticism. They are receptive and adaptable to new theories and solutions to communicating with their students. The extraordinary artists featured in this article have found their unique and special purposes as teachers. They are also active in their communities. They are eager to share their passion and philosophy about their teaching skills and to express the many benefits they derive from teaching. Their positive influence is immeasurable, and I’m sure their words will inspire you.

Helena Domenic: Teaching to Unite

“I am an educator. I see teaching as a calling, a vocation, a means for helping others go from one place to another.” Helena Domenic (www.helenadomenic. com) is an artist and educator living in Pennsylvania. She teaches at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest historically African American university in the U.S. Helena explains that, for her, teaching has revealed that art transcends culture, language, bias and prejudice: “Studying and teaching the history of art — both Western and African art — reminds me of my own place in the cosmos, and of how context and perception shape our experiences of art. Art is a bridge that allows us to cross gaps we might not have anticipated, helps us to contend with whatever the world may throw our way. Art helps us to speak the unspeakable, to heal the wounds of individuals and cultures. Art is essential. It brings people together in ways before unimaginable.”

Nancy Reyner: Teaching to Expand Personal Creativity

“My goal is to give each student the next best step — whatever that requires — on the way to finding the medium, style, and approach that best enables students to ‘speak’ through their work.” Nancy Reyner (www.nancyreyner.com) is an artist and teacher in New Mexico. For more than 20 years, she has taught at all levels, from Columbia University in New York to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. She is also the bestselling author of instructional art technique books and DVDs, including her most recent, Acrylic Innovation: Styles and Techniques Featuring 64 Visionary Artists. When Nancy lived in New York City, she also taught in Harlem through the Artist-in-the-Schools Program. When she relocated to New Mexico, she was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to teach at four pueblo elementary schools on the reservation. Currently, Nancy teaches a broad range of art mediums and processes. Her all-day workshops are in high demand because, as one of her students described, “They are unintimidating, energized, informative, personal, and charged with art news, ideas, and new processes.” “I enjoy breaking down advanced concepts and techniques to easy bite-size pieces,” explains Nancy. “I demonstrate a multitude of techniques and styles in a short [20 minutes or less] presentation, and then have students use any number of these to combine and restate it in their own way. I want students to add their own personal creativity. This, then, becomes a part of their art making habit. “By alternating short demonstrations with hands-on projects throughout the workshop day, I intend to accomplish the following goals: maintain a benefi cial rhythm and pace; have fun; experience a wide variety of painting methodologies; explore how ideas can be generated through a playful collaboration with materials; and allow maximum fl ow of the individual creative experience.”

Cyndy Carstens: Teaching Moms Art to Build Self-Esteem

“I wish I could show you the faces of the moms when they finish a painting — they are so proud and excited about their piece! Those smiling faces are the best gifts!” Arizona artist Cyndy Carstens (www.cyndycarstens.com) has been involved in the arts since early childhood. Tragedy and illness have long propelled her toward the fervent belief in the power of art to heal and create solutions. When she learned about Maggie’s Place, a community that provides homes of hospitality for expectant mothers who are alone or are living on the streets, her life took a profound new direction. Cyndy explains, “I was searching for a way to give the moms and staff of Maggie’s Place a very real sense and example of the harmony and peace that I gain from creating art.” She subsequently initiated the “Expressive Art Program.” Using art materials from her own studio and donations from local artists and art supply stores, Cyndy uses the gifts of meditation, music, laughter and historical art examples to guide participants to “express” their innermost feelings in color and form. Cyndy’s program provides these young expectant moms a release mechanism for their creative energies, promoting confi dence, self-esteem and dignity. Cyndy reports that many of the wonderful paintings generated from the program have been reproduced as greeting cards that are being sold to support the numerous needs of the Maggie’s Place homes. She has future aspirations to expand the “Expressive Art Program” to more Maggie’s Place homes in areas including Utah, Ohio and South Carolina.

Scape Martinez: Teaching Youth to Transform and Reform

“I believe in showing young adults the power of their creativity, and how their thoughts can open up possibilities in their lives … in short, I still believe in the transformative power of art.” Scape Martinez (www.scapemartinez.com) is a graffiti artist and author from San Jose, California. His first book, GRAFF: The Art and Technique of Graffi ti, is an international bestseller. His most recent book is Graff 2: Next Level Graffi ti Techniques. Scape presents lectures and workshops at high schools and colleges on such topics as: “Art vs. Vandalism”; “Finding Your Future”; and “Graffi ti vs. Abstract Art.” He focuses on graffi ti art and the hands-on use of spray paint, and explains, “Really, it is a way to expose the young students to an art form in a supervised, safe way. Some kids are wild about graffi ti, but have never handled a spray can, while others may be adept at the art form, but need direction. I try to show them the expressive nature of graffi ti art … combining letters and writing to create pictures that are unique to them.” About his relationship to his students, Scape shares, “My greatest reward is that I believe that I am the student. My students teach me more than I could teach them. I go humbly with a heart to serve, and let whatever happens, just happen. When I speak, it is like a journey of self-discovery, because a lot gets shared, and art is just the beginning — the dangling carrot, if you will. The reward is connecting with what’s behind the carrot.”

Marié Sakai: Teaching To Provide Universal Healing

“I believe that it is in sharing our stories, our hopes, and our dreams that we better ourselves as human beings to shine our light and become more part of the world to heal, and be healed by others and to ultimately, heal the world at large.” Marié Sakai (artistseeker.blogspot.com) is an artist, art educator and illustrator who has exhibited work in the U.S. and Italy. For the past fi ve years, she has worked in the art world teaching at-risk teens painting, drawing and sculpture. She teaches art to children who may not have the opportunity to take art classes in their schools because serious budget cuts eliminate these types of extra-curricular activities. Marié hopes that other artists and teachers will stand up and promote the power of art that profoundly affects children in a positive and a meaningful way. Aware of art as a healing form of communication, Marié has worked with at-risk children and teens to develop a deeper psychological intuition where art becomes a positive outlet to share ideas. Previously teaching the fundamentals of art through the Philadelphia Mural Artworks and the Boys & Girls Club, she fostered a supportive environment that was not only educationally gratifying for these students, but gave them the ability to express their visions.

Jenny Balisle: Teaching Grad Students to Find Their Artistic Path

“Pure delight is seeing students develop an artistic style that is truly unique to them. When my students reach that ‘aha moment,’ it’s truly magical.” Jenny Balisle (jennyebalisle.com) is an artist and a teacher at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. She derives tremendous pleasure from her work: “I hope that to teach is also to inspire by example. A balance between teaching and my art practice is essential to being the best educator possible.” Jenny defi nes her goal as, “To help students fi nd their path as artists and cope with the struggles through their academic journey from start to fi nish. I guide them to honestly analyze, ask questions and understand the reasons behind their art. I guide them to become independent and to make smart decisions … In my opinion, we need the arts more than ever. I feel teaching is my small part to foster innovation and create hope.”

Choosing the Path If you’ve never taught art before, you don’t need to look far to discover opportunities. You don’t need an M.F.A. You can teach in your own studio, or take your creative passion to a local school or nonprofit organization. If you teach with compassion and motivation, you can make a difference. As art educator Marié Sakai reminds us: “If we teach the soul in art and this heals others, then we can heal the world, together – one child, one adult, one community at a time.”

Renée Phillips, known as “The Artrepreneur Coach,” teaches artists how to succeed. Her current book project is Vision, Passion and Purpose: Artists As World Changers. She is also the author of Success Now! For Artists: A Motivational Guide For The Artrepreneur and Presentation Power Tools for Fine Artists. She is founder of Manhattan Arts International (www.ManhattanArts.com). Renée invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

© Professional Artist June 2011