Artist-Teacher in the Postmodern Era
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In the twenty-first century, it has become rare for an artist to make work in one single location. The academic notion of the artist retreating to their loft to conjure a masterpiece is an outdated and romantic ideal that is hampered by both economics of the art world and postmodern practices. It was the conceptual artists in the 1960s, who were the leaders of this movement, that originally saw the studio as a type of bondage that limited their creativity – and they sought locations to make art that is specifically aided in developing their ideas. An example might be the physical restrictions of a doorframe or the height of a ceiling and how something so simple can limit the size of art produced in a particular studio. However, this bondage may also refer to the traditional materials of art making as well that limit how and where they can be used – think heavy machinery or light sensitive prints. Given this change in how art is made and its ever-expanding materials, it’s curious that art education at all levels has been so slow to consider such developments. While there are examples, they are the exception rather than the norm.
It’s posited in this paper that the field of art education is an exciting landscape full of potential but when it’s reduced to a disciplinary study, it becomes troublesome and small minded. The concept of the artist-teacher has great potential for understanding both studio and post-studio practices with ramifications for the classroom at all levels of study. At its best, contemporary practices, specifically post-studio processes, offer an incredible amount of potential for thinking through new ways to advance art education. An artist-teacher embraces all forms of art making and has the potential to invigorate the classroom wherever that may be.
Why Art Education?
Throughout the history of art education, the way artists make art has had a huge influence on how they teach it. Any divide to our thinking about artistic processes is a weakness and diminishes our relevance as educators. It is argued that the split between contemporary art-making methods in the twenty-first century and the field of art education is quite large. There is an identity split noted by researchers in art education that shows that art educators often feel less valued and respected than their studio colleagues (Carter 2014; Zwirn 2002). This divide is partially responsible for the awkward transitions that many new teachers face as they contrast how teaching art differs from making art.
The philosophy of the artist-teacher is way of knowing and being (Hickman 2005). Artist-teachers are not just artists who teach, their artistic process is embedded within the various elements of the teaching process (Daichendt 2010). Being an artist-teacher is about applying one’s inner artistic stream of thinking to teaching. This aesthetic perspective has the potential to inform one’s pedagogy on many levels. This understanding of the artist-teacher is synthetic and interwoven, not a combination of separate roles defined by institutions (Daichendt 2010).
The artist-teacher was a modern term that came about in the nineteenth century when practicing artists and designers sought to change particular curriculums to better meet the needs of their students. Reflecting upon their own studio practices, these artists brought aspects of this knowledge to bear in their classrooms, a concept that defined something they believed about teaching and its connection to the larger professional field. In fact, it was an artist named George Wallis in the 1800s who coined the term when reorganizing England’s state curriculum for his specific community.
The artist-teacher model and philosophy for teaching is adept at functioning within a discipline that is constantly changing how art is made. History has demonstrated that embracing the artistic process and bringing contemporary art-making characteristics into the classroom increases one’s opportunity to create meaningful and relevant art education experiences. There are many successful models of contemporary art practices (John Baldessari, Hans Hofmann) in both the late modern and contemporary era where instructors have tapped into their artistic process to create extraordinarily effective educational experiences (Daichendt 2010).
The artist-teacher must embrace the unique aspects of his or her art making and reject any type of conformity. It’s important to realize that there is not a correct way to be an artist-teacher. It’s not a route system that can be learned and applied. It’s a way of thinking about one’s discipline and reflecting on how one goes about making art and how those ideas and processes can be brought into the classroom.
Artist-Teacher Since the 1960s
The artist-teacher can serve as an excellent model for art education programs to utilize when thinking about the level and amount of art making these programs facilitate. It also breaks the schism between studio art and art education programs. Whether it’s the modern or postmodern era, graduating students who do not view themselves as artists are a disservice to themselves and the students who eventually study with them. An artist-teacher must embrace his or her practice and the tenets of being an artist. Long has the art education field tried to separate these two concepts as detrimental to one another since the characteristics don’t appear to compliment the other on the surface level.
One only needs to look for the rising number of graduate programs in art education that emphasize the importance of artist-teacher language in the United States and abroad. Schools like University of West Scotland, New York University, Boston University, and the School of Visual Arts, New York, all stress the importance of the contemporary art world and its importance for preparing art teachers. The Artist Teacher Scheme in the United Kingdom is a national professional development program that allows practicing art teachers to focus on their art making and review their processes. The philosophy of the program maintains that art teachers who preserve such a practice are more effective and satisfied with their work in the classroom. Yet it was developed because so many art teachers lost touch with their own art making, let alone contemporary practices.
From studying the characteristics of contemporary artist-teachers, there is much that can be done to change the waning significance of art in art education. And there is much the field can do on a very small and a large scale to improve art education departments and classrooms around the world, while maintaining a studio practice is important. There are a number of institutional decisions and frameworks worthy of considering for advancing the possibilities of a meaningful crossover for the fields of art education and contemporary art.
The Modern Myth of the Studio
The sixteenth century ideal of a large workshop or studio to facilitate ambitious pieces has remained the standard for artists through the centuries. A workspace represents a home, storage, and success and maintaining a studio as an artist means that you are a genuine and serious artist. There is a myth associated with the artist’s studio. It’s a place where the artist can retreat from the world and conjure new concepts and images never seen before. While the artist may only see the studio as a place to house materials and where the non-glamorous aspects of their work are accomplished, it more often is a romanticized space emphasized by film and furthered by images of modern master’s posing besides historic works leaned against walls.
In 1956, Kirk Douglas played the role of Vincent van Gogh in the film adapted from the novel of the same name, Lust for Life. In the film, the artist piles paintings on top of one another and appears to work at such a feverish pace that his oil paints and rags mix with his food items in the kitchen. A romantic notion of what hard work, success, and the toil of artists should look like. Or more recently, the 2000 film Pollock staring Ed Harris features the Abstract Expressionist retreating to his studio/barn to magically push the entire field of painting forward into a new era. Requiring a space away from distractions, his actual studio in 2018 is now preserved as a museum site, where guests hope to experience some of the magic during their visit.
The studio as theater or as a space designed to sell something (art or the artist) has its origins in the nineteenth century. The studio eventually became a performance space for displaying art. By the nineteenth century, the growing arts community in the United States had come to understand this theater of art as valuable real estate. When completed in 1857, the Tenth Street Studio Building in Manhattan became the first facility of its kind in the United States or Europe. The famed Hudson River School painter, Frederic Edwin Church, maintained a studio there and used theatrical devices to stage and present his art to the public. In fact, in 1859, he suggested that visitors bring opera glasses so they could admire the details in his painting Heart of the Andes. The idea seems comical, but there are many similarities today as artists present themselves (art or identity) through their studio.
There are a number of societal pressures and practical realities that have made maintaining a studio difficult in the twenty-first century. The postmodern era is not one in which artists have governmental nor monarchs to support their craft nor is the cost of maintaining a space economically friendly as the cost of living within a city has risen dramatically since the 1980s. The rise of conceptual art in the 1960s has also reframed how the field thinks about art and its potential. Galleries have a lesser role and art fairs a large one. Cities no longer hold court as the only places to view art. And art is conceptualized as a multitude of practices and can be argued that art can be made anywhere, furthering notions of the studio (where art is made) must exist everywhere as well.
The concept of post-studio art can be traced to a number of individuals who practiced a type of art that devalued the role of the single stand-alone studio as central to art making. Andy Warhol’s Factory; John Baldessari and his forward-thinking curriculum at CalArts; Carl Andre, who called himself a post-studio artist; and even Robert Smithson, who claimed the studio confined his work all were important contributors toward the demise of the traditional studio practice.
Andy Warhol’s studio became a business. Instead of a studio, his factory manufactured art. From his imagery to production, his work was produced for popular consumption. The production line art process is something many artists have continued to mimic that have altered how a traditional studio functions – recent examples might include an artist like Shepard Fairey.
In the twenty-first century, it appears to be more common for artists to make work in more than one single location. Davidts and Paice (2009) address the conventionality of the studio and its loss of relevance since artists began to question many of the assumptions in modern art production and distribution. During the midcentury’s explosion of new media, many types of materials were added to the artist’s arsenal, including use of the landscape as a medium.
A studio can also function as a ball and chain financially for artists that don’t sell enough to support their spaces. The term free-spacing was coined by artist Austin Thomas, who packs up her supplies and utilizes a mobile studio that she establishes herself in public spaces like libraries, vacant offices, or any kind of open space.
A decentralized studio practice rejects the traditional notion of creating an art object in a solitary studio. Instead, artists may look to collaborate, write, organize, perform, or document rather than create something in the traditional sense. This work does not involve a specialty studio and can be accomplished in any type of space with a desk and chair. These artists simply need to room to developing ideas and the execution can take place anywhere depending upon the concept explored. This practice was established by performance and conceptual artists initially but has become more common across the field.
The movement of street art has also been instrumental in rethinking how art is made and how it is distributed. Guerrilla methods of art production subvert the entire studio to gallery process and take the art directly to the people, where they live and work. Working on walls, street artists adapt and change their processes depending on the environment. There are a few exceptions, where street artists devise, plan, and produce the work in a studio and then apply the design like wallpaper to a wall, analogous to an installation. However, the majority of artists must create and execute their work on-site. This does not mean a lack of planning beforehand – only that the specific concept and location allow the artist to produce work that would be unimaginable in another era. This process also demystifies the artistic process and is often more accessible to viewers.
What Does This Mean for Art Education?
As the post-studio artistic processes is reviewed, it becomes clear that twenty-first-century artists do not necessarily create in the same manner as artists from past eras. Terms like “facilitate” and “collaborate” are now used to describe the creation of works of art replacing a view of the artist as the sole genius of a work of art. For art education, the physical location of the classroom models the outdated notion of the stand-alone studio. A postmodern curriculum does not discard or replace modern theories and/or practices but it does require more flexible creative spaces for teachers and students.
- Make efforts for their teaching to be an extension of their studio life.
Can your classroom model contemporary art practices?
Think about the classroom materials/techniques the way an artist thinks about the elements and principles of design – they are meant to be manipulated.
Apply your artistic aptitudes in the educational context. For example: How do you start a work or art? How does that connect to how you start a lesson?
Keep a journal that reflects on your art-making process and how these might connect with your teaching practice.
Not everything happens in the studio, use reflection exercises to map the influences that artists bring into the studio. Brainstorming can happen anywhere and a change in location can alter our thinking. Keep in mind the process from ideation to installation.
Provoke student artists to leave familiar surroundings. Design a project/problem that requires found media from nature or the urban environment to create a finished piece.
Rethink how finished work is displayed? How can student art be reinterpreted for the public square? How does student artwork engage the community outside the of traditional venues for display?
Conceptual art certainly lessened the importance of a brick and mortar studio, but that does not mean there is not a purpose for such a space going forward. The studio means many different things to artists, and they range from office spaces to quasi-exhibition spaces. To say that the studio is dead is ridiculous and summons the authors and critics that announced the death of painting many times over. While Robert Smithson and Daniel Buren have proclaimed such ends, the studio remains an important space for artists, but it’s not a necessity, and it’s no longer a mythic space of an earlier era.
Breaking free from the limitations of the studio was an important development, and art making was broadened and continues to expand as others find new ways to make art. Despite the attacks or changes in how the field thinks about the studio in art education, it still continues as a place for art making. Yet the development that art can and is often created outside the studio is an important component as it opens up new possibilities for arts creation and our understanding of the artist-teacher in the postmodern era.
- Daichendt, G. J. (2010). Artist-teacher: A philosophy for creating and teaching. Bristol: Intellect.Google Scholar
- Davidts, W., & Paice, K. (2009). The fall of the studio: Artists at work. Amsterdam: Valiz.Google Scholar
- Hickman, R. (2005). Why we make art and why it is taught. Bristol: Intellect Books.Google Scholar
- Zwirn, S. G. (2002). To be or not to be: The teaching-artist conundrum. Ed.D. dissertation. New York: Teachers College. Columbia University. Chapter Three.Google Scholar