plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

The title may seem to say the obvious, but in fact, it is not so simple. The problem comes because of the way we think about art and education today.

In the Renaissance, an artist received training from a master by working on the master’s projects. The master had a strong incentive to teach, because good assistants were essential for making a major artwork. Teaching was thus not separate from the master’s work. Instead, it was critical to the productive success of the studio.

A similar method is used for teaching at the highest levels of education today. For example, a graduate student in biology will do research in a specific laboratory, under guidance of a recognized scientist. Only a small part of the student’s education comes through “classroom teaching”. The scientist has a strong incentive to teach his or her students how to do real research, because a group effort is necessary for major research projects.

But art education today is a completely different story. Artists get paid to do “classroom” teaching. But teaching in this mode does not contribute directly to the artist’s own work. Instead, it becomes an impediment.

Why should the wonderful (and profitable) job of teaching be an impediment for artists? I think it comes from the way we think of art as a solitary endeavor. An artist can teach others, but is expected to work alone. This prevents the artist and his or her students from working together. It separates art from art education. A functional connection between art and education would benefit both.