It was early in my art teaching career. I was enjoying a local art/craft show on the weekend. I wandered into an artist’s booth, a ceramic artist if I remember correctly. We struck up a conversation and I learned she had also been an art teacher who had retired early. I forget how the conversation developed, but at one point she asked me if I had ever heard the phrase about art teachers. I suppose I looked confused. She went on to tell me that art teachers are commonly said to be a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. The perception is that art teachers know a little about many different art mediums, but do not specialize in anything.
It is true that as art teachers, we need to be proficient in many areas of art – drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, weaving…the list goes on. Yet the “Master of None” part of her statement stuck with me long after leaving her booth. In fact, it has stuck with me to this day! I didn’t like the way this statement made me feel. I was good enough to teach, but not good enough to demonstrate mastery?
At that point, I decided I was going to be a master! And that became my philosophy of teaching. I would be the art teacher who practiced what I preached. I was an artist, and that would shape the way I taught.
I no longer remember the order of events. At some point, I began to take a watercolor class with local accomplished watercolorist Jim McFarlane (who also happened to have been my high school art teacher – I guess this nut didn’t fall too far from the tree!) I painted faithfully every Monday evening to develop my skills in watercolor. I began entering local art shows and an award here & there, and even a few sales, encouraged me that I was on the right track.
I shared my life as an artist with my students and it made a difference. I shared the triumphs, but more importantly, I shared the disappointments and failures. They knew I was talking from experience, so when I insisted they needed to work through a YUK Stage in their work, they would wipe away the tears and plow ahead. I shared personal stories of hitting a plateau and feeling as if my art ability had vanished, only to realize that marked a point of learning and change. My work always changed and improved after such a plateau. My students learned that disappointments are part of the learning experience.
I eventually moved on to painting in pastel. It has become the focus of my mastery. I set goals for my art career, and I slowly attained them. When I achieved signature status in the Pastel Society of America, my students cheered for me. I retired from teaching in the public school system almost 4 years ago, after a career of 34 years. Even now, students that I taught 10, 20, even 30 years ago will sometimes surprise me by showing up at a solo show of my work.
So, to whoever came up with that phrase about art teachers, I’d like to thank you. You ignited a fire in me that shaped my teaching career and the art career that I am now enjoying full time.