Thesis update: Making Art and Teaching

Hello! My name is Jamie, and I’m a graduate student in my last semester in the Art Education department at CCNY.  I’m also an artist, a Fellow Artist-Teacher at the Joan Mitchell Foundation, and mother to an 8 and an 11 year old. Not long into this semester, my daughter presented me with a motivational cartoon. A pile of papers with a frown and arms akimbo was speaking to me, “Sorry, Jamie. I know you dislike writing me. You can do it.” This speaking paper creature was labeled “Boring Mr. Thesis”. I do have to admit that writing my thesis is not (so far) my favorite part of my educational career, but it has turned out to be something other than boring. That’s because I’m focusing on two things that I feel very strongly about, making art and teaching art.

Several years ago I began a career change and one reason I came to art education (from graphic design) was my desire for my job to be more connected with my art making. Becoming an art education student at CCNY absolutely sparked my creative energy. In the Fall of 2014, I joined the education department at the Joan Mitchell Foundation as a Fellow in their new Artist-Teacher Fellowship program and this teaching job brought a second wave of inspiration to my art making practice. Like many teaching artists, I am taking this path because I want a profession that will allow me to pursue my own artwork. So it was particularly exciting for me to join a diverse community of practicing artists who were also dedicated art teachers. I began to wonder about my colleagues experiences. How had the other Artist-Teachers at JMF merged these two professions, artist and teacher? It didn’t take long to realize that Joan Mitchell Foundation was a unusually great place to work, with excellent teacher support and training. I decided to explore the idea of professional development, in light of these two simultaneous practices, teaching and making art. Specifically, I interviewed Artist-Teachers at the Joan Mitchell Foundation to explore how they experienced the organization’s professional development. In what ways did they make use of that training in their teaching practices and their creative practices? In what ways did working at JMF impact their ability to successfully merge the two distinct professions?
I found a lot of research on professional development for teaching artists, and a good amount on the ways studio practice and teaching practice can influence each other.  Many write about the potential benefits of simultaneously teaching and making art, that individuals who are themselves engaged in creative acts may be better prepared to inspire creativity in their students. There is also writing about the positive influence that teaching can bring to artists’ practice and a considerable amount written on the  practical difficulties and conflicts that arise from attempts to simultaneously maintain both teaching and art making practices. This matters to me personally, but it is also important on a larger scale. It matters to the project of art education in this country and to the goal of having a culture that values the the processes of art (creativity) not only the products (artworks).* I’ve yet to analyze the findings from the interviews I conducted with JMF Artist-Teachers, but I hope to find some ideas that inspire further study, and some suggestions as to how arts educators might be supported in their own creative work. To all my fellow thesis writers, hang in there. Zip and zoom forward, type, tYouCanDoItype type. You can do it!
*For a great piece of writing on this, see Eric Booth’s essay on creative engagement.

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