Those who can, do...A few days ago I overheard some friends discussing art teachers. Having been there, done that, for 26 years, my ears perked up immediately. (I have pretty perky ears.) I didn't actually join in the discussion, but what they had to say was interesting. It centred on the difficulty of finding good adult art instruction - finding a painting teacher who could both paint and instruct, as well as inspire. They were fascinated by instances in which an excellent teacher could also be a rather mediocre painter. Then one of my friends turned around and looked at me and asked point blank, "I wonder what Jim Lane thinks about all of this?"
Gulp... "Well," I said, my mouth suddenly gone dry, "it happens." I've spent about half my life trying to disprove the old saying, "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach." And like me, there are thousands of working, teaching artists who stand as living proof of the fallacy of this equation. But sayings such as this, sayings that have been around as long as this one, don't just grow out of a cute play on words. Such people, sad to say, do exist, though I don't think their existence justifies the popularity or perversity of such a statement. From experience I can tell you it's quite possible to know a lot about some art medium, and be very adept at teaching it, yet have no desire to indulge. For instance, I taught eighth graders needlepoint for 20 years yet never did one in my whole life. And, I guess, if I were brutally honest, there are those who, by some standards, would consider me a mediocre painter while having successfully taught painting for decades at all levels of competence.
The reason behind this dichotomy is the fact that what it takes to make a good artist differs significantly from the requirements in being a good teacher. Just look at the other side of the coin. I'm sure we've all encountered fantastic artists who were flat out lousy teachers. I know I have and more often than I like to think. Good artists have only to inspire themselves. The good teacher must inspire others, and believe me; the latter is far more difficult. Beyond that, good teachers must be highly verbal, able to, not just adequately, but eloquently express themselves. Artists are often, by their very nature, introverted. Such people are not only desperately hard to teach, they don't make for good teachers either.
Though all of these things are factors, I suspect the major reason there sometimes exist outstanding teachers who seldom practice their art is that in teaching art all day, every working day, at least nine months out of the year, they simply don't have the mental, creative stamina to pick up a brush when they go home at night. We all know those who are addicted to art. I know a high school art teacher who has taught now for forty years and still turns out as many paintings as she does painters. To a lesser degree, and for a lot shorter time span, I too fell into this category. But I've also known the feeling of not wanting to do art after teaching it all day. Despite what some may think, I'm not an art addict. I've always had another life. Thus, as much as I've sought to disprove the "those who can, do, those who can't, teach" mantra, I also understand where it comes from and where such teachers are coming from.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
4 August 2001