Dear Teacher…

Girl in Chair, 36 x 36

Have you ever wanted to hand a letter to your art teacher and let them know your thoughts? I have had so very many students tell me of their horrendous experiences with thoughtless teachers. I’m certain that we have all shared in some of these experiences.

I think my favorite teacher horror story is my sister-in-law, Annie’s, tale of her drawing class. She got up the courage to attend a local drawing class. When she entered the room most of the students knew each other and no one greeted her (sound familiar?). The subject matter was a cow skull – no easy assignment for a first timer, geeze. The short of the story is that after much effort by Annie to sketch a skull in graphite, the teacher looked over her shoulder and exclaimed, “You’ve gotta be kidding, right?” This is amusing in the shock of absolute lack of empathy, understanding, or even good manners!  It’s like a TV moment; you’d see it in a sit com, but no one would believe that it could happen. Except anyone whose taken a lot of art classes. (It’s ok to laugh;  Annie quit the class, and has gone on to paint beautiful paintings!)

I’ve heard of teachers painting on student canvases without permission, ruining their work, even completely covering their work. And, much like Annie’s experience, I’ve heard of critical comments by instructors that have literally paralyzed student creativity. Like the breaking of a horse’s spirit.

An artist may be a brilliant painter, but not a good teacher or communicator. Artists may take up teaching for all kinds of reasons especially in today’s economy. Ultimately there should be only one true reason to teach: to inspire others. A teacher must have limitless compassion for the student and a true desire to see that person create joyfully. If you don’t have that kind of commitment to the student, you should honestly stay in the studio and continue to create your own work. Students tell me that I have endless patience, but I never feel impatient. Patience never crosses my mind. I am too focused on what is best for my student to consider any other option. Admittedly, I teach very small classes so I have an advantage here, but any good teacher should have similar intentions.

So, I have written a letter from Student to Teacher. Feel free to copy it if you wish and use it at will. Hand it out on your first day of class. Adapt it as appropriate. And let me know any of your own stories, good and bad, about “Art Class.” My next blog will have a letter from Teacher to Student….stay posted!

Dear Teacher,

I am so excited to be here in this class. Excited, nervous and scared. I have always wanted to create and I am now finally getting the chance. The art store was a small piece of heaven on earth: colors and textures and blank papers full of potential. I have all of my supplies and can’t wait to begin.

I hope I fit in. I don’t know any of these other students and they are probably all really good. I can see that you know many of them and they all seem to be friends. Please introduce me and make me feel welcome. Please ask that your students each share in the creative process.  I am nervous and don’t want to intrude.

I know this may sound silly, but it took a good deal of courage to come here. By being in a class, I will be creating in front of other people and exposing my work (my self) to judgment.  I am not a weak person, but this idea scares me. I am not confident in my abilities as an artist and I am not ready to be judged by others. Please give me words of encouragement, as the slightest doubt of my ability may crush my spirit. You will know if this happens, as I will not have the courage to return to class.

I’m ready for what ever you tell me, and your choice of words really, really matters. I respect you as an artist and I know that you are talented and knowledgeable about your craft. Your praise means more to me than you will ever know. I will remember your words for years to come. I realize that my work needs criticism in order for me to grow as an artist, but please be gentle and mindful of your comments. I will remember your words for years to come.

Thank you for your patience and generosity of spirit in sharing your knowledge. These qualities are paramount in a teacher. If you are patient with me I will absorb your knowledge as fast as I am able.

I am ready now to create.

Yours truly,

My Creative Self




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9 Responses to Dear Teacher…

  1. Jose Jimenez says:

    What a great inspirational you are! I love the painting how long did it take you to complete it?

    • Hi Jose, thank you for your comments! I work in layers over time so it is very hard to say how long it takes to complete any of my paintings. Generally there are at least 4 or 5 paintings underneath the final version. It’s a process of applying paint and then wiping or scraping back to layers under, and layers need to go through drying stages as well. So ultimately it’s a process of weeks or months.

      • Jose Jimenez says:

        I will need to try that process. Whenever I’m painting, I’m so excited about the painting that I just want to finish it all in one layer. It’s a very nice article because my teacher in middle school encouraged me to do what I like and she gave me my first color pencil box. Now I’m a full-time artist.

  2. You’ve written an excellent letter that I plan to share with some of my friends who are beginning to teach art courses. I found you via Xanadu’s email about your open studio webinar. Maybe because I didn’t go to college I didn’t have those horror teachers & most of my teachers were very giving and open, but I did have a weekend workshop here & there where the instructor was so full of himself that instead of learning I was intimidated. I emulate the giving teachers and learned ‘what not to do’ from the bad ones.

    • Thank you Linda, I’m so happy that you plan to share the “letter.” Most teachers are truly caring as they guide and encourage artists, and I believe that most of the “poor teachers” simply are ignorant of their affect on students. And some of them simply do not know how to communicate, i.e.. teach. ;-)
      Best wishes to you and keep on creating!

  3. What a great and inspirational thought!! So glad you shared it as inspiration to all artists.
    I attended colleges in both Canada and the U.S. during the mid to late 1970′s. The first thing I learned about professors was that they were obsessed with handing out huge supply lists that turned out to be materials never used in class. When questioned, the only response was that they were exposing their students to new materials they would have at their disposal for possible use.
    Since I was paying foreign student tuitions, having materials not being used was a gross waste of my hard earned money. I wouldn’t have minded if they actually taught the use of these expensive materials, but making us purchase them and then saying, “Play with them at your leisure” was an unnecessary expenditure.
    The 70′s was the age of abstract art and I tended toward realism. My professors actually said, “If that’s all you can do, why don’t you just buy a camera.” (Colour film was new back then!!)
    I was pretty sure of myself and asked them if they could do it. When they said, “No” I retorted, “Then, leave me to advance my own skills because there has to be a reason I can paint and draw like this”.
    The moral of this story is that I went on to become one of North America’s top photographic and fine art restoration artisans where photographic and realist painting skills are absolutely critical to exacting restorations. I am an award-winning portrait painter and internationally know fine artist, and…if I do say so myself (or read through my student’s letters)…am a pretty exceptional fine art teacher.
    I have taught high school, college and private art classes for more than thirty-five years.
    I teach cost effectively when it comes to supplies, absolutely inspirational, and motivate each of my students to be the best they can be using the talents they have. With any additional knowledge I can give give them the only reason to be with students is to assist them in the making great works of art—–no matter what that might be defined for each of them individually.
    Art students just need to keep searching for the best teachers that give them the best knowledge, encouragement, and opportunities. They are out there.

    • Hi Kathryn! It’s great to hear from you. Thank heaven you had the courage of your convictions and talent and continued with your vision in your art! Not every artist does at such a young age. And, fortunately, those early experiences can lead many of us, who actually LOVE to teach, become better mentors. It certainly sounds as if you have found your true calling. Best wishes to you and keep creating and inspiring those who come to you, and thank you for your thoughtful post. m

  4. Eric says:

    I’ve had professors tell me, “If you paint like this you’ll never have a career.” I’ve had my great paintings minimized in critiques vs. a girl who wiped snots on a wall and called it art. I had a girl who made Cheerios in her underwear for a performance be hailed s genius by the faculty of my university. I’m with you. Just remember, it doesn’t make any sense outside the university walls and no one will buy crazy. Stick to your guns and believe in yourself.

    • Hi Eric. It truly is surprising how a university and crush the spirit of an artist and/or mold them into copies of the professors. I’ve heard that kind of story time and again. ABSOLUTELY “stick to your guns” and have faith in yourself and your work. It can be difficult to separate ourselves from the work that we are so passionate about, however I find that it is necessary to do so in order to survive in the art world. It can take a great deal of searching to find just the right teacher/mentor for each individual artist: someone who supports and understands your “vision,” instead of judging your work through their own “lens.”
      Best wishes to you, and keep creating!!!

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