Art & Education

Are you an artist? An educator? Both? This guide will help you balance the crazy that comes with pursuing art AND education.

art and education

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Master Your Inner Demons

Your heart still secretly hopes to be discovered as a world-class artist, but your passions for education leads you to spend the majority of your time in the classroom. You have to put up with a lot of nonsense statements from uninformed people about how serious artists don’t teach.

But are they right? Sometimes doubt creeps in, or the desire to work solely as an artist becomes more prominent.

If this describes you, you are not alone. I work with educators all over the world through this MA program designed for art teachers, and the inner emotional and mental fight between being an artist or an educator is a common theme.

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You Can Be Both

You can be both at different times in your life. Or you can do neither at different times in your life. You can do just art or just education at different times in your life.

The key to calming the inner turmoil is to own whichever path you are on while you are on it, and to recognize that you can change paths as the seasons in your life change.

If you are choosing to teach in a classroom and not make art, recognize that it’s ok to focus on teaching right now. Maybe this is the place in your journey where you really grow and master the art of teaching, and that is a wonderful thing.

If at some point in the future you want to pursue art primarily, you can change your priority. And that’s ok too. You are not a fraud of an educator if you take a time-out from teaching to focus on making art.

You don’t have to do everything all the time. Accepting that you are actively choosing to let go of something for a while (not forever, not permanently, just for now) helps you master the inner demons. It also enhances the joy in the path that you are currently choosing with thought and purpose.

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Master Saying No in Both Art & Education

You receive an invitation to a figure drawing session. Someone wants you to join the state art education association board. Ooo! A group show invite! Your principal offers to pay for you to get your MA degree (LoL, I know, I know, but it does happen sometimes.)

Remember the “Master Your Inner Demons” thing we were talking about a few paragraphs ago? This is where it applies. If you are owning being an educator, join the state art association or pursue the advanced degree. Say no to the others. It is not their turn.

But… but… what if you miss out on something?

The fear of missing out is real. But what is rarely part of that conversation is what you are missing out on by pursuing too much at once. Your time and energy become more fragmented with every “yes!” you issue in your life. The inner conflict between being an artist or a teacher grows with every activity that is not in line with your current stated purpose.

Instead of seeing the invitations you turn down as missed opportunities, consider framing them as distractions. Focus on how lucky you are to be able to dedicate your precious time to the thing you care most about right now. Consider how much more deeply you can value the experiences you do commit to when excess opportunities are discarded.

In order to have meaningful growth in the path you are currently choosing, you have to commit to it. You have to give it space and time to breathe. And that means saying no to the things that are out of season.

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The Art of Mastering Your Time

Time is our most precious resource. If we are lucky, we get about 4,000 weeks on this Earth to spend. But there is no amount of money that can buy back even a minute of your life once it is spent.

Time is a resource to be guarded carefully and spent wisely. And nothing is more costly than the ever-present threat of time creep. In both art and education, it is incredibly challenging to keep time creep out of our professional lives.

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Time Creep

We’ve all battled time creep… This student needs me an extra 15 minutes after school. That potential painting commission client wants to meet me for coffee an hour away. This class turned in all their work late so now I have to grade at home. That gallery wants me to reframe all 15 drawings. This new school policy means I have to document all my lessons in a completely different format, and on and on and on.

Even worse, there is a heroism complex in both art and education that rewards allowing time creep to run rampant such as working 10 hour days, grading until midnight, and sacrificing weekends with our friends and families to “catch up at work”.

It is imperative to wrestle back control of our time in order to find a balance with art and education that actually works for us and brings fulfillment to our lives. Because it doesn’t matter if we decide this is the season for being an artist or an educator if we have no time with which to pursue our choice meaningfully.

Work expands to fill the time we allot to it. Therefore, it is essential to put firm boundaries around work hours and guard outside hours with all our might.

I am going to say something that is somehow controversial in education:

If you are contracted to work from 7am-3pm, you work from 7am-3pm. Period.

If 3pm rolls around and you still have grading to do. Too bad. It will have to wait to be done until tomorrow.

Maybe you change your grading system to be simpler so you can do it faster during your allotted time during the day for grading.

Alternatively, you grade during teaching time.

Or maybe you decide that being present for teaching students is more important than grading during the class period and adopt an anti-grading system of everyone gets an A.

Or possibly you don’t grade that assignment at all.

The only unacceptable choice is to allow this task to eat up your precious and non-renewable life energy that is earmarked for other things. How are you going to truly learn in your MA program if you are ignoring your own assignments to grade those of your students?

It is little wonder that art teachers are constantly pining for more time to create their own artwork considering that the standard in education is to work all day, come home and work, and then work weekends. It’s madness. Uncompensated madness. Life-energy consuming madness.

Remember, those 4000 weeks are the only weeks you will ever have. When they are spent, they are gone forever. Make sure that when you do spend them, it is done intentionally to fulfill your stated purpose.

If you are feeling conflicted about whether you are an artist or a teacher, try taking back some of your time to make the space you need to explore these different aspects of yourself.

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Art & Education

You can focus on being an art teacher today, and an artist in a different season in your life. Or vice-versa. You can create space for your stated focus by saying “no” to the constant shiny objects. You can make the intentional choice to extract hours from the time-creep monster so that you have meaningful time to spend on your art. All of these are deliberate choices that are available to you. Ultimately, however,  it is up to you to choose whether they are worthy of pursuing.

Do you ever feel conflicted about being an artist or an educator? Share your story in the comments below.

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  1. Excellent advice in managing time. In addition to teaching I also run a couple of art groups which takes up WAY more time than I had initially thought they would. I think I need to take the idea that I will ONLY put in X number of hours for each group and then call it done.
    I’ve also wrestled with how much time in the classroom vs how much time in my studio and how to balance it. In Gail Sheehy’s book, “Passages”, each decade of our life usually has certain priorities. I think the same is true when we teach, create, learn, though not by decades but by our own chapters. Getting comfortable saying no and taking the time we need is much more valuable than we, or certainly I, give it credit for.

    1. Ooo, thank you for the book recommendation! I agree with your thoughts about balancing time. Thank you for using some of your valuable time to share your thoughts with others 🙂

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