The art of teaching art

Robert Genn

October 13, 2006

Yesterday, Lucrecia Claure of La Paz, Bolivia, wrote: "What do
you think about teaching? I am a new artist, with a couple of
shows in my city. I also teach. Sometimes I wonder if I'm
teaching too much. Some of my students now paint like me. Do
you think I should teach only a little, and not everything that
I've achieved? What are the main problems for artists who

Thanks, Lucrecia. I find it impossible to teach without telling
everything I know--which sometimes takes several minutes.
Seriously, I like sharing every little bit of arcane info that
I can possibly drag up. I think most teachers feel the same
way. And while you may think that having students grab your
precious knowledge and clone your work is a problem--it isn't.
In my experience it tends to be the weaker teachers--and the
weaker artists--who are the most worried about this. The real
problem is that teaching can stealthily eviscerate your own
need for art-making.
Of course, there are those who find teaching to be a stimulus.
And because many of us have a hard-wired need to share--and
teaching is an obvious vehicle--we need to find ways of
satisfying this need. Teaching art is not like teaching
accountancy. In the first place, individuals in an art class
are likely to have vastly different expectations, potentials
and prior experiences. Because everybody's on a different page,
you need to adjust your methodology. I modestly call mine "The
Genn Method of Teaching Art." Users of this system find that
TGMTA helps them more quickly and better, while maintaining the
health of their own creative desires and capabilities. Here's
how TGMTA works:

A feeling of "We're all friends here" must be established. In a
game-like environment and an urgent atmosphere, all the
students start by going to work on current projects at their
own level of proficiency. When the instructor feels that some
direction can be reasonably offered, she engages on a
one-to-one basis. Students may gather or disperse. On occasion
the instructor may pontificate for the whole group. She may
quickly demonstrate her own or another's work (with permission)
for whoever may be interested. Examples of work, good and bad,
finished or not, are held up for quick discussion. There's an
interactive crit at the end of every session. For the student,
it's a celebration of individuality within the joy of the
Best regards,


PS: "Association with pupils keeps one's work youthful.
Critiquing others keeps one's point of view clear." (William
Merritt Chase, 1849-1916)
Esoterica: I owe some of my thinking to legendary instructors
Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase. In the Genn Method, the
"group leader" is a very busy and observant character. While
alternately bombarding students and leaving them in pregnant
silence, her approach is nevertheless anticipatory and
dependent on the will of individuals within the group. This
goes a long way in avoiding the toxicity of recipes. The
instructor must be able to think on her feet and thus make it a
learning experience for herself as well. Her job is to give
authoritative crits, tips, demos, as well as input from
Leonardo, Mike, Vincent, Georgia and others. It's good to
instill a feeling of the historic brotherhood and sisterhood.
Students benefit when they keep their pride and lose their