I spoke with Iliya Mirochnik, a Brooklyn based artist and teacher, about his reasons for being an art instructor.  Though I have known him for many years, in and out of the classroom, I had never inquired specifically as to his motivations. Having trained for seven years at the prestigious Repin Academy in Russia, a school famously not for the faint of heart, I was quite intrigued to hear a darkly complex and worldly response, reflective of the years he devotedly studied and suffered for his craft. 

“Art is a language,” he said.  “A universal one. It explains the things we can’t.” 

 I liked this answer, not only because it is a lovely thought that I happen to agree with, but also because it revealed that he truly saw value in teaching, beyond mere practical employment for a gifted artist.  I have met and spoken with other artists throughout the years who have had much different ideas about teaching.  Some have described it as a means to an end, a present paycheck and future line on a CV. They did not seem to have any particular strong feelings about the concepts or philosophies of Art Education.  Another artist I knew, a rather talented illustrator, repeatedly refused any offer of teaching employment, believing that being an instructor somehow negated his effect/identity as a “true” artist.  For him, teaching was somehow akin to failure, or an admission that he was not talented enough to reach his own success.  This artist’s musician friend, who was also present at this conversation, said he would consider being teacher if he came across a “really exceptional” student.

 I’ve thought a lot about these past exchanges in the context of beginning this course.  I had not considered them too carefully at the time, since teaching art was not then on my radar and I sort of still carried some of the detached artistic romanticism of my all-or-nothing youth.  I think that these are some of the prevailing thoughts surrounding arts education, from artists and non-artists alike.  Some do not recognize the importance of such things, or realize the significance of creative development.  Others dismiss the practice as a kind of hobbyist enterprise, of interest only to those who couldn’t become artists themselves.  Or they think it is a worthy pursuit, provided the students are sufficiently talented to provide validation. 

 But, it’s true.  Art is a language, and not only for artist and art enthusiasts.  Anyone can become fluent and be the better for it.  The painting and drawing classes I’ve taken the past few years haven’t been part of an established educational system, but they have been invaluable for my sense of growth as a person and have taught me new ways to appreciate the things I have always loved.

 I believe in a vision of a school system with a creative foundation.  It shows a hopeful progress, and faith in the potential for connection, innovation, and cultural growth through the language of the arts.  These are things we all—students, educators, and citizens—will benefit from.