Evaluating Your Art Instructors

Artists often go out of their way to learn new techniques from well-established instructors.

You might drive a long distance, hop on a plane, or invest a good chunk of change.

Today’s deep thought comes from a reader who thinks you probably have something to say about these instructors.

Paper with A+

Deep Thought

WITHOUT NAMING NAMES (unless it’s good stuff!) . . . Think about the workshops and classes you have taken to further the knowledge of your craft.

What did you like about your art instructor(s)?

What did you dislike? What could he/she have done better?

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30 comments to Evaluating Your Art Instructors

  • I once took a class where a teacher told us about her upcoming surgery. She said she told the doctors, “Just cut it out of me!” A bit too personal, I thought.

  • One of my instructors taught Illustration, which I had for two semesters. Although I’d been drawing figures since childhood, I never would’ve learned to express it so well without her aide. In my selected study for Fashion Design, we were to learn a stylized method of figure drawing. It was delightful to see how quickly everyone caught on, even those who thought they couldn’t draw! :) I had many great professors there at International Fine Arts in Miami- but this special thanks is for Miss Norma Marin. Thank you Alyson…those lessons im glad to recall.

  • JJ

    A couple of years ago I took a class from an instructor who had self-published a book (I hadn’t known about the book when I signed up for the class). Instruction was to begin at 9:00 with 1 hour of introductions and a slide presentation.

    6 people were supposed to be in the class, but one hadn’t arrived. We waited for her as the teacher kept talking about himself, adding some very inappropriate comments about his wife to the all female class. Finally at 10:15 he announced he would start the class without the no-show and proceeded to retell a lot of the stories he had shared earlier. This dragged on until nearly 11:30 (no break) before he wanted to begin the slide show. At that point, several of the women asked to take a restroom break and he became offended that we were “breaking his stride.”

    Later that afternoon when we finally got to the technique portion of the class, several of the women needed to ask a few questions and the answer he gave was “it’s in the book.” After the 3rd or 4th time, I replied I hadn’t known there had been assigned reading for the class and he nastily said “there wasn’t.”

    I should have left but I very much wanted to learn his technique. The next two days were torture (he spoke about himself NON-STOP–he could not handle silence) but thankfully the ladies were very nice and they made it bearable.

    At the end of the workshop he wanted everyone to share a poem about their life. Of course he wanted to go first and went on to tell a very long and very sad story in 3rd person about growing up without a father. The story explained a lot as to why he was the way he was, but at that point all I wanted to do was get on the road and go home. I was next in line to share my poem, but instead excused myself and said my goodbyes so I could get on the road to start my 4 hour journey home.

    Because of this experience, I have been hesitant to take more workshops unless I get referrals from other artists I know or see feedback from their students on their site.

  • S. Charto

    I once took a calligraphy course where the teacher let in 2 ten year old boys who didn’t want to be there – She spent most of the time disciplining the boys.
    My pet peeves – are “let’s just wait a few minutes for the late comers” and when they finally come, then spend twenty minutes introducing everyone. I want to get started. While I am friendly, honestly I don’t really need to know other people’s backgrounds only the teachers. I’ll meet people at the break
    I took a course with Mike Svob – so generous with his knowledge. It was great to have a teacher with a sense of humour.

    • S: Oh, I’m with you on the “get started fast” aspect. You can do introductions later, but you have to capture and hold attention immediately. This is a lesson that I had to learn over time.

      • Interesting, as an instructor I find the introductions very important. You know that saying, “know your audience.” I’d like to know the student or participants background: academe verses self-taught; experience level ( I don’t to spend more time on basics if everyone is more experienced and vice versa).
        Also I use the introduction to map the class – as we go around for the introduction I draw a seating map and write down names. I find this helps a great deal to remember names, which always surprises and impresses my students.
        So students please be patient during the intro, as an instructor it’s vital to me.

  • I am both an instructor and a student so I see both sides of the problems and the results. Reading these comments are enlightening. My pet peeve as instructor is that it puts stress on us to have someone late! We have a contact number so please call and let us know you are late or stuck in traffic and how long you will be. I have a beginning to my workshops for everyone to introduce themselves as it helps me to also know their level of competence and it gives everyone a feeling of where they are in their journey. If they are too long an introduction I do stop it and move on.
    As a student I have the same complaints as others, other students being late, instructor directing me to their written materials I never read and not teaching what was in the syllabus about the course.
    I do have students complain (whine maybe more like it) that I don’t hand them a PDF of step by step instructions for each lesson. I used to do this years ago and it started more problems than pleasing them. Instead of LISTENING TO ME and WATCHING ME they read their PDF and were making notes in them and I had to do it all over again. My solution now is I’m starting to give them digital pdf ONLY and not until the end of the class so they take it home with them as a reminder for the lesson. We will see how that works out.
    One last note, yes, I do have tutorials for sale at the end of the workshop. I know my students paid to come to class but I would have to charge even more if I didn’t try to make back some travel expenses, etc. food, etc. with a product to sell. No pressure, no selling during the lessons, no holding back info that is in the tutorials but it’s an opportunity to purchase the variety of lessons that when I am in a teaching mode alone, I am able to add in more information.
    I’m sorry this is so long, but I wanted to bring some balance to both sides.
    I am happy to say I have a huge percentage of repeat students. Never had anyone ask for a refund or a complaint. So I hope that means I’m doing something right on the instructor side.

  • I took a workshop with Ray Hassard, http://rayhassard.com and remain impressed with his generous, on point, and understandable instruction. AND he is an amazing painter. Compare that to someone who shall remain nameless who was halfway through his demo when he said, “If you want to see me finish this painting, you will have to buy my dvd”. And it went on from there.

  • I have taken quite a few classes and most of them have been pretty great. What I have had a bit of trouble with are the online classes. These days everyone and their mother is teaching a class online. Some are good and some are horrid.

    I have taken both. I can only say, be wary. And often you cannot go by what other students say since no one wants to say anything bad about them online. I include myself. I am not sure how it can be done but there really needs to be some sort of review system for these online classes. It would need to be anonymous though. These classes don’t come cheap.

  • Cindy

    Unless a person has some real passion for art that comes from inside and is unique to them, art teachers can only do so much with students. Surely the college teacher who never showed up for class was not very good. Likewise, the grade school teachers who passed out craft kits with rigid rules.

    Most beneficial to me were classes where there was a lot of freedom to explore, experiment, fail, think, and develop self discipline which many young people in any field need to do. My favorite teacher in college was Rip Woods. He must have seen some spark in me and my work that even I wasn’t fully aware of then. I wish he were still alive today.

    The absolute worst teacher I ever had was actually a math teacher in college. He told me he would never let me pass the course no matter what because I was an artist. (I was getting the answers to his very screwy tests correct but he wasn’t crediting me for them.) Another student claimed the teacher demanded inappropriate favors of a very adult nature. Complaints to the dean resulted in a ‘hearing’ that I was not allowed to attend. Then they ruled in favor of the teacher because I didn’t attend! From this experience I learned not to just take people at their word and now, if something like that happened, I’d BE at that hearing, they’d have to call the cops to have kept me out. And, I’d have probably recorded it and kept making a stink about it if they’d let him off.

  • I have taught textile classes and been in them. (both online and in person)

    One class I went to the tutor kept taking my work off me and doing it for me and she told me off for not doing it exactly how she was doing it and she was exceptionally negative. I was the only person out of 8 students who finished the class. I only stayed because I had paid for it and I had done the class to have a break from the kids. I would never do a class with her again. In contrast I did a class with Hollis Chatelain who was wonderful. She was positive, encouraging, started on time every day and was a very clear and funny instructor. She was happy with us expressing ourselves in our own way.

    I have participated in some great on-line courses too. The thing I really appreciate about on-line courses are good notes, good tutors who check their forum posts and boards everyday and respond to them promptly. One tutor I did a class with had major internet problems and communicated her challenges and found alternate ways to deal with them. I was impressed with her communication. I don’t like teachers who say you should have read your notes better when you ask a question. If I knew what the notes meant I would n’t have asked the question. GRR

    As a tutor I appreciate people being punctual and to listen when I am talking so I don’t have to repeat myself twice. It also would be nice to have people arrive with all their equipment for the class. The last class I taught one student didn’t get her crayons (the most important piece of equipment for the first part of the course) and she left the class to go and buy some.

  • What perfect timing of this post for me Alyson! I have been teaching art k-12 for over 20 years now and am about to take the big jump to adult level. I would love to hear any compare/contrast observations your readers may have concerning teaching those populations. Thanks!!!

  • Mary

    I am taking a brilliant altered book class online right now, from Lisa Volrath http://tentwostudios.com/ She teaches us new things every month and gives us challenges to make pages. If we post the photos of the pages, she gives feedback. She always seems to find something good to say, and also points out what we can do better, and makes us all laugh while she does it. I wish I could take a class from her in real life, but I don’t think she does that.

  • For the last few years, I’ve only been taking online courses.

    The last in-person workshop I took was good and just over a weekend, back in 2011. My only complaint was that most people were from out of town…but there was nothing done to bring us together after the class (like dinner, etc.).

    I did take a great Curious Paris tour with Cynthia Morris of Original Impulse…and ever since then LOVE keeping a sketchbook….

    Before those, I was in another class where it was the Other Students who were the problem, not the instructor. Blah.

    If you are looking for excellent online courses, here’s what I’ve taken so far. Great feedback from the professors, very well written/video’d lessons, and therefore I’ve streeeeeetched as an artist!

    1. Lisa Call: any of her workshops are so worth the money (which while the price might make you wince, SO WORTH IT just wait until you get her feedback)
    2. Alyson B. Stanfield: need I write more? ;)
    3. New York City’s Modern Museum of Art course online about Collage. Amazing feedback, lessons, and exposure to different art styles online.
    4. St. Petersburg College, Florida, Drawing 101 by professor Kevin Grass. If you need a rock-your-world-back-to-basics and 3 college credits, excellent class.

    I did take a BigPicture class recently, however, I could not dedicate the time it deserved so I cannot give more of a review other than the instructor was often online and very positive and helpful.

  • April Field

    Overall I loved my experience in art school ( Jewelry, 2011). My teachers were inspiring, and brought passion for their craft to the table. They taught me the rules and techniques the old fashioned way and then pushed us to break the rules.

    However I do still have a few complaints. I was in a BFA program and looking back, my professors may have pushed us to make great student work, but I find that most things I did in school don’t apply to what I needed to know after graduation. What skills would I need in a job situation, how do I make this art into a living ( entrepreneurship or selling to galleries,etc) How do I make a design that’s both simple and artistic and quick enough to sell at a lower price point? I found that I learned all of these valuable things after graduation ( which is fine) But I feel like I should have gotten at least a little bit of that out of a BFA program.
    Also most of my professors were old fashioned, which was great for learning the old way of doing things, but at times we lacked the knowledge of newer ways to do things ( such as more in-depth 3d-modelling and printing, etc)

    Note: more a of a critique of art college than a specific workshop.
    As for workshops: My fav was glass torchwork with David Licata at Peter’s Valley. He was great, gave us enough instruction time and playing time to do our own experimenting, even showed me more advanced techniques when I showed an interest of trying out glass chain making on my own, and showed me ways to improve. It also helps to have a good personality.

  • Paige

    The best instructor I had in college made art history come alive with short anecdotes or moments about the artist who created it.

    Workshop instructors need have an eye on the clock of creativity. Too much talking and not enough action leave participants feeling like it is more about you the teacher than them the student.

  • I have taken many, many workshops. Some good, some bad.

    —Everyone needs to do some “homework” for any learning/teaching experience to be successful.

    Teachers, if you want to know the experience level of your students, put the question on the registration form. Read it before class.

    Students, google the teacher. If they don’t have an internet presence, they probably shouldn’t be teaching.

    —everyone should know where they stand

    Teachers, no flattery necessary–just tell me if I got the instructions or not

    Students, ask again if you don’t understand.

    —everyone should be there for art instruction.

    Teachers, save the marketing and biography for another time. It’s fine to have your products on display, but that is where it should end unless asked.

    Students, smoozing not allowed, tardiness not allowed, making new friends should be reserved for breaks.

    —Everyone would enjoy an opportunity to socialize after classes and during breaks.

    Teachers, make sure there is a central location for breaks. Take a few minutes and either prepare a list of local restaurants or ask your host to prepare such a list for meals. Speak about this briefly before the end of each session.

    Students, those of you who are outgoing, make sure everyone is encouraged to join in. In workshops, often a disparate group of people, some are shy.

    PET PEEVES. – Starting late, teacher taking too much time talking, loooong introductions, sarcastic remarks from instructors, instructors painting on their own work long after demo, students whining or giggling.

    The best instructor by far I have ever had was Linda Glover Gooch. She is very close to being the perfect instructor.

  • Alyson,

    Thank you for this post. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. Last May I jumped on the band wagon of giving painting classes at wineries.

    After researching many of these popular classes in other cities I felt I could bring something extra to the classes with my extensive background of being a professional painter. (Good instruction and personal attention have resulted in return students and those wanting more advanced instruction.)

    It took several classes for me to settle into a good routine. Watching the faces of my students have made me trim my intro and eliminate student introductions.

    My pet peeve is students who habitually show up late and make a noisy entrance. At first I would wait for them to begin but learned quickly that if I start on time, those late-comers KNEW I wasn’t going to wait, and the punctual students appreciated starting on time.

    I love walking around the room and getting to know each person individually and giving them hands-on assistance.

    I set a business card and flier for future classes at each place setting and refer to it once during class. My websites and Facebook links are on the info so they can look things up later.

    I also hand out a sheet at the end of class asking for feedback with an opportunity to sign up for announcements of future classes.

  • Jill,

    You sound like a really put together lady. I’m sure I would enjoy one of your classes. Love your work too.,

  • Caryl Hancock

    I have taken a lot of classes over the years on a variety of craft techniques (my personal Alzheimer’s prevention program) and have also taught many quilting and marbling classes at various venue for the past 30+ years. Lots of varied experiences. I have learned that 1) just because someone is teaching at a well known venue or has an international reputation in their field does not assure quality in the class; 2) that some teachers do not know how to handle whiney, needy students to the detriment of the whole class; 3) an internationally known instructor fell asleep during her class “critique” and another left the class to schmooze and left the class to their assistant – we paid for the “name”; 4) they do not know how to set boundaries or perhaps even write an accurate class description; or 5) do not leave the safety of their table and make the rounds with the students to see what is happening or they continue to work on their own project. Most egregious experience: Internationally known artist in wearables and shibori teaching at a fairly well known but small wearable art seminar; it cost me a transcontinental flight, car rental, 3 days at the hotel, meals, etc, to sit through 2-1/2 days of introductions of other classmates before we got the the “Piecing for wearables” only to learn that she didn’t sew – that she just gave the materials to her seamstresses to design the garments. Have also been in a class with another internationally known artist and author who took a personal dislike to me because I asked a technique question; other students became acutely aware of her targeting me. I think our culture teaches us to be “nice” and non-confrontational. I have learned that people can usually teach only what they do or know. It is not fair to be changed full price and be in a “guinea pig” class.

    But must also offer kudos to the following: Laura Sims for her marbling and dyeing classes for her organization and constantly getting the student to focus on their intent; Carol Soderlund whose choreography of her dyeing classes and handouts are positively brilliant; Cheryl Sloboda whose e-textile class was thoroughly organized, complete with little kits for each learning step; Lisa Englebrecht for her personal enthusiasm and progression in techniques in her calligraphy and brush painting on fabrics class made us all want to stay longer and invite her back. And my thanks to the students in a marbling class I taught who pronounced that my class was “better than they expected.” Hmmmm….

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