The History of Teaching Artistry
, by Eric Booth
research study coming to fruition. However, there is no widely accepteddefinition of what a teaching artist is, no established set of work parametersto clarify what a teaching artist does, nor any set of basic practices that may be considered the key tools that teaching artists use. There is not even a senseof what teaching artists should teach; a strength of teaching artistry isresponding inventively to specific goals, opportunities, and needs rather thandelivering any established curriculum. Teaching artistry has no nationalorganization, no national certification processes (although local and regionalprocesses are developing), no central location, no suggested sets of curricula,no designated advocates (although many advocate out of personal mission).This lack of key organizing elements may be viewed as a sign of theimmaturity of the field, or as a healthy refusal to adopt structures that do notderive organically from the heart of the practice—there certainly is truth inthe former view, but I incline toward the latter. In some ways I think this fieldis growing more wisely than it knows. Teaching artistry is indirectly choosing
to become what hasn’t worked particularly well for other arts and artslearning fields. Teaching artistry hasn’t found the embodiment as aprofessional field of the authentic tools that provide its power in practice. Yet.
A working definition: “A teaching artist is a practicing professionalartist with the complementary skills, curiosities and sensibilities of aneducator, who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learningexperiences in, through, and about the arts.” I have read a dozen otherdefinitions that are at least as good, and have written more than a few myself.Some people think that the lack of a consensus definition demonstratesweakness in the field; perhaps so, but please show me the consensusdefinitions of “creativity,” “teacher,” and “friend.” Part of the challenge of defining the role is its essential hybridity—it is neither one role nor the other, but intentionally both. In an economy of specific job titles, traditional silos,and government employment coding, this makes teaching artistryinconvenient to categorize, until the world catches up to recognize the newcategory. It is worth noting that surveys show that its two componentprofessions—teachers and artists—are both held in low to moderate esteem inthe U.S. public eye, or at least not in high regard. The opening quotation fromShaw gives a sense of the negative prejudices around teachers; the 2003 LINCresearch found that only 27% of Americans thinkartists contribute “a lot” tothe general good of society, suggesting some of the bias against artists.So, tosome degree, a teaching artist is tarred with the double disrespect of commonprejudice. In the long run, I think the hybridity will become its distinctivecontribution, eventually recognized as a new category, stronger for being analloy.