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The History of Teaching Artistry

The History of Teaching Artistry

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Published by: richard7238 on Jan 14, 2011
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The History of Teaching Artistry 
, by Eric Booth
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach—according to George BernardShaw, who also wrote that he never learned anything from a teacher, hetaught himself everything; so maybe GBS had a little ax to grind. He got itquite wrong—the truth is that those who can do two things well, at thesame time, in almost any setting, are teaching artists.
The History of Teaching Artistry:Where we come from, are, and are heading
By Eric BoothDecember 2010
To know who you are, you must know where you come from. So toofor the emergent profession of teaching artistry, which might be described asa fast-growing teenager—past puberty but still not moving with atwentysomething’s confident stride. This essay aspires to trace briefly thehistory of teaching artistry. It does not provide the academic rigor of a properhistory, and I hope an ambitious historian will take up the challenge andprovide an authoritative version for us all. Nor does the scope of this essayallow me to identify the dozens of specific organizations and individuals whohave provided important flagstones on the path, or those who are currentlydoing exemplary work around the country—they deserve to be recognizedand thanked. This essay offers a distilled sense of the journey, its generalcontours, in order to ground our sense of the complex present and clarify itsproliferation of opportunity. Even though the characterizations of decadesand phases are oversimplified, given the jumble of activity that unfoldedduring each decade, I feel the following descriptions are accurate enough topropose as the truthful story. I also offer two organizational constructs at theend of this essay; I hope they provide useful distinctions to elucidate ourongoing evolution. I welcome others who wish to take this essay and expandit in additional foundation-building ways.In setting our historical context, let’s openly acknowledge some of its“negatives.” The field of teaching artistry does not speak in a unified voice—never has and possibly never will. (This does not negate it as a field at all;does politics speak with a unified voice?) Our growing body of writing aboutteaching artistry enables the field to begin to know itself. There are increasingnumbers of surveys that illuminate aspects of teaching artistry (the insights of which have not been gathered for handy dissemination), and a first national
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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.
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The History of Teaching Artistry 
, by Eric Booth
Teaching artistry grows from the soil of two different artistictraditions: 1) the training of artists and 2) the democratic impulse to includeeveryone in the cultural commons. These two traditions map roughly as thespecialist and the generalist or democratic tracks. Let’s pause for a quickworldview before returning to these two tracks.At UNESCO’s first-ever worldwide arts education conference (Lisbon2006), I discovered what an undistinguished place the U.S. holds in the worldlandscape. Indeed, UNESCO originally forgot to invite America to theconference (partly because we have been unreliable supporters of UNESCO,no doubt). At that conference, it became clear to me that the U.S. is far belowmost other UNESCO nations in arts education commitment—U.S. publicschool students average less than one third the number of in-school artseducation hours than the average in other UNESCO countries. Given theembarrassment of our far below average norms, I discerned four areas inwhich U.S. arts education practice is the most advanced in the world: 1) the breadth and quality of conservatory training; 2) the quality and depth of artslearning experiments; 3) the quality and depth of arts learning partnerships between schools and other organizations (which nurture most of thoseexperiments); and 4) teaching artists. The U.S. has the best teaching artists inthe world, the most advanced understanding of teaching artist practices, andthe broadest application of those capacities in an increasing number of settings.Back to our two teaching artist historical tracks. The artist trainingtrack might also be called the conservatory track. The U.S. can now boast thelargest high-quality conservatory training system in the world, having earnedunprecedented near parity among the many conservatory and universityprograms, which align with high arts training throughout Western culture, but exceed other countries in size and depth. Because our public schoolinghas such undistinguished arts education programs to feed this track (withsome glorious exceptions), teaching artists have been used to supplementperennially-underfunded school arts programs. Through most of the 20
century, schooling offered a “gifted and talented” track in music and thevisual arts, while theater lived in and around English classes and dance helda place in physical education. Organizations outside of schools—music andvisual arts schools, dance academies, theater programs and projects,programs at arts institutions, after school and during summers—haveprovided the essential education to feel the disciplinary training system.Teaching artists have appeared intermittently beside arts specialists inschools, and independently, as “enrichment” for over a century to exposekids to the feel and possibilities of the different art forms. The practices used
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