Monday, November 09, 2009

Art as Business: Teaching/Giving Workshops

before a painting workshop with the Police

In August I asked myself: Where do I MAKE MONEY right now – as an artist?

I concluded that in my bookkeeping I had divided my income posts into
1. Commissions
2. Exhibitions (gallery)
3. Art sales outside exhibitions (provision sales/through my own studio)
4. Teaching/workshops

The first three I’ve already written a lot about – and now it is time for the fourth. Teaching art or giving art workshops is actually BIG BUSINESS. There are so many art schools for aspiring artists at any level, day and evening classes for happy amateurs, liberating workshops for people who need to bound at work - or art workshops to solve any kind of problem with marginalized groups in society (refugees, long-time unemployed, teenagers from the suburbs etc)

  • painting with toddlers
  • independent workshops: manga for kids (libraries, schools)
  • senior-level art teacher
  • night classes for amateurs (watercolour, oil painting, portrait drawing, manga)
  • guest-teacher at art schools
  • workshops for professional artists
  • liberating workshops (painting together to strengthen group mentality)

… you thought that was just a list of what you can teach? No, that is what I have taught through the years!

Chibi, a kind of Manga

It is not surprising that most artists do make their living from teaching art to others. If teaching art is a steady job with a salary it’s someone else’s Art Business – but if you make the arrangements, marketing and administration yourself it is your own Art as Business!

Once upon a time I just saw teaching art as a way to get incomes, but when you manage to distance yourself a bit from it – and see it in a bigger context – some of the jobs will be like throwing stones into the water. They will sink and disappear forever… No that’s not what I meant. I mean that other things, than just the pay for the job, might spread like ripples on water.

I nowadays always ask myself this question: what else can I get out of this teaching/workshop?

Non commercial values:
  • Will I enjoy it? (this one can let me override everything else)
  • Will I learn new things?

Commercial values
  • Will I get possible customers directly and indirectly (more workshops, art buyers)
  • Will I get useful contacts?

  • Can it lead to better teaching opportunities?
  • Will it expand my professional network?
Let’s apply these questions to some of the different teaching jobs I have had:

senior-level art teacher (not very good pay, employed = secure)
-Enjoying it? No, just rarely. It was more about keeping order than really teaching art. And I do not feel a calling to make a difference in that way.
Learn new things? Not when it comes to art. I did learn some things about new drugs the kids were using and was reminded about being a teenager (I’m so happy I’m not 15!).
Commercial values? Non. The kids think you’re a failed artist and so do their parents. If it had been another country at a fancy private school, maybe it could have been different.
Lead to better teaching opportunities? If you prove yourself and engage yourself in an extraordinary way you can get to teach children/teenagers in more interesting ways. But you're not gaining much points if you want to teach ART art.

Night/weekend classes for amateurs (employed = salary sucks!!!!, on your own = ok pay)
Enjoying it? Almost always. The students appreciate me and I do enjoy seeing their progress.
Learn new things? I keep repeating the foundation of drawing and painting. Very useful. I improve talking in front of people (I give little speeches like a preacher!). Besides - this is one of the few ways I meet people outside the cultural sector- and it teaches me how others see art and artists.
Commercial values? If I prove good at teaching they want to take more classes. Some of them might even become my ambassadors and will do their best to help me in many ways. Many of them will come to my exhibitions, some will buy my art.
Can it lead to better teaching opportunities? As a first step when teaching art it is good, but then you will not get any more points.
Expand my professional network? Only if the students happen to have jobs related to culture.

workshops for professional artists (arranged on your own = good pay)
Enjoying it? Almost always. But you might have to work on overcoming someone being a bit skeptic. Most of them have been teaching a lot as well - you will be scrutinized.
Learn new things? When teaching other artists I improve my technical skills immensely.
Commercial values? Not directly – they won’t buy my art. If they really like me they might take another workshop though – or recommend me to others.
Can it lead to better teaching opportunities? DEFINITELY! This is one of the few ways that you can really show other artists that you are good at teaching. Several of the artist that have been taking my workshops teach at art schools were I would like to guest teach – and I hope I made a good impression. (but someone probably has to die before there will an opening)
Expand my professional network? Absolutely. This is a natural way to get to know people that you might not bump into otherwise. But as always – you have to make an excellent job!

summer classes by the sea

Anyone who has followed this Sunday Series will by now know that I can not be accused of not having tried many options. On the contrary it might seem like I've been trying everything instead of concentrating on one thing. True. This is my weakness. But I have gained a lot of experience in many fields!

Anyhow - You can not change what has been. You can only learn from it and move on. I will next Sunday continue to conclude what I've learned from teaching art in many ways: Teaching Art/Giving Workshops II.


aimee said...

this is full of great information, alexandra - wow, you have done so much! you are right, no one could accuse you of not trying every teaching angle. it looks like each job has its benefits and drawbacks.

gracia said...

I often feel that way in regard to trying many different avenues. Like you, I would not have it any other way.

Esti said...

As always, a lot of information here. You surely have tried many ways. I wish you could be my teacher: you have so many things in you to say and learn from.

●• Thereza said...

you're such an inspiration to me, girl!
i'm sure learning and incorporating a few tips from you in my schedule. thank you!

Anairam said...

Yes, you have certainly used most (if not all)available options to make art your business! I think it is great to do that - to have a wide range. I have seen many people focus too narrowly and then having their business (not necessarily art - but the principle is the same)fail.

Lori said...

Thanks so much for posting your experiences in these areas. It's really nice to get an artist's perspective.


Shell said...

I love how you broke down the different ways to look at teaching. I started teaching acting year and its like a whole another world to get into.

nathalie et cetera said...

i think one can't have too much experience. it broadens our perspective, gives us more knowledge which help us in other fields of our work and life. i wish i could take one of your classes.

modhomeecroom said...

I really relate to what you said. I try all different things too. I am just not able to limit myself to one path. I try all different ways to make it work.
I love to teach, don't make much money but you're right. The students love you.

Heather McR said...

I couldn't agree more! So much that after many years teaching art working for others, i have started offering my own workshops for artist teachers. OK, I live in italy and this is an added incentive, but really the content of the workshops and the teachers ability to inspire is what really matters. Check it out if you like at

jade said...

The participants then used creative problem solving to fill the "blank" canvas. more information

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