What do I?
I write this to be informative to some of my family and friends outside of academia….or maybe someone who is considering a tenure track art position. I like what I do, so I don’t want the writing to come off as a rant. It’s just what it is that I do. I’m merely trying to explain what this job is like.
I often feel that there’s a perception that art professors have the easiest job on the planet. They show up for a few hours a week, talk about our feelings and then proceed to show adults how to finger paint. We then sing songs and do interpretive dances to them. Nothing else. If someone knows of a job that’s really like this, please let me know.
Preparation of project
I try to figure out what’s the best way to explain this?! It’s a challenge and you do your best to reach everybody. You have to try to think of everything that could go wrong. You have to try to predict what they might ask. You have to gauge what is reasonable for people at a certain level to figure out. Most projects that I do now are heavily outlined with all goals, requirements, a calendar of every demo and homework. It takes HOURS and HOURS to figure this out. You have to imagine doing the project yourself to figure out all the materials involved. Then you have to imagine what it’s like to do this for the first time. You have to think about the amount of time it would ideally take to pull off this project and do it successfully.
You also have to try to instill some kind of work ethic/time management/accountablity and independent critical/conceptual thinking in people – those two are easily the most challenging things about teaching. I watch motivational speaking videos and I read behavioral science to try and be more effective in these areas. Sometimes I do well and sometimes I am completely off the mark. Sometimes, I don’t think students can really fathom how badly I want them to do well. It’s completely true even though it sounds nauseatingly altruistic.
You also want to try to instill confidence in people. This is really challenging because students need critical feedback, but not at the expense of their self esteem. When I can, I have tried to give feedback in a way that proves to them that they can push themselves further.
You will never feel that you know enough. Sometimes that can be a defeating feeling. Like you are supposed to have all the answers. Teaching is SUPPOSED to be a process of constantly learning and sometimes it’s a challenge to make time for that. You do what you can. The funny thing is that you really can’t fathom what you don’t know, until you try to explain it to someone.
Making work and exhibiting
Doing my own work is increasingly challenging to pull off. I don’t get much time allotted to doing that during the week. The moments that I do are precious to me. It can take months for me to finish an engraving. Submitting work for exhibition is time consuming – you have to research where the shows are, if your work will possibly fit into the theme and if you can make the deadline. You also have to constantly document your work in case any opportunity comes up. Thankfully, I can scan most of my work. Matting, framing and packing work for ONE piece can take an entire day if starting from scratch. I am over-simplying this section. I could go on and on.
Teaching “stacked” classes
A stacked class is when multiple classes meet at the same time. For example, all of my print classes are currently at the same time. Print I all the way thru advanced. This is a major challenge to keep up with everyone. After speaking for a while demoing, sometimes you really need a breather. Coffee helps.
This entails meeting with a student to put together their schedule for the following semester or whatever they need to do to graduate the following semester. I spend about 30 minutes to an hour preparing for each person that comes in to talk to me. Sometimes an appointment can take 30 minutes (fast and efficient use of time) and sometimes it can take an hour.
This entails making sure that all supplies are present and that tools are in working order. This sounds easy when there are a handful, but there are a ton in printmaking and engraving put together. It’s also a challenge to keep track of every single thing to make sure it doesn’t completely run out. You also have maintain a budget to make sure you can afford all the supplies you need for projects that you give. Some schools hire another person aside from the instructor to do this.
Receipts and purchasing
Keep receipts for EVERYTHING you buy for a class. Accounts are also limited in what can be purchased. You MUST keep track of your money. Over spending can get you in some trouble. If you don’t spend your money by the end of the academic year, it disappears. You can’t save it for a big purchase. Not only that, if you don’t spend it all, there will be perception that you don’t need that much money and will be potentially cut the next academic year.
Marketing and recruiting
As a department, we are obligated to coordinate all of our own design and advertising for ourselves. We go to events, sometimes out of town to meet prospective students. We give tours in our department. Some places hire a full time person to do this.
There are all kinds of committees in the department and campus wide. They coordinate events and modify university policies. I am running out of steam writing this because the committee work section of this should be much longer.
Then there’s random requests for things (reference letters, art donations, etc) and fires (problems) to put out – I’d say an average of about 15 outside of class a week. Then there’s meetings outside of school for events and other community/business oriented things.
Here’s a pretty standard work week schedule
Mondays and Wednesday
Arrive around 7 or 8 am to 11:00 am
In this time I get some committee work done and other school related random tasks. Sometimes I work on class project ideas only to find that I hate them later and destroy them.
11:00 am – 12:00
I eat if I don’t get roped into doing something. Food is important. Healthy food is also tricky to find if I forgot my lunch.
12:00 – 2:50 pm
Engraving II and Advanced Engraving
3:00 – 4:00 pm – Every second and fourth Monday there’s a faculty meeting; if not this time gets used for prep work or to get something to eat. Depending on how the schedule went, I have gone days without getting anything to eat until 8:00 pm.
4:30 – 7:20
Tuesday and Thursday
Arrive around 7 or 8 am
Take care of any prep work for the class (getting materials ready for a demo, etc)
9:00 am – 11:50 am
Printmaking I, II, etc
12:00 – 1:00 pm
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm – timeslot available to give a student tour (Tuesdays only)
3:30 pm – 5:30 pm – Faculty Senate meeting (Tuesdays only)
Arrive at school around 9 am
Prep work, committee work
11:00 am – 11:50
AR 095 First Year Experience Class
12:00 – 1:00
1:00 – 5:00
Depends on whether or not I want to work on school stuff over the weekend. Sometimes I leave for KC to see Fran instead of staying to work. Sometimes I’ll do as much as a I can earlier in the week to avoid having anything to do Friday afternoon so I can work on prints. Sometimes this is the only time a committee can meet.
Evenings and weekends are variable as far hours dedicated to work. It really depends on what is going on. I have done recruitment events on weekends. There’s also documenting student work and grading that can add hours to the week. Or producing a completely new project with new techniques involved. I have given myself the goal of a 40 hour work week, but it’s usually more than that depending on what’s going on. Sometimes its around 60 or 70.
Being a practicing artist is also required of the job. My goal every year is to be a part of at least 10 exhibits. You see that in the above schedule that there are virtually no studio time hours. That happens sporadically during the week sometimes. Weekends are usually studio time.
It takes a lot of energy and organizational skills to keep this up. Sometimes during the summer I don’t know what to do with myself unless I have a summer class. (Contrary to popular belief, summers are unpaid)
I left A LOT out, but did you survive this blog to the end? I almost didn’t and I wrote it!