Art Teachers Confess: Artists We Can’t Stand

It is widely accepted that Picasso, one of the greatest artists of all time, made 30,000 works in his lifetime. I like exactly 4 of them. I wish I liked his work. I really do. I wish I could talk passionately about it when I present it to my kids and believe what I was saying about why people love his stuff. But I just can’t do it. Yes, he broke from convention, started new art movements, and did some great things. For me, though, his work holds no interest; I think it’s because there’s no tact, no subtlety, no grace in most of what he has done. Seriously–what is this?

Picasso
Tete de femme, Dora Maar

That being said, there is still a lot my kids can learn from him, so I will continue to reference and utilize his work in my teaching. But I won’t like it.

I decided to ask a few teachers from around the country if they’re feeling the same way about any artists. Here are the artists they don’t want to have to introduce when it comes to Art History.

 

Ian Sands: High School Choice-Based Teaching Superstar and AOE Writer

“When I teach art history, I tell my students that Picasso was a jerk. I have a 5-point PowerPoint I show outlining the reasons. It starts with him saying he was no good at math because he said the number 7 looked like an upside-down nose (what a jerk) and ends with him dumping his mistress, abandoning his children and marrying another. What a jerk!”

Matt Grundler: Elementary Teacher and Team Grundler Member (1 of 2)

“For me, it’s teaching about Frida Kahlo – trying to get kids to look past the big bushy eyebrows and mustache. How many times can I hear ‘Is that a girl?'”

Kahlo
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

 

Laura Grundler: Visual Arts Coordinator and Team Grundler Member (2 of 2)

“I could never stand trying to teach Rothko to 9th graders because they could never understand the simplicity of the paintings.”

No. 61 (Rust and Blue)
No. 61 (Rust and Blue)

 

Andrew McCormick: Jr. High Teacher and AOE LIVE Podcast Host

“I don’t teach any artist that I don’t love. I am able to drive all my curriculum, so I only talk about the artists I love, or more accurately, the ones I know my kids will love and the ones that will resonate with them. I do have a general rule of thumb–very few dead white dudes. Students need to see and understand that art is contemporary and living now . . . and that art is made by everyone. The canon of art history is cluttered with too many stuffy European males!”

Note: When reached for comment on Andrew’s “stuffy European males” quote, this was Gustave Courbet’s reaction:

Self-Portrait (The Desperate Man)
Self-Portrait (The Desperate Man)

 

Abby Schukei: Elementary Teacher and winner of AOE’s 2014 Blog of the Year Contest in the Rising Star category

“I’m rather fascinated by the early-Fauvist style and color choices of Henri Matisse, but in the elementary classroom, I have a hard time making it work. His style of portraiture, even with my love of color, does not translate well with my students and confusion seems to erupt.

The Goldfish
The Goldfish

 

I can’t even go near The Goldfish–the perspective, or lack thereof, makes my eyes a little sore. I do have to applaud Matisse for continuing his work even when his health became an obstacle, but the paper cut-outs and collages are not extraordinary. The simplicity of his decoupage work exhibits no aesthetic power.”

 

Jen Carlisle: Middle School Teacher and AOE Writer

“It’s not necessarily an artist that I don’t like, but the overuse of the artist’s images. I hate Kandinsky’s circles. I swear they have been done and done and done. Same goes for most things Mondrian–Look kids! We can used red, yellow and blue to make art!”

Squares with Concentric Circles
Squares with Concentric Circles

 

Joy Schultz, High School Art Teacher Extraordinaire and Blogger

“I really don’t like to teach Picasso, specifically the cubist portraits. I am comfortable with all other Picasso works, but the fractured portraits….ugh!!! How to do it successfully without a formula?! And, I don’t like doing that without enough freedom for individual student “voice”.

The Kiss
The Kiss

 

If you teach it with freedom, it no longer appears to relate to the fractured Cubistic portraits. Of course, I could just pass out mirrors and have students look into them after the mirrors get smashed, but that doesn’t sound safe or seem to offer any good luck for my future.”

 

All teachers seem to have their own artists they just can’t make appealing (We’re looking at you, Pablo). Should we continue to teach these artists? I would argue yes, but that is probably a discussion for another time. Until we figure out a better way, we likely need to just grit our teeth and keep teaching about the artists we can’t stand.

 

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Which artist or artwork are you just sick and tired of teaching? 

Who would you like to throw out of your art history curriculum?

 

Timothy Bogatz

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

Related

  • Christy

    Poor Picasso! He’s one of my favorites! I’m not a huge fan of van Gogh or Monet though!

  • Don

    What a bunch of bias dribble coming from those who should know better not to poison young minds with their narrow ideas of what is good art. Art is expression of one’s creativity and it is for that individual to decide if it is good for him, her or it. Art belongs to all living creatures including some who think they are artists and are blind and want others to live in their dark shadows.

  • Traci Wolfensperger

    As a teacher we have a responsibility to empower our students to think or themselves, not think what I think. Art has the power to express so more than just realism, it is important our students understand this.

  • Kathi

    In light of the diatribe already posted in the comments below, it occurred to me that you folks that posted in the article, have a great deal of courage and transparency to bare your preferences. I am a realist in every sense and hold myself to that, not my students…or my job as a teacher is for naught. I find many pieces and artists that are not to my taste and, sadly, they are given creds as a master of their genre. My most difficult aspect is to find that part of an artist’s work that is the expression of an element of art or principle of design to justify using them as examples. Sometimes, that is just not there. Often, because of the freedom of expression that art offers, people abuse that privilege to offer deep editorial instead of leaving a clear path for others to follow. My view, from the easel…

  • To quote some of my students, “Wow, just, wow”. When I introduce Picasso, or Mondrian, or pretty much any artist, we talk about how the artist began and how they reached this point in their artistic career and what influenced them. To fully understand an artist, IMO, you have to view their work in progression to see how they evolved – this way the students understand that Picasso wasn’t looking into a broken mirror, and Mondrian wasn’t just using red yellow and blue to make art – they can see how the artists reached that point in their art. Help the students understand why and how the artists did what they did and they may gain an appreciation for the artistic process and lose some of the fear so many of them have.

  • Kathy

    Thank goodness I’m not the only one who doesn’t like every artist or time period in art history.

  • Bethany

    I frequently reference artists I find on http://www.thisiscolossal.com. My students went crazy for 1010 (http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/03/1010-color-portals/) and HOTTEA (http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2011/06/yarn-bombing-meets-spray-paint-and-stencils/). It keeps lessons fresh!

    • don masse

      one of my go tos for artists in the now, too:)

  • Mr. Post

    I don’t think it’s worthwhile to have little kids try to make art in an artist’s style. I don’t have my students paint Kandinsky circles or Picasso cubist faces. I will use art examples to talk about art techniques or the elements and principles, but I don’t expect the kids to copy the works of art. From Monet, kids can learn about brushstrokes, color theory and light. From Robert Arneson kids can learn about expressive portraits and how props and details can tell more of the story. Well, that’s what I talk about when I show students works by those artists.

    When I teach kids about artists, I give them a little inside scoop on why the artist’s works are famous and why they are appreciated by those who view them.

    I had a painting professor take us to a museum and ask us to point out works or art we did not like. He then proceeded to point out the parts that were beautiful in each art work that we as students dismissed.

    There is a difference between art appreciation and liking an art work. I wouldn’t hang a Donald Judd, Barnett Newman or Jean-Michel Basquiat in my home because I do not care for the visual styles of these artists but I can appreciate the dialogue these works of art generated within the field.

    Similarly, I am not a fan of gravity as the darn kids I teach drop EVERYTHING on the floor – but I appreciate Newton’s work in explaining the phenomenon.

    • Abby Schukei

      Well stated, Mr. Post!

  • Tery(Mrs.C)

    I knew I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stand Picasso! I don’t care how great he thought he was! That being said I do use his pieces to explain/demonstrate abstraction of realistic objects and cubism… so I don’t have to love an artist to appreciate what they creatively contribute… I explain this to my students when they express distaste for a certain artist or style… beauty is in the eye of the beholder :)

  • Kim

    I have a hard time teaching Jackson Pollack, even with my collage students, and especially with elementary students! I can understand the freedom and experimenting, but how can I explain this as a true artwork when I demand so much more from myself and my students?!

  • Don

    There are very few pieces of art in the world that take on a life of their own, such as the Mona Lisa. That being said, our job as art teachers is to encourage our students to identify their own individual creative expression and to do no harm while they are on this quest. Too often we get caught up in a cookie cutter curriculum that hides behind the principles and elements of design when we need to get out of the way and not smother our student’s creative energies. Really great art comes from the artist’s own struggle not from the control or choices of the art teacher.

  • Art Teachers Hate Glitter

    I don’t teach artists to my elementary students in the traditional sense. Scandalous, I know, but I never understood why “we” art teachers do this. Yes, I will reference an artist’s work if it relates to my lesson, but I’m more likely to search for a modern day artist than a “Master”. We’ll study the techniques of an artist, and sometimes the subject matter, but I never have my students reproduce an artist’s work. Picasso, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Matisse, Kandinsky, O’Keefe, and so on and so on, no thank you. What’s the value in having my students reproduce Starry Night or Broadway Boogie? I prefer teaching my students different brushstrokes, and encourage them to experiment with how they use those brushstrokes in an artwork original to themselves. I’ll teach my students color theory, and let them run with it in their own work. But that’s just me.

    Now, if I were teaching an art history course, that would be a different story. Then teaching these artists to my students would be relevant.

  • Laura Grundler

    Great comments! Very thought provoking- thank you TIm!

  • Jennifer Leban

    This is a pretty hilarious article. We teach it all to students without bias, but of course we’re allowed to have our own personal opinions! For me, it’s Impressionism. Ugh, never liked it – and it’s ironic because I’m in the Chicago area, home of the Art Institute of Chicago and an amazing collection of what?… You guessed it – Impressionism! :)

  • Johanna Russell

    To quote my teaching partner and mentor Jackie Tonhouse, “I’m done with dead, European, white guys!”

  • Keisha

    I go by the motto, “If we want to teach the artists of the future, they must know about the artists of today.” While artists of the past hold an important chunk of art and its history, it never seems to relate very well to my students. There are so many spectacular contemporary working artists out there that kids can relate to and be excited by. That is what I reference. I care not if they can replicate their work, but to understand their process, thinking, and how it relates to the world today. That doesn’t mean I never reference older artists, they are just not the main focus. I believe that as students mature and become wholly invested in the Arts, that they will be motivated to understand the history and where the Arts have developed from. I just want them to be hooked, line, and a sinker right now. :-)

  • Am I the only one who finds many of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings bordering on X-rated? And an art teacher standby, Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”– why are these often touted as art for children? I have no objections to the art or artists, applaud feminist art, but prefer less in-yer-face examples for class. That said, I don’t teach artists directly, but rather introduce a period or movement and let kids discover the artists on their own. I just wish publications like Scholastic Art would not devote whole issues to examples like this. What am I supposed to say? “No, Johnny, that is NOT what the artist is depicting, get your mind out of the gutter”?

  • RWS

    I feel like I’m in both camps, because I do show the work of a variety of artists but not with every project and usually just as an inspiration or a starting point. I too loathe Picasso’s portraits, but I love his collages of musical instruments with newspaper and words. I think it’s interesting for the students to see that “famous” artists use or have used the same types of materials that they use in class. My students never copy but use their own skills and eyes and minds to make their own work. O’Keeffe and Van Gogh are great examples that show how to use simple shapes to create a flower, how to go bold and bright with color and how to think big. Switching media or having students adapt modern content to traditional media, like pencil or charcoal drawings of star wars toys for example, can give a student a wonderful feeling of connection to artists whose work they will see only in museums.

  • Newethicstattoo Baphomet

    art is made by poor basterds for rich assholes. !and many art ” trachers” knew their art would never go anywhere. ..so now they cash a paying check for the one thing iam sure they boost about how much they hated ” The Man” working for the man.. few artist make it. only the dead ones become famous .when they’ll never see. a dime .except the auction house.