Help Desk

Help Desk: Are You Experienced?

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

Do you have any advice for an artist seeking an art teaching position? I have an MFA in drawing and work across all mediums. I once led a two-week workshop with college students, but all applications ask for at least two years of post-graduate-school college-level teaching experience. Any ideas how to burrow my way through the crust of the academia?

Bob and Roberta Smith. All schools should be art schools, n.d.

Bob and Roberta Smith. All Schools Should Be Art Schools, n.d.

Thanks for your question. In a recent conversation with a friend, I admitted that in the middle of our current political and humanitarian crisis, it’s hard for me to see the value of writing an arts-advice column—it hardly feels like I’m going to change lives here. But then I was reminded that we all still have to deal with quotidian responsibilities, including finding jobs so that we can support ourselves and others. I hope this advice gives you a useful direction.

Your conundrum is a classic catch-22: How are you supposed to get experience in teaching when all the teaching jobs require prior experience? To find the answer, I reached out to a handful of professors who have recently sat on hiring committees (all requested anonymity). If you’re serious about teaching, here are some strategies they recommend to help you on your way.

Look for adjunct positions at institutions where you have a contacts: “[In adjunct hiring], one person is making the decision, versus a hiring committee [for tenure-track] where personal relationships don’t count for as much. This person should appeal to former teachers to see if they might throw an adjunct position their way.” Start by reconnecting with your old department chair: “An entry-level position is usually at the discretion of the program chair/director.” Don’t bother with tenure-track jobs unless you’re on your way to becoming an art star.

Speaking of art stars: “Focus on your work. People are always more likely to take a chance on an artist who’s active and producing interesting work. Perhaps write a bit about other people’s work, so that you clarify and publish your thoughts about art.” Another professor agreed: “Show your work as much as possible; have a solo exhibition somewhere visible, find people to write about it, and make as many friends in the field as you can. It helps if the work is good, or at least liked by the right people.”

Gain some related experience: “Send your CV to fine-arts departments and ask them if they would be interested in having you do studio units with their students. Or perhaps even connect with students and ask them if you can do studio visits. If they enjoy/value the experience they will doubtless recommend you further.” Some graduate programs let the students choose their own advisers (mine did) and they maintain a list of potential advisers in the community, so don’t be afraid to reach out; probably the best contacts here are department chairs and program managers.

Get some momentum by teaching at community colleges, art-academy summer sessions, and/or university extension programs so that you can collect images of student work. “Search committees I have been a part of tend to focus on examples of student work rather than how much experience you may or may not have. The committee wants to see a diversity of work which is strong and importantly does not look like knock-offs of your own work.” Again, you’ll want to find the contact info for the program manager, then submit a proposal for a class and follow up with a meeting to discuss your ideas and enthusiasm.

Above all: “Keep visible, keep working, thinking, talking (networking), and trying. If you’re determined (and good) you will get there, even if it takes a bit longer than you anticipate.” Good luck!