Graham, M. A., & Zwirn, S. G. (2010). How being a teaching artist can influence K-12 art education. Studies in Art Education, 51(3), 219-232.


This study focuses on K-12 art teachers who are practicing artists and investigates the relationship between their studio and teaching practice. Researchers found a creative dynamic was engendered in the classroom by these teacher-artists and that the influence of artistic practice on teaching significantly contributed to students’ artistic processes and the learning environment.

Key Findings:

  • Teaching artists’ investment in preparation and effort to further their artistic endeavors generates habits and perspectives useful to teaching art.
  • These teachers consider other working artists as their peers and seek inspiration in the rich contexts of conversations and interactions with them, prompting them to stay current and bring to their classes their own experience and the experience of contemporary artists.
  • They expect their students to become critical interpreters of art and to engage in art experiences outside of school, including galleries, museums, and community art projects.
  • They expand what is considered possible in the classroom and give the students access to different approaches, focusing on meaning more than on materials and technique; viewing and interacting with art as a body of evolving knowledge.
  • They engage cognitive processes in their students, encouraging them to seek out meaning in works of art and to question the world around them.
  • Teachers who engaged in problems in their own artwork were more sensitive to challenges encountered by their own students.
  • Teacher-artists did not define curriculum narrowly as having fixed outcomes but rather as open-ended and divergent.
  • A negative aspect of artists with strong aesthetic commitments is that sometimes they try to clone the students after their own artistic preferences. While some students thrive in open and experimental classrooms, others who are less confident in their artistic abilities may struggle.
  • Teacher-artists emphasize the element of play in artistic creation. Creativity thrives in a playful environment because during play there are no repercussions of doing something wrong. Play encourages innovation.
  • The teachers transform their classrooms into art studios, profusely displaying the art projects of teachers and students.

Significance of the Findings:

This study demonstrates the positive effects that exist when K-12 art teachers maintain their studio practice, yet the researchers found that the teacher-artists are an anomaly. This indicates a need to look more thoroughly at how more art teachers can stay connected to their artistic practice despite the demands of teaching.


The researchers asked: a) How does art-making influence the content of the teaching artist’s teaching? b) How do teaching artists’ artistic practices influence their interactions with students? c) How do teaching artists construct and use learning environments? d) How does artistry inform teaching, and how does teaching influence artistic practice?

  • After an initial survey of 30 art teachers, the researchers used narrative inquiry methods, Patton (1990), and interviewed and observed 16 of these teachers. In addition they conversed with their students.
  • They selected artist-teachers who had a reputation as being effective classroom teachers, and who were committed to continued artistic production.

Limitations of the Research:

The study did not include comparative data on the results obtained by effective teachers who are not practicing artists. This study reports what the authors discerned in a group of effective teaching artists, chosen for their reputations. It is therefore a study of “what’s possible.” The fact that the researchers themselves are university educators and working artists may have led to subjectivity in data gathering and analysis.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What qualities that occur in classrooms where K-12 art teachers are also artists can be translated into art and general classrooms with teachers who are not artists?