Teaching studio art at a university.
January 3, 2006 2:08 PM   Subscribe

How does one get a tenure-track job as a studio art professor?

My brother recently got his MFA (the terminal degree in the field) but it doesn't look like his graduate institution has much in the way of guidance. He also didn't get much experience teaching, but I know he'd be a natural teacher. How in general does one learn about the jobs teaching studio art, get a tenure-track one, and so on? What would application reviewers/interviewers be looking for? What do you do if you haven't had much teaching experience after the MFA? Are letters as important as in other academic jobs relative to teaching/slides/etc? What is the most important factor, usually? How important is breadth in what you can teach? Is anything particularly scary to committees interviewing candidates for studio art jobs?

Sorry for the massive number of sub-questions under the fold. I'm in philosophy, and I mostly know the ins and out of getting a job in that field -- there's a unified publication of jobs in addition to a big convention where the interviews happen. I also know what qualifications will get you so good of a job, what interviewers are generally looking for and so on. So I'm familiar with getting jobs generally in higher education, but I'd like to be able to help him more specifically.
posted by ontic to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is he a member of CAA?
posted by scody at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: Not as far as I know. Is that pretty important? (They do seem to have the best job listings I've seen so far...)
posted by ontic at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2006

Yeah, I think he'd pretty much have to join -- everyone I know in the field (both studio art and art history) is a member, and their annual conference is a major opportunity for informal schmoozing and formal interviewing.
posted by scody at 2:23 PM on January 3, 2006

I've used Academic Keys to monitor the teaching positions in Design. You can narrow the listings down pretty well by type and geographic area. I ended up opting for the private sector rathar than academia, but the quality of jobs looked pretty promising about a year ago.
posted by Jeff Howard at 2:53 PM on January 3, 2006

The places willing to hire young grads will most likely be looking for visiting lecturers, or sabbatical replacements. The tenure track positions will most likely (although not always) be far flung locales, so your brother should be willing to travel far from his local art scene/family etc. This is true in most fields, but even more true in the fine arts for the field's dependence on the New York/LA/Chicago scenes/markets for sustnenance outside academia. (This is not to ignore perfectly viable and interesting scenes in San Fransisco, Boston, Atlanta, and more, but just a practical list of those scenes considered largest.)

The CAA is having its annual conference this February in Boston. It has career mentoring in teaching and in portfolio development. The interviews and mentoring meetings on site must be registered for several months in advance. Also, for more resources on teaching positions, try the NYFA quarterly, and the Artist Resource letter that the School of the Musuem of Fine Arts puts out. Your brother may also want to contact the school he just graduated from for more detailed information on how to find positions in the fine arts. Usually schools have compiled lists of all the different places that detail teaching positions and other job oppotunities in the arts.
posted by kirstin at 4:28 PM on January 3, 2006

I just got my first tenure track teaching job this year in Southern California. I am 35 years old, 6 years out of grad school. I am not a member of CAA, but I believe it is the canonical resource for job listings.

I followed what I believe to be the typical path. I got a last minute adjunct job through word of mouth at a little design school, followed by a better adjunct job at a UC school, and this year when a job came up that I was well suited for applied for that. Along the way I worked on making and promoting my various art projects.

In general the art world works a lot through social networks. Most people I know who get adjunct jobs get them because the school needs someone quickly (a class is over-enrolled, a previous adjunct teacher gets a better gig, etc). Someone at the school sends out an email asking their friends if they know anyone, etc. Once you get to the tenure level, the stakes are higher, so people aren't going to give you a job because you know someone, but some kind of inside track never hurts.

Eventually the stars align, you have some prominence in your field, decent teaching experience, hear of a job (through CAA or word of mouth) and you find yourself gainfully employed. I never thought it would happen to me though!

In general, I would recommend the same course of action one would follow to develop your art career - focus on making great work, keep and develop your art world contacts in a social, non-creepy kind of way, and be proactive about letting people know that you are looking for teaching work.

I can talk about my experience with the nitty gritty of the tenure track application process (interviews, slides, statements, letters, etc), but if your brother is right out of school and not cover of Art Forum famous, he may be better off looking for more entry level teaching work while developing his art/exhibition career.

This advice may or may not apply outside of Southern California.
posted by puppy kuddles at 10:03 PM on January 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

puppy kuddles has described how it works in Texas.
posted by sailormouth at 10:56 PM on January 3, 2006

Sailormouth once tried to levitate a man over my old art space in Houston. Which is to say, the art world is a small place.
posted by puppy kuddles at 11:13 PM on January 3, 2006

Kristin and puppy kuddles have pretty much explained how it goes.

One thing I would add, is that I know people who have gained teaching experience at small private/prep schools. They can be fairly open minded about giving people a chance, often have wonderful facilities (and smart kids) though the pay can be .... disappointing.

Yes, he should join CAA and go to the conference (its good practice).

Often, the people I know who have found tenure track jobs right out of grad school have been willing to move to non art heavy places , teach at a specific type (religious) college, or had skills in harder to find areas ( new media as opposed to say, abstract painting...). Other than that, it takes a while.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:19 AM on January 4, 2006

Sorry, *kirstin, not kristin.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:28 AM on January 4, 2006

Having been in the field for twenty years before I took my first full time job (non-academic, but creative -g), I would agree with puppy kuddles as well.

A recent grad should expect to either find adjunct jobs (I had for many years a series of them all at one time, driving from one school to another over the course of a week or even a day!) or jobs at "out of the way" places (a euphemism for "lower tiered schools in "East Podunk" which might have a hard time and too low a budget for attracting art stars).

CAA is a great place to learn how to interview. And this is important. I would suggest your brother apply for jobs that are fairly close to his field and skills. I often saw people wildly applying for teaching jobs they were obviously not qualified for.

Creating a "great" résumé and a "great" portfolio is also key. Do schools still ask for slides? Become a great editor of your experiences and the work you show. Don't show too much or too little.

Letters of recommendation can hurt you if they aren't stellar. But everyone can get them so it's often not the deciding factor. However, that being said, if a former teacher is good friends with someone at the school he's applying to, a phone call is worth it's weight in gold (followed up by a letter). But remember, teachers are inundated with requests for letters and often have boilerplates on their computers (I've seen letters which had the wrong name --the writer forgot to change it! --that would certainly hinder).

The last thing I would recommend is for your brother to get a lot of experience in his art field (the art making part). Being in the Whitney Biennial, etc. makes an applicant very attractive. You can't underestimate the power of stardom to land you a plum job (as sad as that is, since not all good artists are good art teachers).
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:17 AM on January 4, 2006

puppy is right again - Revolution Summer.

Another possibilty which a friend of mine did is to get hired on as Art Shop Manager.
My friend right after completing his studio MFA took on the Shop Manager role. This was a word of mouth/right time & place situation.
He did the job for a year while pursuing his art (making and exhibiting). He did not care for the politics going on in the department and went to a community college with a decent shop as shop manager. Within a year a teaching position opened and he moved to that. Within a year of that he was Chair for the department and teaching.

One of the biggest perks of shop manager is access to all of the equipment. So while building thier own work/studio they can use tools/equipment they might not otherwise have.
A good shop manager is as important as the class instructor/teacher. They teach the students how to properly use tools safely to bring vision to reality.
The wider the knowledge of materials/mediums an artist has the better shop manager they will be. The shop where I went had a huge wood working area, huge metal fab area, mold making for casting plastics and wax, and a foundry for casting bronze and alum. In addition to that there was all of the basic handtools.
posted by sailormouth at 8:13 AM on January 4, 2006

Response by poster: Seriously good info. Thanks, everyone. After a day or two more I'll forward the thread on to him.

I could be wrong, but I think he's happy being out of the center of the art world (I don't think he's eager to move to NYC or San Francisco), so maybe it will be a little easier for him?
posted by ontic at 11:21 AM on January 4, 2006

And just to mention, the CAA conference moves around ... 2006 is in Boston, 2007 New York, and I believe 2008 is in Dallas.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:17 PM on January 4, 2006

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