What does an Art Professor do?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
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An art professor is someone who teaches students about art, usually in a collegiate setting. In many countries, the title "professor" is only given by universities to those who hold a departmental chair in their chosen field of study, and it denotes the highest possible academic rank one can receive. An art professor teaches students many different artistic practices based on his specialty. Usually, those who are referred to as art professors specialize in some form of visual art as opposed to performing arts or music. Technically, though, art professors are professors who practice and teach any form of art, which is essentially anything that is intentionally arranged to be engaging to the senses.

The term professor is sometimes used specifically to refer to academics who are tenured. This means that they are hired for life by a university and can only be dismissed with "due cause." A university would tenure an art professor because its administration believes that the artist can advance his field better without having to worry about losing his job. This involves the concept of academic freedom; an art professor could be afraid to practice experimental or controversial art or to teach controversial methods. Without fear of being terminated, he may be able to advance his field significantly.


An art professor needs to provide instruction and guidance to his students, both in and out of the classroom. Typically, art professors are practicing artists who still develop their own artwork using the resources of the universities they work for. They teach various artistic methods in the classroom, from sculpture to painting, based on their specialty. Out of the classroom, their own work and dedication to their field is meant to be an inspiration and a guide to their students.

An art professor could, by the broad definition of art, teach any aspect of the very large field. Visual arts include everything from sketching to theater, though theater and cinema are classified as performing arts as well. Music is a major part of the broad field of art, so a professor of music could also be considered an art professor. No matter what subfield of art the professor teaches, he is doing essentially the same thing: instructing students through his own work and in the classroom.

Instruction of art does not only involve methodology. An art professor also works to expose students to works of art from other influential artists. Part of the job of art professors is imparting on students a broad understanding of the field they are working to teach.


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Post 3

@Mor - And at least then you know they are teaching from the love of teaching, rather than because they have to. I think a lot of struggling artists go into teacher because it's the only way to make a living without abandoning art completely and they may or may not make good teachers.

An art professor who is very successful in the art world is going to be able to back up any of their teachings with real world experience, which is exactly what you want.

Post 2

@umbra21 - To be honest, I'm not sure it means all that much anymore. After all the college can still fire them if they have "due cause" and if the art is controversial enough they could possibly find some kind of due cause from that. Plus, when it comes down to it, the professor is only going to be given a tenure if they are known to be in line with the same values as the school. So nothing they do is really going to be considered that controversial anyway.

Either that, or if they are really famous, in which case they probably have enough money that they won't really care if they get fired or not. I think a lot

of schools would give tenure to famous artists to try and keep them, because art students will definitely choose one school over another by the people who teach there.

I know that if my artist idols were teaching at a particular school that would absolutely be my first pick. You want to learn from who you think is the best, after all.

Post 1

I didn't realize that was the purpose of tenure at a university. I always thought that it was just a kind of status thing, a way of saying that they think a professor is so incredibly important that they are willing to keep him or her there forever. Professors in movies always seemed so very keen to get tenure, so I thought maybe it came with a pay rise or something like that. I mean, there are a lot of universities in the world, surely it couldn't be that hard to get a new one.

But artists must often take risks that might lead to them being disliked. So I can see why they would want to have the full backing of a university as a tenured professor, before they take those risks, particularly if they have a family to look after.

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