Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can’t, Teach

I remember when I was a young aspirational primary school teacher, fresh out of university, being told this by an old gentleman. I was outraged to say the least. So after 25 years in the profession, what are my thoughts nowadays? Is there any truth to this old saying?

Well, in one sense, there is. Teaching is for many creatives a back-up because their creative ventures do not bring in enough hard cash. If they could do their art, their music, full time, they often would. But can they afford to? It’s not because they can’t do the creating, it’s more that they don’t have the time or wherewithall to market themselves, or create enough of their brand or product to make it viable. And even to talk of your own brand or product as a creative can feel wrong. How does “Art for Art’s sake” or the simple joy of creating come into marketing?

Added to this is the sneaking feeling deep-down that to become popular, one must become populist, and in so doing, sacrifice something of one’s integrity as a creator. I wince sometimes when I hear the current often fairly talentless products filling the airwaves (balanced of course by the amazing talent of many people who are creating wonderful music and still managing to make a good living out of their art).

So in one sense, having learned the hard way that for many of us, however talented we may be, our creative endeavours will not be enough to fill the coffers, I have to come to the conclusion that, yes, I teach because to do my art and music full-time would possibly not pay enough. I teach because I can not DO – at least not full-time. Having said that, I also note that part of the reason I don’t engage enough with my own marketing in order to build my business is that I don’t have time to – teaching even part-time can take up a lot of time.

But at the same time, I would say this. I would not be here now, creating and writing about creativity, without the influence and inspiration of a number of teachers. Growing up in Australia, I had an amazing art teacher called Don McLean, whose intricate and utterly inspiring watercolours spurred me on in my own efforts as a gangly teenager. He’s probably long gone now, but I always remember him fondly, and thank him for his influence over me.

The thing is, for the next generation of creatives to learn that they can be true to themselves and should give expression to their creativity, we must have creatives in the teaching profession. Mr McLean was a humble guy, but he shared his work quite openly with us. I saw firsthand how he created a painting from start to finish. Kids need to see that the Arts are a useful and valid part of a healthy society, and indeed of their own life experience. And I thank my teachers for giving me that. Society does not always value the Arts as it should, and we in education must fight their corner.

And for me, the greatest joy I know is to see how many kids I’ve taught music to over the years that have moved into the creative professions, and are even making a good living out of it. But if they ever need to supplement their income, then I hope they remember me and will consider spending some of their career teaching, passing on their own skills – inspiring future generations further down the line.

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