Wanderings: On Teaching

I am a wanderer, bringing with me the artistic inspirations and colorful cultural influences of the numerous places I have lived. From Fargo, North Dakota, my birth state and home for half my life, to Seoul, Korea, where I learned the language and culture of my heritage, to many years of art-making in the hot summers and edgy diversity of Atlanta, and throughout various cities in the northeast, I find myself now immersed in the quirky charm of Baltimore, where the Center for Art Education has become home.

In the Master of Arts in Teaching program and the Young People’s Studios at MICA, I have found a beautifully reciprocal setting in which my work with young artists helps inform what I share with teachers-in-training, and I, in turn, am inspired by new practices and philosophies that can be tried immediately in the classroom. The art classroom is a wonderful vehicle through which meaningful connections are made, not just in dialog with art, but with life in general. As a sustaining ingredient for life, art offers a venue for expression and creativity unlike any other. And over time, I have discovered that teaching offers the same sort of essential venue, one in which personal experiences, in conjunction with new ideas on meaningful teaching practice, are the source from which new revelations and teaching styles emerge. Teaching is taking a journey while concurrently guiding others, our students, along their personal paths. That journey, for each individual, can be inspiring, beautiful, extraordinary, innovative, full of endless possibilities, but also difficult, challenging, and unpredictable. Most importantly, each journey is unique.

Art educators have the beautiful yet daunting task of encouraging students, through art, to find and articulate their own voices.

With emerging teachers who are learning the ‘art of teaching’, I try to achieve an analogous goal, by helping them find their own voices, and by doing so, teach passionately to who they are. By upholding a firm philosophy of living, with joy and passion, and by espousing a firm integrity in teaching, we, as artist-educators, can create a bit of magic in the classroom.

My teaching is, of course, deeply informed and influenced by personal explorations in art. In 1993, while still an undergraduate on the arboretum campus of Haverford College, I started exploring the immense beauty and complexity of trees using pen & ink as an intricate mark-making tool. I found trees to be such singular and beautiful living things, changing always, with the seasons, with the light, filtered though one’s eyes. They convey so much in their silent beauty. Rather than creating whole trees, I explored sections of trees, creating a vast array of panels that, together, made a cohesive whole. The trees that have evolved and grown out of my own life journey have become metaphors for what I, as an art educator, encounter each day in the classroom. Since then, my work has evolved into something much more spare, elemental, and spontaneous (see Doorways and Openings). That work, and the manifestation of seeking, finding, wondering, continues. What the tree panels and new panels have in common is a sense of cohesion as a body, while each panel upholds a presence of its own.

Like my art panels, each retaining a compositional integrity of their own while contributing to a much larger whole, students are singular creatures, having unique traits and passions, while existing also in ever-changing combination with others. That intangible mix of energies and passions helps create that magical environment—the art classroom. I strive to reconcile those ‘intangibles’ in teaching with authentic and meaningful teaching practice.

I am still meandering through this artistic journey of creating and teaching, as both rejuvenate and inspire me at every turn.


Nan has been a faculty member with MICA's Master of Arts in Teaching program since 2004. As Coordinator of Student Teaching, she develops partnerships with a diverse array of educational agencies, oversees the placement of art education students in their internships, and mentors students as they enter the professional world of teaching. In her MAT undergraduate and graduate courses, she has been exploring ways to use visual and metaphorical thinking to deepen inquiry and build community within the classroom.

Now in her 20th year of teaching, Nan has been an art educator in a diverse array of settings, from museums to public classrooms, and from early childhood art through adult. She has taught high school and middle school art in upstate New York and Baltimore, and a variety of studio courses, K-12, for the Young Peoples Studios at MICA. As Director of the YPS program from 2005-2013, she oversaw the growth of a large summer studio program, hired a growing staff of interns and instructors, and restructured YPS's curricular offerings, budget, and logistics.

Nan received a BA in Fine Arts from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and graduated summa cum laude with an MS in Art Education from Syracuse University. In addition to being an artist and art educator, Nan has been a curriculum writer, a presenter at state and national conferences, a distance running coach, a computer technology teacher/graphics teacher, a runner/marathoner, and writer.