It's apparent Marilyn Zick Johnson enjoys teaching art—she teaches at not one, but two local institutions. The Peoria native is a part-time instructor and adjunct faculty member at Illinois Central College; she also teaches classes at Lakeview Museum.
Johnson was once a student at ICC herself, before transferring to Bradley University to earn a bachelor of science degree and a master of fine arts degree. It’s been more than 15 years since she switched roles from student to instructor. “In 1986 I began teaching art classes at ICC—specifically, studio arts and art history,” she said.
Her first teaching experience was at Lakeview, however. “I’ve taught oil and acrylic painting at Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences since 1985. From the first class I taught, I knew I enjoyed the give and take of teaching art.”
Johnson said there are definite differences between the classes she teaches at the two organizations. The classes at Lakeview are much more relaxed, being less structured. In these classes, the students have a wide range of development—from those who’ve never painted to those who’ve painted for many years. They choose the subject and style, and all are very different. They’re there for their own enjoyment, with no pressure of time or grades.”
In the world of academia, it’s not always so laid back. The classes at ICC are much more structured, with students who’re going on to careers in art. There are specific projects for each class, and they’re graded,” she said.
Because art is a much more subjective subject than most other areas of study, it would seem more difficult to grade. But Johnson said she has specific guidelines. “I expect the best of each student. I look for technical skill, concept, and responsibility. The most challenging part of being a teacher is to give students the ability to do their best.”
The old adage about “those who can’t, teach” doesn’t hold true with Johnson, whose art has been exhibited and sold extensively throughout the United States. “My work, which takes the form of painting and drawing, is a form of surrealism. My art explores the feelings of self-identity and how we project these feelings through the masks we wear. Based on cultural beliefs, legends, and myths, I present images of nature combined with ancient art in an unreal setting of luxury-draped pathways. Many of the symbols are universal, many are cultural, and many are personal,” she said.
Johnson said the most challenging part of being an artist is also one of the best parts—visualizing the images that express her feelings. “I would like my work to draw out your questions, and even more, your answers.”
Naturally, Johnson is in favor of art education—from a young age and throughout the life cycle. “Art education is very important from pre-school on. There’s no better way to express yourself. Whether it’s for a career or simply to gain a better knowledge of the world around us, art makes us see, think, and feel.” AA!