Teaching as craft, learning as art?


Teaching as art or craft – a continuum approach to Lupton’s model

I have been reading a stimulating paper by Mandy Lupton from 2013 on reclaiming the art of teaching, which you can find here.

Her concern is for the art of teaching, and how it is lost to “a higher education system which does not value imagination, creativity, originality, uniqueness, risk-taking, innovation and exploration; rather it promotes standardisation, consistency, conservativeness and accountability.” As Barnett (2011) says, a system in which the bureaucratic university subjugates the academic personae of its teachers with the corporate persona, and so suffocates creativity and spontaneity, limiting academic identify and promoting uniformity.

I do have problems with the extreme dichotomy portrayed here, but I find her model, when portrayed as a set of continua, useful (see my interpretation of this in the diagram above).

The function of teaching sits on a continuum in which a transformative teaching philosophy is in tension with a ultilitarian one. In my work on employability at the moment, I am promoting a graduate capitals (Tomlinson, 2017) approach as something in tension with a skills approach. They can coexist, but the former emphasises academic creativity, while the latter is more instrumental and prescriptive. The integration of graduate capitals in the curriculum demands academic imagination, creativity and interpretation to a much greater extent than an employability skills agenda would.

Then skill, as a dimension of a teaching paradigm, is more about persuasion, leadership, orchestration when considered from the artful end of the continuum. As a craft, teaching is understood more in terms of technical delivery, replicability, standards. I also understood craft as being professional and imaginative, characteristics that can also be attributed to the more creative end of the spectrum and, as Lupton points out, craft sits within the field of artful teaching (as shown by the blue box within the yellow ‘art’ frame in the diagram).

Lupton’s category of degrees of freedom is where she acknowledges the need to express this element as a continuum (whereas I don’t believe any of the elements are binary). Freedom, I think, is often referred to as autonomy. For me, this is where we find excellent teaching; teaching that is confident, fluent, and responsive. It focuses on engaging students to achieve intended outcomes and recognises the value of diversity and how it can enrich learning if it is given the room it needs. For Lupton, a craft-focused approach is teacher-centred – control is important and teaching will deliver by following a plan without deviating, but we can only hope that it will be received. As I explain below, craft can be about being flexible and crafty, and this suggests that the metaphor is not working as intended.

Finally, Expression “…is usually regarded as a particular characteristic of art… Art involves intellectual and affective responses by both the creator and the audience for the work… This expression is seen as highly personal and original. It has the potential to be transformative for both the creator and the audience.” Teaching as art is concerned with learning as a transformative experience, whereas teaching as craft, Lupton argues, is better understood as being utilitarian.

My thoughts on the art and craft dichotomy

Coming back to the title of this post, ‘Teaching as craft, learning as art?’, my immediate response to coming across the paper was that craft is a ‘good thing’ – it has its place. However, for Lupton craft represented utility, standardisation, and conformity. In my mind, craft is not as negative as it is for Lupton. Even as a way of understanding teaching, I think is helpful as a way to explain good, imaginative teaching. Craft suggests professionalism as well as encapsulating imagination, creativity, and innovation. It suggests creating something attractive that has aesthetic value, texture, and nuance. Essentially, it’s a metaphor and what matters is that I think we agree that the academe should value teaching that is transformative, creative and agile, responsive and fluid, and so forth, and guard against anything that threatens this.

But my post title hints at understanding the academic role in relation to promoting a learning ethos that is more artful, autonomous, self-determined, and creative. Given my interest in the idea of studio for all, the relationship of the teacher to the students as a creative, fluid, networked, co-operative and independently minded (the proverbial cats that need to be hearded) loosely aggregated collection of learners (an assemblage – Delanda, 2016) is what interests me. In that scenario of the active learning ‘studio’, what is the teacher’s role? Is it more about craft or more about artistry?

My answer is that the aesthetic values and the teacher and learners’ common aspiration to be curious and delighted are what is important. Learning is framed, but not overly constrained. This is so students are clear and confident about what is expected of them. This requires a teaching philosophy that values teaching as a crafted, confident and creative operation in which imagination is brought to bear on establishing a rich learning context in which the students, individually and together, explore their creativity.


Barnett, R. (2011). Being a university. Milton Park: Routledge.

Delanda, M. (2016). Assemblage theory. Edinburgh University Press.

Lupton, M. (2013). Reclaiming the art of teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(2), pp. 156-166 Online

Tomlinson, M.B. (2017). Forms of graduate capital and their relationship to graduate employability. Education + Training, 59(4), pp. 338-352.


About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
This entry was posted in Academic Innovation, Academic Innovation and Possibilities, Co-operative pedagogy, Creativity, Learner Engagement, PhD and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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