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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual

Kentuckians in Visual Arts

Elementary School Art Teacher Sandy Sasso
Murray, Kentucky


Who Sandy Sasso, a professional artist and an art teacher at North Calloway Elementary School in Murray, Kentucky, became interested in art and drawing while growing up in North Carolina near Charlotte. In the 1960s, there were no professional art teachers in her area and no art instruction courses available in the local public schools. Following her own interest in pursuing the arts as a career, she entered the art program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. There she received what she calls a “classical” training, learning drafting and sculpture techniques and developing an early sense for spatial arrangement and three-dimensional design while working with live subjects. She majored in painting and printmaking and, after receiving her BFA, realized that she had taken enough arts education courses to obtain her teaching certificate within a semester. She worked as an artist-in-residence and took a European tour for several months, after which she returned to North Carolina to apply to graduate schools and teach. She entered the MA program at Murray State University in Kentucky in 1980, where she continued to study for her degree while teaching at local schools and developing her own painting and drawing skills. After five years as an artist-in-residence for the Kentucky Arts Council, she began teaching at North Calloway Elementary. She divides her time between the classroom and her own studio.

You can see samples of her work at

What sasso “My typical day during the school year is rather regimented and focused upon programs for students, often requiring more than the average school day time period—especially when we’re working on a special project, like the international exchange program we participated in with a school in Japan. I work on lesson plans and spend most of the day with my students and other teachers. But I try to balance my work as a teacher with time in the studio, which I usually get to do at night, on the weekends, and in the summer. Most of my work is based upon personal experience and my own perspective concerning what’s happening in the world. I like to use music and writing to motivate and inspire my work, and I try to take as much time as I can to develop themes through other media and apply them to a series of new paintings.”

When sasso “During the school year, I spend 40 to 50 hours a week preparing lessons and teaching in the classroom. The topics we work on aren’t too advanced, but I always try to keep new ideas running through the classroom, since I’m learning as much about art, being a working artist, as my students. I have to make the routine part of my life as interesting as possible. As for my work as an artist, ideally I try to spend two nights in the studio each week and maybe 12 hours on the weekends. During the summer, unless I’m preparing for a show, I will spend about 20 hours a week in my studio. I’ll go to the studio after lunch and work until 6:00 pm.”

How sasso “I find that knowing how to balance time and energy between different tasks is the biggest challenge. The time I put into teaching during the school year usually takes away from the time I spend on my work. Being an artist and a teacher actually makes the routine tasks of each job much more interesting, but I have to focus on keeping a balance between each role I play. By continuing to make art, I often find much more energy to give to teaching. Even though it can be a real struggle dealing with art in the classroom and in the studio in a smaller community, trying to teach different aspects of art to students while developing my own work at the same time, I would feel like I was a fake, both as an artist and a teacher, if I didn’t work hard to give equal energy to both kinds of work.”

Why sasso “As an artist and a teacher, I can either keep repeating the same ideas year after year or think of myself as a lifelong student, which I definitely prefer. I’ve taken lots of courses since receiving my master’s degree, received a second master’s degree in philosophy, and studied art history in Italy and Greece. As with my work as a teacher, all of these things have had a profound effect both on my teaching abilities and my work as an artist.”

Getting There “For students who wish to become artists or art teachers, even though public schools don’t always push personal development as an artist as much as an educator, keep looking for ways to broaden your point of view about both crafts. And I think that getting your MFA isn’t an end in itself as much as it is a really good way to develop better habits and choices for the future of your work. Look for a studio outside of the classroom or school, continue taking different art classes and classes in other subjects, and find good teachers. I always encourage new art teachers to get to a point of professionalism with their art, especially if they wish to continue their own work while trying to teach kids at the same time. Otherwise you will lose touch with your art because of everything it takes to be an educator. If you can learn to balance your time and energy, even though both areas are separate, your teaching will benefit from your work as an artist and vice versa. Even though it’s really hard to keep developing as an artist, if you can get to that level of professionalism and make it a working part of you, then you’ll never stop being an artist, no matter how much time you get to spend in the studio.”

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