We have spent a fair amount of time highlighting the work of artists and the impact they have made on the art world as a whole, but there is another type of art professional who is constantly leaving their mark on the art world as well – art professors. In many cases, these people are the behind-the-scenes contributors who not only influence the art world through their own work but also by helping groom the next generation of young artist careers. Of course to sit here and try to put together a list of all the art professors across the country worth highlighting would be nearly impossible, so we decided to break up geographically and start in one of the most culturally rich and artistically diverse cities in the entire country – Los Angeles.
1. Catherine Opie, Professor of Photography, UCLA
Many people can go an entire lifetime without realizing what they want to be when they grow up. Catherine Opie realized by the time she was nine that she wanted to be a social-documentary photographer. If it sounds a bit specific, that’s because it is, but to her credit, the Ohio native made her dream a reality and is now an internationally recognized documentary photographer and a tenured professor of photography at UCLA. Armed with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute and a Master’s in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts, Opie has both the real-world experience and academic know-how to make an excellent professor and clearly, she is already well on her way. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/csopie
2. Meg Cranston, Chair of Fine Arts, Otis College Art and Design
A multi-discipline artist who can count sculpture, painting, and writing among her many artistic endeavors, Meg Cranston is an artist through and through. She also just so happens to be the Chair of Fine Arts at the prestigious Otis College of Art and Design. She originally started teaching just to support her work but soon realized the importance of art education in Los Angeles and has become one of the more well-recognized art educators in the City of Angels. Her experience and talent alone should justify her ability to teach, but her recognition of the importance of art education and her passion for teaching help set her apart in a city full of artists and art educators.
3. Ron Rizk, Professor of Fine Arts, USC
Rizk has a BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and an MFA in Painting & Printmaking, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has had solo exhibition of his work displayed on both coasts and his work can still be seen at the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego in Balboa Park. Did we mention he is also a respected and well-liked fine arts professors at one of the country’s foremost schools for the arts? Rizk has taught drawing and painting and more at USC and his students seem to find him fun, easy-going, and passionate about the subject. Some students credit him with helping them learn to love drawing and others talk about his patience and ability to engage even the non-art-centric students who take his class. Trust us that is easier said than done.
4. Adele Bass, Graphic Design Professor, Art Center College of Design
Although she calls herself a “graphic design consultant” in her bio, “graphic design guru” is probably a more apt title. Bass is an award-winning and accomplished graphic designer who boasts previous clients such as the Los Angeles Zoo, USC, and the City of Pasadena. She is also something of a homegrown talent. After getting a Bachelor’s degree from SUNY-Binghamton, Bass went on to earn her BFA and MFA from Art Center College of Design and is still teaching there today. Bass has earned a reputation as a tough but fair teacher whose criticism is stern and helpful without being insulting. She is considered a first-class typographer with a real passion for the subject and is enthusiastic about helping her students learn.
5. Judith Royer, Theatre Professor, Loyola Marymount University
After being bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for her 40-year career as a theatre professor, you shouldn’t really need much else to understand that Judith Royer is an exceptional art educator. Royer has taught at LMU for more than 40 years and has directed more than 35 plays and 40 original scripts. She has also endeared herself to her students with her charming personality and passion and knowledge for the theatre. Teaching theatre is more difficult than teaching other, more technical and tangible art subjects, because it deals with the abstract more often and good theatre can often be a matter of personal opinion. That said, few professors are able to teach any subject for more than 20 years let alone 40 years. That she has been able to teach for this long is a testament to her skill and perseverance.
6. Craig Elliott, Figurative Art Professor, Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art
Apparently the Art Center College of Design has a prolific teaching tree because Elliott is the second instructor on this list to receive his education from the prestigious school. As an artist, Elliott is both experienced in the world of fine art and in animation where he has worked on animated films for Disney and Dreamworks. Did we mention that he also dabbles in landscape architecture, sculpting and jewelry design? Yeah, the guy is multi-talented. His teaching career includes stints as a visual arts teacher at the Art Center College of Design as well as the Pacific Institute of Art and Design and now the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, Gnomon School of Visual Effects, and Motivarti.org. It’s one thing to learn from an instructor who is knowledgeable and passionate about the subject. It’s another thing entirely to learn from someone so accomplished and versatile in his own field, which is why Elliott deserves the shout out. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/craig_elliott
7. Todd Boyd, Critical Studies Professor, USC
At one of the country’s most famous film schools, it can be difficult to stand out, unless you’re Dr. Todd Boyd of course. The endowed chair for the Study of Race & Popular Culture and Critical Studies Professor, Boyd is an extremely well-known media commentator especially when it comes to the intersection of race and pop culture. He is a prolific writer and author with a number of well-known books published, he is a regular on ESPN and other news outlets, and he is also not coincidentally a well-liked teacher in his classes. He joined the faculty in 1992 and has been teaching ever since. His students rave about his charisma and his ability to make lectures interesting and he also has plenty of passion about the subjects he teaches. He was an easy inclusion on the list. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DrToddBoyd
8. Michael Zakian, Art History Professor, Pepperdine University
Although he is only listed as an adjunct art professor at Pepperdine, Zakian is a staple at the University where he is not only a well-liked teacher but also the Director of the University’s Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art. Making Art History fascinating can occasionally be a difficult task, but students rave about Zakian’s ability to transform his passion for the subject into interesting lectures and courses on the subject. He is also an accomplished artist who has been working at the Weisman Museum for the better part of two decades, helping him earn plenty of recognition in the Southern California art world. Pepperdine is an oft-forgotten art community in Los Angeles especially in the shadow of USC and UCLA, but Zakian has helped the university earn plenty of acclaim in the last 20 years and has managed to engage many young students in the world of Art History as well.
9. Mark Ruwedel, Professor of Photography, Cal-State Long Beach
Ruwedel has been a professor since 1984 and a talented photographer since long before then. He received his MFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 1983 and spent nearly the next two decades teaching there before moving to Long Beach and teaching at Cal-State Long Beach. He is an award-winning photographer whose work has been exhibited in some of the country’s most famous museums (the J. Paul Getty Museum and the San Francisco MOMA to name two) and he is also an excellent professor who was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Award from the University in 2010 and receives high marks from students for his dedication to helping them because better photographers and soft-spoken demeanor. Sometimes it is difficult for accomplished artists to transition into excellent professors, but given his experience in both fields, Ruwedel has clearly struck the ideal balance.
10. Daniel Neuman, Ethnomusicology Professor, UCLA
Technically Neuman counts as a music teacher, but he is as much an anthropologist as he is a music teacher. Oh and he also happens to be one of the university’s most popular music professors. Neuman got his Bachelor’s degree and his PhD from the University of Illinois in Anthropology but quickly blended his love for culture with music when he developed World Music Navigator, a computerized ethno-atlas. He is also an accomplished author with three books about music and culture (especially in India) to his name and has an impressive resume from academia as well. Neuman previously taught at the University of Washington, where he was the Director of the School of Music for a decade before moving to UCLA to serve as Dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and as UCLA’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. He gets high marks from his students for his knowledge and passion of the subjects and also for being helpful and approachable in class. That’s more than enough for us to give him some well-earned recognition.
11. Bruce Claypool, Design Professor, Art Center College of Design
The Art Center College of Design is one of the most prestigious design schools in California if not the entire country and so it’s only fitting that one of its most popular design professors makes our list of noteworthy professors. Students don’t just like Claypool – they love him. Almost everyone agrees that his classes are hard and that he expects a lot out of his students, but they also almost universally agree that you leave his classes as a better artist than when you came in. A graduate of the Art Center College of Design himself, Claypool was the former Art Director for NFL properties and his work has been featured in countless galleries in and out of the immediate area. It may not be easy to get an “A” grade in his class, but if you are going to school to become a great artist, Claypool is the kind of professor you want to cross paths with.
12. Theresa Hayes, Director of Instruction, American Academy of the Dramatic Arts
A star graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts at the ripe old age of 19, Hayes has been a performing arts staple in Los Angeles ever since. She starting teaching at the Academy in 1992 and is now the Director of Instruction and Managing Director of the Academy. She has founded her own production company, starred and appeared in countless theater performances, worked in television and film, and has been a guest instructor and choreographer for many more works of performance art. She has likely forgotten more about the theater than most will ever know. She is also known as a passionate teacher by her students who really tries hard to get the most out of their abilities and thus deserves a spot on our list as much as anyone.
13. Eric Edson, Screenwriting Professor, Cal-State Northridge
A screenwriting veteran with 17 feature screenplays under his belt, Edson is really the perfect person to be the Director of the Graduate Program in Screenwriting at California State University, Northridge. He even moonlights as a lecturer through the UCLA Writers’ program and a number of the screenplays he has worked on have been produced by major companies such as Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney. He is also the author of the popular screenwriting book called “The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take” and is a dedicated and knowledgeable professor who has helped churn out more than his fair share of accomplished screenwriting students. The graduate program at Northridge has received a lot of acclaim under his direction and his passion for the craft shines through in his teaching as well.
14. Marc Lowenstein, Theater Professor, California Institute of the Arts
An active conductor, singer, composer, and one of the most highly recommended teachers at Cal Arts by his students, Lowenstein is a no-brainer for this list. He has conducted on New York City Opera’s VOX showcase festival, the premiere of Anne LeBaron’s WET, and was music director for a number of US premieres. He has sang in a number of performances as well and is an accomplished musician capable of playing a bunch of different instruments. At the California Institute of the Arts he teaches theory, skills, history, and composition and his students give him high marks for his attention to detail, willingness to help, and his innate ability to make lectures and class time more interesting. This kind of combination of experience and teaching savvy is hard to find, which is of course why Lowenstein is on the list in the first place.
15. Jack Epps Jr., Associate Professor of Writing for Screen and Television, USC
We have to end the list strong and there is no better way to end it than highlighting the Chair of the Writing Department at one of the country’s most revered film schools. Epps studied screenwriting as an undergraduate at Michigan State University and not long afterwards he was writing episodes for shows like Hawaii Five-O and Kojak. He also has experience as a cinematographer and co-authored famous movies like Top Gun and Turner & Hooch. It’s clear that he is a talented and knowledgeable screenwriter and his students seem to agree. They give him rave reviews for his knowledge and admit that it doesn’t take long to become a markedly better screenwriter under Epps’ tutelage. Simply put, the man is a screenwriting legend and for him to still be passing his craft along to other students says a lot about his passion for teaching and helping the next generation of screenwriters.