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Art News

15 Noteworthy Art Professors in Chicago

We continue our city-to-city question to highlight noteworthy art professors helping jumpstart students' careers in art by exploring what the windy city of Chicago has to offer. As one of the largest cities in the country and the world, Chicago is a bustling art hub that also boasts more than its fair share of premier institutions of higher education. It may not have the same reputation amongst artists as cities like New York and Los Angeles do, but universities like DePaul University, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University have been churning out talented artists for years now. As always, we recognize that there are countless other professors working in the Windy City who are just as deserving of recognition as the 15 that we chose, and this list was never meant to be comprehensive or ordered. But these 15 stood out and are definitely worth reading about.


Paul Jaskot, Architecture Professor, DePaul University

DePaul isn’t necessarily known for its strong architecture program, but the program is on the rise thanks in large part to professors like Jaskot, whose students come away well-informed and also entertained. Jaskot teaches courses on the history of architecture and modern European art. He also teaches specialized courses on the art and architecture of Germany as well architecture in Chicago. His specific area of research has mostly focused on the cultural history of socialist Germany and how it impacted architecture after the war. He is an accomplished author who has published a number of essays on the political function of architecture and has written a book on Postwar German Art as well. Jaskot got his Bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore University in Art History and then went on to earn a Master’s degree and a PhD in Art History from nearby Northwestern. He has also has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the College Art Association and was the president of the organization for a brief three-year period. His students appreciate it him not only for his clear passion and knowledge for the subject, but also because he makes his students earn their good grades and tries to engage everyone in his class to ensure they are learning.


Alyson Beaton, Graphic Design Professor, Columbia College of Chicago

Beaton should be a familiar name to Chicago-area graphic designers not only because she has been teaching the subject in the city for nearly a decade, but also because she is the sole proprietor of Grow Books Press, an independent publishing company that publishes children’s books, printed matter and toys that focus on current social issues with an urban emphasis. She is an experienced and exceptionally talented visual artist who got her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design from Texas A&M and then earned her Master’s Degree in Visual Art from The School of the Art Institute Chicago. She has done freelance design work for companies like Neiman Marcus, SAIC, and Humboldt Park Social Services; and she has also taught design at the Illinois Institute of Art, SAIC, and now Columbia College of Chicago. Students admitted that she can be tough on their work, but they also said that she genuinely cares about helping them grow as designers and seems to consciously try to strike a balance between work and fun in her class. Most students felt she was one of the nicer teachers they have had and they also felt like they came out of her class with a lot of work they could be proud of, which is really all you can ask for in a teacher.


Dan Gustin, Drawing and Painting Professor, School of The Art Institute of Chicago

Gustin is a professorial triple threat. He has a sterling academic background, his experience is vast and diverse, and, according to his students, he connects with his pupils in a way that helps them leave class as better artists than when they entered. Gustin got his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1972, and two years later he got his Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Yale University. Just 10 years later, Gustin started teaching at SAIC and from 1995-2011, he also taught at the International School of Art in Italy. He also has been a visiting professor at numerous universities all across the globe and is an accomplished, award-winning artist in his own right. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions all across the country (although primarily in Chicago) and he has been a staple on the Chicago art scene for a long time now. As a teacher, Gustin can be blunt and rough-around-the-edges, but his students say that the criticism is always fair and is delivered in a way where he truly sees what each student needs to work on. His students also love that he seems to care deeply about their success and is a devoted painter. SAIC is one of the most popular art schools across the country, and devoted and talented faculty members like Gustin are a big reason why.


Julia Davids, Music Professor, North Park University

Dr. Davids isn’t just an assistant professor of music who teaches courses for the music education degree, she is also the Director of Choral Activities which means she directs the University Choir and Chamber Singers. As if that wasn’t enough, Davids is also the music director of the North Shore Choral Society, a community choir in the area, and she serves as director of music ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church in nearby Wilmette. She is not just a teacher however, she is also an accomplished soloist and recitalist who helped found the Canadian Chamber Choir, Canada’s national choral ensemble. Davids has a PhD in Choral Conducting from Northwestern University and has a pair of Master of Music degrees in Conducting and Vocal Performance from the University of Michigan. We could really go on all day about her impressive musical resume, but she is also a well-liked teacher who brings energy and an attention to detail to her classes. Students love her personality and say that she is one of the nicest teachers they have ever had. We could go on about her teaching ability all day too. But I think at this point it is easy to understand why she is on this list.


Craig LaMay, Journalism Professor, Northwestern University

You didn’t think we were going to create a list of noteworthy professors in the Chicago area without including at least one well-liked professor for one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the country did you? LaMay is an associate professor at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and certainly has the credentials to be teaching journalism. He was the former editorial director of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, the editor of Media Studies Journal, and a former newspaper reporter. His work has appeared in major publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Newsweek. He has also written several books on the media, freedom of the press, and privacy issues within journalism. He has his Bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His students like him because he is down-to-earth, easygoing, and extremely intelligent. They also appreciate the stories he tells and is willingness to be a stern but fair grader.


Richard Neer, Art History Professor, University of Chicago

Being called a nerd is usually considered insulting, unless of course the students in your art history classes are talking about how nerdy you are about art history. In that case, it probably qualifies as a compliment, so Neer should really be flattered. The William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Art History and the Executive Editor of the University’s arts and humanities journal, Critical Inquiry, Neer is an accomplished academic and art historian. He got his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1991 and followed that up with a PhD from UC-Berkeley in 1998 and has since gone on to publish books and win awards for his work from the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Center for Advanced Study of Visual Arts. His work deals in particular with the role of phenomenology and theories of style in fields like Greek Sculpture, neo-Classical French painting, and 20th century cinema. Perhaps even more impressive is that his students routinely credit him for keeping the discussions in his class lively and entertaining, and also give him kudos for his knowledge of the subject and ability to pack a lot of information into one class period. The only bad news is that he will be on leave this Fall, so students will just have to wait to take his classes.


Susan Applebaum, Theater Professor, Loyola University Chicago

If you are into the theater and attend Loyola University Chicago, there is a good chance you not only know who Dr. Susan Applebaum is, but have also taken a class with her. Armed with a PhD in Theatre and Drama from Northwestern University, Applebaum has been teaching classes like dramatic literature, dramatic structure, and theatrical process for more than a decade and she doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. She is also on the faculty of the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston where she has directed theater companies and taught classes in improvisation to students, adults, and even fellow teachers. She is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in a number of popular industry journals and she is currently writing a book on the actor-training method taught at the Piven Theatre Workshop. As a teacher, her classes are difficult and demanding, but she makes even the dullest parts of class interesting and is always willing to help students willing to ask for it. It’s clear to her students that she knows the material cold and she has fine-tuned ways to engage with her students to make her class more educational and entertaining.


Stephen Melamed, Industrial Design Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

Not sure industrial designers develop the same celebrity as musicians, but if there is such thing as an industrial design “rock star”, Melamed is it. The co-founder of the well-known industrial design consulting firm, Tres Design Group, and professor of Industrial Design and Interdisciplinary Product Development  at UIC, Melamed is one of the most well-known and experienced industrial designers in one of the best cities for the industry. Melamed is actually a UIC alumnus who earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Industrial Design from the school and has worked for design groups in New York and Chicago. He is a highly sought-after speaker who is also one of the founding faculty members of the school’s Innovation Center. He work has been exhibited across the world and has won a number of awards. He is a talented writer as well and is even is listed as a co-inventor on more than 50 U.S. patents. His classes are very difficult and he expects a lot out of his students, but they don’t mind because they appreciate his in-depth knowledge and experience in the field. Some of his students may quietly grumble that his classes are demanding, but in the same breath they admit they leave his class with a much better understanding of design.


Jeffrey Sconce, Radio/Television/Film Professor, Northwestern University

Overshadowed by the more prestigious journalism school, perception of Northwestern’s School of Communications is on the rise and the Radio/Television/Film Department has been growing particularly popular within that school. A well-liked media history professor who teaches more than a half-dozen classes on subjects ranging from Media and Irony to Exploitation Cinema, Sconce is an integral part of the department and thus deserving of some recognition by this list. He has a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas and then went on to earn both a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Radio/Film/Television from the University of Texas as well. He still wasn’t done with academia however and went back to get his PhD in Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin before eventually making his way down to Chicago and Northwestern. Students appreciate not only his intelligence and knowledge of the subject, but they also praise him for his charisma, his humor, and his ability to make every class lively and engaging no matter the subject material.


Christine Ohale

Christine Ohale, English Professor, Chicago State University

We are admittedly fudging the definition of an art professor by including Ohale. But her work in the English and Literature Department at Chicago State absolutely intersects with the world of art, especially art of the written variety, and her students only have rave reviews of her teaching ability and her classes, so we figured it was okay to bend the rules this once. Dr. Ohale has a pair of Master’s degree in English and a PhD from the University of Nigeria in Literature and she is an accomplished writer in her own right who has published numerous essays in international journals across the globe and has contributed her understanding of African literature to multiple published books. She has become something of a staple in Chicago State’s Department of English as her passion for the subject material shines through clearly and her students love that she tries to make the class engaging and interacting.


James Novak, Graphics Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology

Some folks always seem to forget that technology institutions like IIT are some of the best breeding grounds for future artists, especially graphic artists, animators, computer engineers, and graphic designers. One of the main reasons why they are usually so good at producing skilled artists is faculty like Novak. The Director of school’s Engineering Graphics Division, Novak’s research centers on engineering graphics using traditional methods and computer assisted drawing as well as technical illustration and his classes are usually on similar subjects. He has co-authored a book on technical writing and is considered something of an expert on the subject in the Chicago-area. The majority of his students seem to think that his class is relaxing and easy, but not because Novak doesn’t make the coursework demanding, but rather because he does such a good job of teaching the material and offering his help to students in need.


Philip Bohlman, Music Professor, University of Chicago

As both a musician and an educator, Bohlman has quite the impressive resume. He boasts a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is one of the country’s foremost experts on Jewish music and modernity. He is the Artistic Director of “The New Budapest Orpheum Society,” the Jewish cabaret troupe and ensemble-in-residence at the Humanities Division and his work with society helped earn him the 2011 Noah Greenberg Award for Historical Performance from the American Musicological Society. Bohlman he has taught and conducted workshops at theater schools in Germany, has authored or edited numerous books and CDs on music, and has edited things like, “Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology”, and “Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music.” As a professor, he has taught everything from The Origins of Music to Ethnographic Methods, and even Music of the Middle East. It is easy to see why he is such a respected music history scholar. His students occasionally complain that his classes can be some of the more difficult core classes that they take, but they also say the Bohlman is exceedingly nice and goes out of his way to help students and make an effort to keep the classes interesting and exciting.


Elyse Koren-Camarra, Fine Arts Professor, Roosevelt University

In an educational and art hub such as Chicago, smaller schools such as Roosevelt University can easily fly under the radar. The university is facing shrinking enrollment but that doesn’t stop it from employing faculty members with terrific credentials and even better teaching skills such as Koren-Camarra. Koren-Camarra is Chicago-educated through and through. She has degrees from Northwestern University, SAIC, and even Roosevelt University and has been working at the school for 14 years. A talented visual artist, Koren-Camarra has shown her work across the country and the globe and has made a huge impact in the local community by collaborating with community members on biographical art works. She is also a two-time recipient of the Howard L. Willett Memorial Award for work in the humanities and a past President of the Illinois State Committee for the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her students love her not only because she is very nice and makes class fun, but also because, unlike some art teachers, she doesn’t try to pigeonhole her students in to one way of thinking. She is constantly encouraging students to take projects in different directions and she uses numerous field trips to show students different possibilities in the field.


Rolf Achilles, Art History Professor, School of the Art Institute Chicago

Another product of Chicago education, Achilles has a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree from nearby Northern Illinois before going to get his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1977. Achilles is one of the best-known art historians in Chicago and his students routinely laud his “encyclopedic” knowledge of the subject material. All of this makes plenty of sense once you look at his experience. He is not only the curator of The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and Associate Professor of Art History at SAIC, but he is also the co-editor of Hamburg-Chicago Newsletter and has developed multiple websites and grant applications dedicated to the preservation of artistic history in Chicago. His work has one a number of awards and he has served as an art and architecture consultant across the globe including in cities like Prague. He readily admits that he has “devoted his life to documenting, writing, talking, teaching, and preserving interiors and their decorative arts” and it shows in his teaching as well. Students credit his laidback demeanor and approachability as big reasons why they have succeeded in his class. They also admit that while the class material can be dry, Achilles does a great job of engaging the students and making the material fun to learn.


Peter Aglinskas

Peter Aglinskas, Music Teacher, Harper College

Harper College, located in the northwest suburb of Chicago known as Palatine, may not be an instantly recognizable name, but Aglinskas might be – at least in Chicago musical circles. Aglinskas earned a Master of Music degree in Composition from Northwestern University and even won the Honor's Concert Award for his orchestral work there. He also has a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition from DePaul University. Do you understand now why the Chicago music scene has probably heard of him? He has composed, produced, and recorded everything from operatic music to funk music and also rock music; and he has written countless scores for theater and has even been nominated twice for the Joseph Jefferson Award in the category of Best Original Musical Score. He has been a composer and guitarist in a number of local musical ensembles and his diverse musical influences make him an excellent man to learn from. At Harper, he teaches Music Appreciation, classical guitar and jazz guitar, Crime Jazz, and a course that he created. Student reviews range from calling him “a musical genius” to calling him “the best theory teacher I’ve ever had.” They rave about how personable, patient, and kind he is in all of his classes and they all felt as if he made the class fun to go to each day. We think that explains his inclusion on this list easily enough.

  • Tammi Edwards
    Tammi Edwards

    Author, Journalist & Art Enthusiast | Tammi Edwards is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) where she earned two Bachelor's Degrees, and later a Juris Doctor (JD). Her interest in an artistic career took root while an undergraduate at UCSB when the LaBelle Modeling Agency contracted her as a model & voiceover talent.