Art Instructor Rita Obelleiro Passes on the Torch of Supportive Teaching and Valuable Artmaking

Rita Obelleiro lived in South Korea and South America, where she discovered her passion for teaching.

Rita Obelleiro, Instructor in Art, uses art as a tool to connect across cultures and experiences. She started taking oil painting classes at five years old, eventually growing up to receive a Master of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art. After college, she traveled the world and found her passion in education, rather than the art market.

“It was difficult to admit to myself that I wasn’t that interested in the art market. My training was supposed to put me into the art world because when I got my master’s of fine arts. There was a sense that we would all move to New York and create a new life. Instead, I moved abroad and had a really different experience living in South Korea and South America… When I came back, I realized that it didn’t matter to me whether I made it in the art world or not. What I enjoyed was being with people making art, and I think that’s what art teaching ultimately is,” said Obelleiro.

At Andover, she currently teaches Art 305 (Painting), Art 314 (Art as Activism), and Art 600 (Independent Studio Art). Obelleiro’s classes serve as a memorable learning experience for students. She aims to not only impart supportive feedback that helped her during her own journey with art but also learn from the unique perspective each student brings.

Last year, in Art as Activism, we had a radical gardening unit, where we began seedlings in the classroom, read excerpts from Braiding Sweetgrass [by Robin Wall Kimmerer], ate meals together, and talked about the origin of our food. Then we used a plot on campus to create our own garden, and that became a source of art making… I know sometimes grading can get in the way of that, so we’ve been trying to figure out new ways to grade to make it more inclusive and to allow people to have more choice in how they’re assessed… I am a doctoral student in Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship, and am curious about how we each can find value in the artmaking experience.” 

Since painting was the first medium Obelleiro used, she decided to choose it as her art school major. In the past, her main goal was to perfect her technique, but now she focuses more on the creative experience itself. Obelleiro evolved with the help of her teachers’ supportive feedback.

My high school art teacher… gave me an office and let me do whatever I wanted. So there was no structure, but I seemed to do really well with little structure. I did the AP exam on my own. I went to a public high school in Texas… I was drawn to [teachers] who were more supportive. That was the kind of teacher that helped me grow, not the ones who were critiquing my work in a way that [matched] their view of what art is… and not so much trying to understand where I was coming from as a young artist,” said Obelleiro. 

Although Obelleiro is not drawn to a specific genre in art, she finds interest in what is trending. For example, she now involves herself in socially engaged art and looks for the positive connections between teaching and art. Not only does she cherish art for its “ephemeral” nature, but she also explains the huge role it plays in her life. 

“I think [art has] always been a central focus of my life to begin with. I try to live an artistic life, so what I do and make is all part of a kind of creative experience I’m making for myself. [This relates to] how I live, who I live with, and how we design our spaces and our family activities,” said Obelleiro.