This article considers how primary teachers can learn from the practice of artists in their own teaching of art. Fundamental to artistic practice is the notion of practising with various materials and tools. In the article I look at some children's images, as well as scrutinising some statements made by the painter Francis Bacon. The practices of artists like Bacon and Cy Twombly identify the importance of instinct and spontaneity in the making of art. Both articulate the difference between a painting which enables the maker and viewer to engage more directly with the actual experience, or object being depicted, rather than a painting which is merely illustrative and descriptive. How can such ideas help us to re-evaluate our own practice as teachers? An examination of the works, practices and statements made by artists can provide significant insights for teachers struggling with the constraints of a curriculum pedagogy based predominantly on outcomes, with little attention being paid to important processes. The National Curriculum in England, with its emphasis upon literacy and numeracy, has led to the visual arts being consigned to the margins of curricular practice, especially at the critical learning phases of primary schooling between the ages of 5 and 11. If teachers can learn from the examples and practices of artists about the importance of processes of exploration, experimentation and playing with visual materials and tools, then the critical loss of learning opportunities in the visual arts at the primary level might be addressed more carefully in future.