Thanks to my mentors
I have had mentors for most of my career as an artist. I am grateful to the incredible artists who have permitted me to share in their lives and creativity, even in the smallest of ways. They have all given me precious gifts.
Teaching by example
Very few of my mentors are still living, and the ones who are are still alive are working just as hard as they were when I first met them. They remain a constant reminder of how important it is to keep producing work and stay true to ourselves. When times are tough, I always look to them for strength.
Was it luck?
I was blessed to have been smart enough to realize the opportunities that these mentors gave to me. One of the most fundamental secrets that enabled me to work with these wonderful artists was consciously letting go of my ego. To be able to work successfully with other artists, you need to set your differences aside and your attitude.
The mentorship relationship
A mentor is more than a teacher. This relationship is one of mutual respect and admiration. All of my mentors treated me as a peer even though I was 20 to 30 years younger than they were. These working partnerships were symbiotic and based on trust. I helped them, and they helped me. There was always an intense exchange of ideas, and quite honestly, I learned more in these kinds of situations than I did in art school.
Benjamin Franklin’s quote above is so accurate. Being involved in my mentor’s life, creativity, processes, and daily routines essentially taught me not only how to be an artist but how to survive as one as well. They became artist-parents to me and gently guided me towards the life I now live.
Was it free?
No, it wasn’t. In the early years, I had no money. So I did chores, cleaned their studios, stretched canvases for them, did errands and helped hang their exhibitions. In other words, I made myself useful. When I started making money, I offered what I could afford to pay them for their knowledge and my access to them. When times became better, I bought their paintings.
As an older artist myself, I have become increasingly aware of how fortunate I was to have worked closely with the people I did. Many of my teachers became my mentors, going way beyond the limitations of the classroom in their efforts to see me succeed as an artist.
Passing it on
I continue their work by reaching out to those I believe have what it takes to be an artist. I meet many young and old artists who have great potential, some open-minded and some unwilling to listen to experience and wisdom.
Treating it like shit
One of my favourite teachers once said, “I give you gold, but you treat it like shit,” to a group of arrogant young artists, all of whom were ignoring his instructions. The lesson he was teaching that day is something I still use every day some forty years later. It was gold.
I’m still learning
As an older and more experienced artist, now I see and understand his frustration. I have attempted to carry on with my mentor’s work by trying to help out other artists. I have provided gallery opportunities and contacts to some artists, who either have treated the references I gave them in an entirely inappropriate way or ignored the opportunity altogether, putting everyone in a very poor light.
Today, many artists view each other as “the competition” and do not see the importance of working together or sharing information. From my own experience, most seem to expect to be able to “pick” your brains and offer nothing in return. I continue to share, even though it feels more like a “hit and run” than any actual exchange of knowledge. It is the nature of our contemporary world.
It just happens
Good people find each other. It happens without any effort being made. I have been fortunate to have met some pretty amazing artists, playwrights and cultural workers to hang with these days. The conversations are lively, and the ideas flow in ego and attitude-free zones.
What more could anyone ask for?