On Saturday I visited privately with 24 painters. My friend Sinisa Mirkov controlled the timing of the 15-minute sessions. I looked at originals, jpegs, slides and prints. For eight hours I felt like a doctor with a sore foot in one office and a facial tic waiting in the next. Billed as “one-on-one mentoring,” I promised everything from “phone the Guggenheim” to “don’t give up your day job.” All the artists were asked to give me an idea where they wanted to go with their art.
Like a lot of painters, I’m totally curious about creative drives and motivations. The variety of approaches was the first thing I noticed. Some apologized for their presumption in applying for the mentoring and mentioned their supposed unworthiness; others came on like gangbusters with lofty plans and plenty of creative evidence to back themselves up. A couple of artists didn’t seem to want my opinion; others craved any sort of guidance. Some were looking for some quick-acting pill to fix them up. Bombasts and masochists aside, a nice two-way flow of rationalization and recommendation prevailed. I think I was able to give a bit of help for future direction, copacetic workshop instructors, commercial considerations, etc.
As usual, I found myself admonishing small painters to paint bigger, big painters to paint smaller, tight painters to paint looser and loose painters to tighten up.
The world of art is fully loaded with rugged individualists, so it was not a case of one size fits all.
Thriving artists tend to be self-driven and alive with their dreams. Needless to say, this sort of focus can easily be mistaken for egocentrism or even peripheral blindness. Fact is, in our game, focused folks are the most effective and most likely to succeed. Meeting with someone who wanted to push me around, I knew I was in good company. It seems to me the real value of this sort of encounter is the repartee. Conversations, especially brief, cut-to-the-chase ones, can refocus and re-inspire. If done carefully, strength and power are rebuilt. Further, it’s simply a joy to know we are not alone.
PS: “The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another’s observation, not overturning it.” (Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton)
Esoterica: Sinisa and I thought about videotaping the encounters, but there were issues of confidentiality. Private and candid truthfulness on both sides is of real value when assessing potential. Further, I prefaced every session with the understanding that I was only giving an opinion. Like any decent GP, I encouraged all to seek others. I pointed out that opinion is one of the world’s cheapest commodities, freely scattered like the autumn mushrooms in the forests of this beautiful island. These folks were already attending a week-long workshop with top-notch artists and instructors. Zombified at the end of the day, I now have a greater respect for physicians: their brevity, their empathy, and their schedules. The doctor is in. Next!
A day of mentoring
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Honest feedback from someone you trust is so important for the artist who truly wants to grow in his/her profession. I belong to a group of artists who meet monthly to do this for each other. These critiques have helped me a lot. I was recently asked to do a critique at our art league meeting and while doing it was wondering about the motivation for some of the artists bringing their work to the critique. Some clearly wanted help, some may have wanted congratulations from the others and some were surprised there were flaws in their painting. It is a hard job to give someone a sensitive but honest critique.
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Problems with the support group
by Angel Lampman, Paris, France
In the tradition of the Academies there was very little in the way of support groups. There was however, the tradition of competition. Competition is the true builder and energizer of creative growth and effective careers. Sitting around massaging one another is the wrong way to go. Every artist, painter, musician or writer deserves to choose well and get an expert, a success, a master, and yes, sit at his or her feet for a while — but only a while. All else leads to the endless and depressing perpetration of mediocrity.
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Long distance mentoring
by Sharon Terrizz, Kerikeri, Northland, NZ
It’s amazing how often you seem to strike a chord in your articles and quotes; it keeps me on the straight and narrow and focused on what I love to do. My favorites are saved for inspiration or rejuvenation when I’m feeling a bit worn down. In the last two years I have switched my primary medium from painting to clay, but your letters still relate to what I’m doing!
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Business mentor best for balance
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
The best thing I ever did was to get myself a mentor who is in the business world, not an artist. She listens to my ideas, goals, and implementation of plans. She advises me away from the precipice of stupid ideas and toward successful ones. Because she is in the corporate world, she has a different slant on things than I do as an artist. One of the mistakes a lot of artists make is to spend all of their time interacting with artists or those in the arts community. I learn far more from my relationships with non artists, because they live in a different world than I do.
Long term mentor
by Emily Van Cleve, NM, USA
During a four year period I was the mentee in a one-to-one mentoring relationship. My mentor was available whenever I felt I needed to see her, which turned out to be about once every two months. These very special 60 to 90 minute sessions were “art-changing” experiences that I will always deeply value.
Nary a smile from the men
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA
Thanks to you and your ‘patients’ for sharing the beautiful work! It’s obvious these artists have the talent and skill to create wonderful works of art and found your input enlightening. However, I have a question for you, why are the ladies smiling, while the men look like they’ve been prodded with a poker? While it doesn’t always seem so, painting is FUN… we need to remind folks of that.
(RG note) Thanks, Jan. I always carry a poker. I hate to see women cry. We left out two or three pictures of the women who did.
Satisfy the self
by Selwyn Owen, Toronto, ON, Canada
Opinions? Criticism? Mentoring? The most productive and honest response is first from the painter to the work itself, and second whether the work stands the test of time. Being honest with oneself about a work is the test. Satisfy yourself and support the decisions.
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Welcoming the assignment
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA
Mentoring is a fantastic way to create a dialog and camaraderie among artists. One must be incredibly careful and cautious of your own motivations when mentoring others. I have watched a plethora of excellent and well-meaning teachers crash and burn by giving their heart and souls to others in the name of “education.” They teach and become frustrated when the student doesn’t listen or learn. This does not make them a bad teacher necessarily… nor the student a bad pupil. It is simply a matter of the motivation behind the teaching and the willingness of the student to learn. You must go into mentoring with the intention of telling your experiences and knowledge without expectations that anyone will take your advice at all… if someone does, then it is a gift of respect that you (as the teacher) should cherish forever.
I believe that when I am confronted with a student that disagrees or challenges my perspective, it is merely a lesson I have to learn or a growth spurt that I must face to become a better artist and instructor. This has always been the case and I welcome the assignment.
Dead artists speak loudest
by Beth Deuble, San Diego, CA, USA
Dead artists have been the most influential mentors for me. Fellow artists as mentors have been far and few between and I have experienced artists who have a jaundiced eye when looking at other artists work and thus their comments are not helpful. Comparison, of course, is inevitable — but what is there to really be jealous of? Friends say they like or love my work — but none have ever bought anything. Perhaps they were just being kind in their comments, or perhaps like many people, they think art should be free, like something they see in a museum or on the wall at the office. No, I have found that dead artists are most alive for me. I just finished reading the biography of British artist, Vanessa Bell. It was the right person at the right time for me to read to really get a sense of living and breathing everyday as an artist. She had formal training under John Singer Sargent yet her work is very different from his style. She painted primarily in the post-Impressionist style and was a brilliant colorist. She painted all her life; painted what she knew, her family, friends, her homes, especially Charleston, plus abroad in France and Italy, and lived an authentic life. Her life was not easy though. It was peppered with great tragedy and loss. Yet, I see and sense she enjoyed great fulfillment. This artist suffered from her own inner doubts about her work and this was in part due to the fact that she was living with the artist, Duncan Grant, and was constantly being compared to him. Their work is similar as they traveled together and often chose the same subject matter. But they were different and not just in subtle ways. I have studied her sister Virginia Woolf for over twenty years and own many books by her and books on what is called, Bloomsbury art. I would encourage anyone who wants to know what an artist’s life can be and in reality was, to read about Vanessa Bell. The message I found was so simple — be true to oneself.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Individual mentoring…
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Jane Walker of Canterbury, Kent, England who wrote, “The point about not being alone is critical. By definition we work alone but we still need colleagueship and peer group feedback.”
And also Brad Greek of Mary Esther, FL, USA, who wrote, “I love to get feedback, good and bad. Beginners are sensitive, so you have to be selective. True is the statement that it is just one’s opinion. Being focused and committed is the key.”