These days, there’s a new trend in some of the big corporations. It’s called “reverse mentoring.” The top brass and middle managers are being actively coached by employees half their ages. Companies have discovered that interaction with younger people gives older folks a wiser grounding in the real world. There’s another pay-off as well — more cooperation between the generations. It’s a two-way-street.
When I was about twelve I begged my dad to lend me some money to buy a war-surplus Lancaster bomber. They were dime-a-dozen at the time. Dad didn’t bite. I told him: “Youth has a wisdom that age knows not of.” In those days I was already showing signs of being a pundit. Today there are only about six Lancasters that have been saved — worldwide.
Sure, aged wisdom and a sense of caution are of value, but when we elect to become artists we have to be particularly careful of creeping fogeyism and the hardening of creative arteries. As is well known, those who don’t exercise can build up a lot of plaque. The antidote has to do with the dance of life. A sort of Jazzercize or Pilates with youthful minds. When you really look at it, life’s an opportunity to try on a lot of ideas, not just the ones that work. Having your own kids to program your CD player or tell you that your painting is “totally tubular” is a golden gift, but maiden aunts and funny uncles can get in on the good stuff too. It’s attitude. Who you hang out with. What books you read. What shows you see. How you listen. Who you avoid.
Those of us who regularly do jury duty and see a lot of art tend to notice a certain condition. “Stuck,” said my fellow juror yesterday. The unpleasant term is “painterly senility.” Not that youth always does better. But youth is there, often willing to share, often able to give a different spin. Fogeyism need not be chronic.
In The Dreamway, the wise old woman says: “Children of the dreamway are closely studied for the lessons they give.” And as Brian Johnson has noted, “The only people I have ever seen paint successfully, consistently, with great authority, unselfconsciously and without fear of failing were about four years old.”
PS: “Give youth your highest respect.” (Confucius) “It takes a very long time to become young.” (Picasso) “The child is the father of the man.” (William Wordsworth) “What Youth deemed crystal, Age finds out was dew.” (Robert Browning)
Esoterica: Just as the thick-headed CEO can be modified, painterly senility can be lessened and even defeated by reinventing yourself with more youthful attitudes and curiosities. Hang out. Teach kids. Then again you may have done enough talking. Try listening. Never underestimate the capacity to change your mind. Incidentally, my dad’s thinking on the Lancaster was: “Where could we put it?” I’m beginning to think he had a point.
Misnomer of reverse mentoring
by Birgit Coath
One of my jobs while I was in the business world was to create a mentoring program for our large corporation. The more I studied the dynamics and the outcomes we were seeking, the more I began to understand that mentoring is assumed to be done by a person older than the protégé. If we examine our intention — and that is to learn and be more effective, the mentored message can be borne by anyone (360′). In fact, many senior executives wanted mentoring in computer concepts, but they were unprepared to attend classes. As I developed our program I consciously avoided the misnomer of “reverse mentoring” because it perpetuated a myth. So, having said this, I want to make a connection to how we make assumptions and how that can close off ideas and/or entrench invalid roles. Sometimes the lines are assumed, so we still “colour inside them.” (Scitoma comes to mind)
(RG note) A scitoma is a blank spot in a person’s visual field.
Requesting to copy letters
by Sarah Ann Smith, Friday Harbor, WA, USA
I wanted to ask permission to copy the entirety of your letter on Archetypes on two e-list groups, one is the Quiltart list, the other a smaller group on Yahoo that was created for people who are participating in an art challenge based on the theme of Myths and Legends. Please let me know if this is OK? I will include information on how to subscribe to your letter and your website.
(RG note) Thanks for asking, Sarah. The answer is yes — I’m honoured. We get requests like this with the issue of every letter — some letters more than others. If readers feel that material might be of additional use in a print or online publication, in a newsletter or other medium, please let us know. I’m happy to be an “associate” in your publication.
Mutually beneficial relationship
by Elizabeth Azzolina, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA
Youth is energizing force. In my workaday environment, I am surrounded by young people. They are full of life and hope and curiosity. I’m inspired by their visions, goals and determination. At the same time, my relationship with them is mutually beneficial. The young people seek and enjoy my experience and knowledge. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could have our cake and eat it too? To be young and have the knowledge and wisdom of age. Age breeds caution and a yearning for security. Youth invites risk and challenge. As we grow older it becomes so important to be able to balance our sensibilities with our curiosities. We should always be yearning for something more, sidestepping our fears to travel our chosen path.
by Cathrine Morton, New Zealand
I’m flexing my artistic muscles and enjoying the responses it is bringing from my two girls, ages 6 and 4. They are not afraid to give me their opinion and consequently they have helped me add a spark to my paintings. I was interested in your quote from Brian Johnson about 4 year olds. Mine probably paints a picture a day and spends the rest of the time drawing, either on paper or on the computer. She is not afraid to put anything she wants on paper and always has clarity about what she is doing. She knows without a doubt when her picture is finished and you can’t stop her until it is. Each piece is always shown to the family with great pride. She was thrilled the other day when after reading some of the responses from a previous letter I told her she was an artist. Both my girls have said at different times that when they grow up they want to be artists. It has given them such excitement and happiness to be told they already are. I think people often discount children’s art as just blobs or uneducated scribbles — but we can learn so much from the honesty and vitality that they put into each piece.
Giving the unimaginable
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
Painting for most of my life, it took my nephew, half my age, to open my eyes to the fact that art isn’t about good artwork but about being artistic. It’s not about pretty pictures alone. It’s about the attitude and sensitivities that a work of art may evoke. It’s about giving the viewer something that they never could imagine.
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Sparks, NV, USA
Four-year-olds may paint unabashedly but the true teachers (and mirrors!) are teenagers, and more specifically one’s own who have no shame in “telling it like it is” art wise and in any other aspect of life for that matter. From how I breathe, literally, to whether or not a piece of art is “crap,” the kid will speak. Actually I really value this as I know he will tell the truth and not be prejudiced as adults might potentially be by their fearing hurt friendship or egos.
by oliver, Austin, TX, USA
I’ve been a student/mentee and a teacher/mentor in a few areas. I find that the most educational time is when I first transition to teaching/mentoring — my confidence builds and there is nothing quite as good at making you focus as having to communicate what you know. And then there are the questions asked of you and they drive you into many new thought patterns. Hopefully, you can give a little back in exchange for all these lessons your mentee/students give you.
Loves teaching kids
by Carolyn Smith, Victoria, BC, Canada
My mother had 7 children, and my father left us at an early age. I was trained to help kids, went into daycare and had fun teaching kids, cooking, sports, music and art. One little girl who was only not even two, wanted to paint like all the other kids. Her motor skills were not fully developed, so instead of discouraging her, I encouraged her and put playdough around her little bottle of water so she couldn’t knock it over. The smile on her face was everything. Everyday my daycare kids would ask, “Can we paint?” They knew I would let them, they just loved to ask it! I love teaching kids. My goal this summer is to teach vacationing kids on a remote holiday island.
by Rose Moon, Sedona, Arizona, USA
My 26-year-old son asked me to do the artwork for an independent film he was making in school. It was a story about a high school artist on a quest of self-discovery. I have spent the past 9 months working exclusively for this movie project. I created all the artwork that the character did in his sketchbook, I designed comic book characters, and had a great adventure with some animation. My husband asked me when was I going to get back to my own artwork. I said, “What do you mean? This is my artwork!” Now that the movie is done I am curious as to what will come out of me now.
by Annie Grauer, Little Rock, AR, USA
The idea of reverse mentoring made me think of something I have often encountered. I have been accused of being “childish” in the way I do things, react, and sometimes things I say. I reply, “I am not childish, but child-like.” I see things as a photographer from a point of view not unlike a child’s. I have been told by others that my photography reflects a different side of ordinary, everyday objects, but for me it’s what keeps it interesting after over 50 years of work in the field.
The shortness of life
by Mary Madsen
I read the other day that human lifespan near the turn of the 19th Century was about 50. I’m 51, so I figure I’m only one year old in this new and unusually long life I’ve got. It changed my perspective on everything, especially since a potter friend of mine died just a few weeks ago in the middle of our Kazegama firing. One minute he was with us, the next minute he was a memory. He was only four years old at the time, or 54 if you look at it in the usual way.
Life’s too short, we live too long, and the next second of our existence is much too unreliable to neglect the child in us and not let him or her out to play. Like you, I have the great good fortune of being the parent of a young adult in the arts, a young woman with outstanding artistic sensibilities and talent. I still help her balance her checkbook, but she’s the one I turn to with every painting and sculpture for the most valuable critique. When we were recently at The Art Institute of Chicago, she complimented me on my evolving sensibilities when I admired some of the modern art on display. This one-year-old was very pleased to receive the praise of her elder. However, I was not at all happy when she wouldn’t let me have hot dogs for breakfast!
A lot of artists, especially those in the outsider and self-taught art, are using eBay as their gallery. “Stuck” art doesn’t sell so well on that site, but the outsiders are gathering quite a following. They don’t take themselves too seriously, retain a sense of fun and adventure, and they’re doing some very good work that may one day lead to a new definition of 2D art in this new world.
War surplus aircraft
by Jack Waters
I too asked my father if it would be possible to purchase an aircraft in about 1947. I used to ride my bicycle along a road beside an old airport where there were about 20 Catalina amphibious sub-chasers parked in a field. My friend and I would wade through the grass and climb aboard the aircraft, whereupon we would sit in the “driver’s” seat and activate the control surfaces with the fully functional stick and pedals. When I learned that these aircraft could be purchased for $200, I was astounded and urged my father to help me acquire such a beautiful and wonderful aircraft. My father, just as yours did, recognized the logistics of such an acquisition, and saner minds prevailed. I learned later from my Industrial Arts teacher, that he had bought one and got enough stainless steel wire, control pulleys and various parts to equip several sailboats and then sold the remains of the aluminum for scrap. A few remaining of these Catalina flying boats are still used today, converted to water-bombers for forest protection.
(RG note) Thanks, Jack. Great minds think alike. Several artists wrote to ask what a Lancaster was. Noted for its ability to take a lot of flak, it was a British-built four-engine bomber that made many raids over Germany during WW2.
by Jerry Waese
The Dreamway is an astonishing thing. I feel I know each line already like a déjà vu, and now I have to go back to finish the list (added as # 1 in my favorites on internet explorer) as I am only at item 50: “Acrobats walk a tightrope of self and selflessness above the Dreamway.” (I had to pause my reading to email 6 people to look at that link.)
(RG note) The Dreamway tells of a curious encounter with a street-woman who laid some valuable insights in my direction. It’s available in its entirety on our site at http://painterskeys.com/the-dreamway/
Painted Rock, Montgomery Potrero
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, 2004.
That includes Mary Jean Mailloux who wrote, “These response pages deepen the meaning of the original letter and make me re-read and re-evaluate its contents.”
And also S. Grabarsky who wrote, “My favorite young person to find direction from is Janis Joplin! Forever a young, gutsy, down and dirty artist, she makes me think I still am.” She also contributed this quote to our Resource of Art Quotations: “Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons.” (Al Hirschfeld)
And also Lilli London who wrote, “You have convinced me that teaching children could be very good for my own art, so I am going to give it a try.”