Mentoring Mania

Being a skilled and talented artist does not mean you make a great mentor for other artists. Knowledge isn't passed down with a single afternoon workshop or a semester of work-study. I have learned this the hard way by working with the most talented humans and not having gained a single ounce of their moxy. The people I have learned from have gone out of their way to envelope me into their daily lives while engaging with me on art related tasks or rolling me into projects with them. I call these people my mentors, instead of teachers for many reasons. They don't bore me with lectures on historical studies. However, while we work they might share something they liked about a documentary they watched. They don't give me a grade, but they will fix my mistakes while showing me what I did wrong.

If you need someone like this in your life, chances are you probably already have one, if not more. These are the people who don't brag or boast. You might not truly fathom how talented they are because they only discuss current projects and stay focused on their discipline. I sought some advice once on how to become a better mentor myself. Working with college students and children I wanted to teach them how to do what I know how to do and to do it the way I do it. I was going about it all wrong. A mentor doesn't pour information down throats. Having high expectations of what your students will learn will set you up to fail. That's how students can drown and loose interest. I had to learned to back away and instead lead by example. How can I try without trying though? Be a good friend. That's who my mentors are . . . good friends. If you are sitting near your mentor right now, give them a hug!

When making art in collaboration with others the atmosphere must be relaxed and cool. Coming at a project with anxiety and doubt are going to scare away your associates and doom your chances of collaboration again. When people first decide to work together in a mentor/study arrangement it usually started with "Oh, wow, you are so talented . . . I want to be able to do this just like you." The truth is they will never be just like anyone. They will be uniquely themselves and that’s a good thing. The only chance to rub off on them is to accept that they are going to learn and use the skills differently than we do. We make artists, not clones of artists. My style and work structure does not come from just one source, so why should we expect theirs to?

Some of my favorite mentors have seen me through all walks of life. They have let me live with them, hired me to work for them, introduced me to more great artists, and they have given me very stern talks about my mistakes. Okay, they yelled at me, okay, are you happy? When someone I work with yells at me it can often make me angry right back. My first reaction is "how dare they talk to me like that". When in reality I need them to talk to me like that. Mentors are responsible for showing us what is important when we don’t see it by ourselves. Things we walk in and start taking for granted will offend them because they are people who care about what they are doing. And now, suddenly we care about it too.

Without naming names, some of my most cherished mentors are film makers, mask makers, actors, directors, producers, engineers, sculptors, dancers, painters, projection artists, childcare providers, and college professors. I have a hard time even grasping the idea that someone would look up to me the way I look up to my mentors. That look like if maybe you stare long enough the secret to their success will be readable on their face. If you wear the same kind of shirt they wear than your body will move the same way their body does. I have tried all these tricks. The only one that works is to follow them around like a puppy dog, sitting and listening on command. Hoping sometimes they will drop a little scrap of knowledge you need. Something you have been craving for like a new material, a better brand, a confidence in color, or a trick of the trade.

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