Working with a mentor is a long tradition in the art world, in which a less experienced artist looks to one who is more experienced for guidance and training. Is art mentoring still important in the age of instructional videos, books, workshops, and artist groups? What do we gain from having a mentor, or from mentoring other people? Today we will talk about the unique offerings of mentorship, and tips for both mentors and mentees. Our focus today is on the more informal kinds of mentoring as opposed to more formal or paying relationships.
We’ve talked about lots of other forms of learning in this podcast over time—videos, workshops, etc. but today we’ll focus on this more specialized topic.
Not something I have done much of in a formal way, my energy has gone into teaching workshops/ book/ video, also forms of mentoring--- though not as ongoing or personal. But I do have some experience with both formal and informal mentoring.
Wikipedia defines Mentorship as “a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have a certain area of expertise.”
This definition includes being mentored without personal contact
at a distance—you follow someone, pay attention to things they say and do. Maybe never even meet them but they still guide and inform you. This is where all the info available to us online etc. overlaps with older kinds of mentoring. Lots of artists refer to others they have never met as mentors in this sense.
Informal mentors that just happen in your life, people you meet who help you, informal basis
instructors (college, workshop) who you have for a time, or more ongoing relationships.
Professional artists in your personal circle/friends
who are more advanced or have a special knowledge you’re interested in
Most of us have had people like that-- very important in our development. Provide support, encouragement, positive ideas, role models. The personal relationship part is important—this is someone who really sees you, knows you, has insight
Myself—several instructors in college and grad school, as well as an imp. art teacher when I was a young teenager. I knew her personally--helped me see that being an artist was a real possibility for my life. How does one lead an art life. Introduced me to abstraction. Many years later she took one of my workshops—full circle. A powerfull relationship with great impact.
There’s also some gray area--you consider someone a mentor and approach them for advice even though it's not someone they know -- an artist wants advice from someone without that mentor being either a good friend or someone who is paid. More on this in a bit.
If you are advising someone as a mentor, know your own limitations. Be clear about what you know and don’t know, and try to understand when to give advice and when to hold back…More on this in a bit
RE: that gray area in which there are expectations but no discussion about the roles being played —and the person isn’t a friend. For example someone continuing to contact an instructor after a workshop with requests for feedback, sending images of work when not requested etc. This comes across as presumptuous and usually not appreciated.
In any case friend or not--if you want someone’s help -- clarify the relationship. Make sure the mentor is OK with giving what you ask for; be prepared to pay for their time or offer something back.
With people in that gray area--You’re not entitled to their help ongoing because you’ve had a workshop, they wrote a book etc. An email asking for detailed information can be intrusive.
Helping you with your work is a professional service so give it that respect. Ask yourself how much you would expect to be given freely from a friend in any other profession or trade. An auto mechanic friend might be happy to say what they think is wrong with your car, but not to take on its repair…
There should always be clarity and some reciprocity in any mentoring relationship. Don’t push the limits of what is given in terms of help and guidance.
Mentoring by a friend: Respect the boundaries of any mentoring relationship including someone you are personally involved with and understand the needs of the person doing the mentoring.
Be grateful—it’s a rare privilege.
Give them credit when it’s due. Express gratitude with specifics. If the person is trying to help you they would probably like to know on a personal level how it helps.
Do give something back. Show interest in their work, take them to dinner, return a favor that you can offer.
Be objective--Try not to be overly influenced by their approach and style—ideally they are helping you find your own way
try to see what they offer you in an objective light…
they may be giving you advice that they themselves don’t follow or is not the best for you. Does their advice fit who you are now? There may be a time to split from your mentor
If you are the mentor in an informal relationship—
Can be a very rewarding part of a friendship
You have special insight into the person’s life
Understand the impact you are having esp. on a young or undeveloped artist
Recognize the limitations; this Is not about controlling outcome of any sort for your friend
Not about your own ego/ pumping up your accomplishments and image/truly an act of generosity and friendship
May be harder to be honest/direct when friendship is involved, same issues we have with any artist friend being honest or critical
Test the waters, figure out what the relationship will tolerate if you are concerned about damaging the friendship, but be as honest as possible.
Suggest the friend involve a more objective mentor if necessary
Recognize the impact you have, be sensitive. Your role is to be supportive, positive and if you can’t be that suggest they look elsewhere. You don’t want to be a negative influence or overstep your bounds..
Wrap--Up: Mentoring relationships are powerful and hopefully positive. They can be a rewarding informal arrangement on both sides but there should be some acknowledgement of that relationship, not just vague expectations. Next week we’ll go into more formal arrangement when a mentor or art coach is someone you seek out and pay for their services.