Mentors are a valuable resource that any artist should have in their court. They teach by their actions, and inspire by their lives. They connect you to others who can also help boost your career or champion your work.
In addition to knowing what your medium is….and I think I figured that out pretty early… it really helps to have a group of people around you who value what you do, and also are an inspiration to push you to work more seriously and have higher standards.
Ben Moss, Ron Graff, Elizabeth Murray, were all artistic mentors for various reasons. Ben for his kindness and sensitive eye, and helping to connect me with some wonderful opportunities, Ron for his uncompromising stance on what it takes to be a painter and insights into combining raising a young family while teaching and making art, Elizabeth Murray for showing how to truly merge art and family life, and in a brief visit to our graduate seminar once, telling us to have “ambition for the work, not for it’s own sake.”
Occasionally, someone may be a mentor to you without even knowing that they are contributing in this way. I would count a number of my hospice patients in this category. One former patient recently celebrated her 105th birthday, and seems determined to keep her mind and body active. ( I am hoping that being engaged in the arts will keep my brain functioning and my options open.) Another woman had a great sense of humor, even while declining, and wanted a ride to have her hair done a couple weeks before she died. All of the people I have spent time with in this capacity had one thing in common- a gracious appreciation for me being there with them.
For all the years I taught at the college level, in addition to all the instruction, critical discussions and interaction about the work being done and techniques being learned; another important thing I could do was to model what it was like to be a practicing artist. In turn, I was inspired by many students .
We need mentors to show us how to live a decent life, to connect us with the world beyond what we already know, and to demonstrate generosity so that we can practice it with others.