Marketing Mondays: The Mentor


Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, takes the guise of Mentor, the elder who guided Odysseus's son, Telemachus
Image from the Internet

A friend mentioned recently that her work had been profoundly affected by a well-respected art professional who, looking at her paintings, said, “Make them larger.” Inspired to see where scale would take the work, she created a series of large paintings; they in turn led her into a series of small to mid-size sculptures and prints that have brought her increasing critical notice.

Hearing my friend’s story prompts me to note that our mentors come in all forms. Some are there for the long haul—a former teacher, a trusted dealer, perhaps an older or more professionally experienced artist who takes an interest in our work and dispenses encouragement and wisdom when we seek it or need it. Others appear more fleetingly in our lives, perhaps with only a comment.

It turns out that the person who “mentored” my friend with that fleeting remark has been a longtime friend and mentor to me. What we receive, and what we perceive can have a huge impact on our work, even if the contact is brief. Of course, we don’t accept advice blindly but sift through and keep or act on what is important to us, and it is up to us to evaluate the result of the advice.

My friend’s fleeting mentorship is a good lesson for those of us who are in a position to make a difference, for what we say—even if it is one comment—could utterly change another artist's life (and we might never know). Indeed, my friend is now in a position where her own words are now enormously influential on others.

My mentor has not focused on my art so much as on the art world, helping me understand how the various parts work and how they fit together. A mentorship is not static; you build on what you learn, connecting the dots to make informational structures of your own. In part, that's why I am able to bring Marketing Mondays to you.
Mentoring is an act of generosity. Repay your mentor with respect. Return the generosity of a mentor by paying it forward; you'll understand what that respect means when you receive it from someone you have mentored. Don't use what you have learned to try to usurp your mentor's positon; that's being selfish and insecure. If you've learned well, you will understand how to create the work you need to make and how to create a place for yourself so that it may be seen. When you are feeling secure enough to assume the role of mentor yourself, consider your words and advice carefully.
Please add to this conversation.
. Have you been mentored?
. If so, how has mentoring helped you?
. Have you returned the generosity of a mentor by paying it forward?

. Have you had a bad experience as a mentor or protégé?

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ruth hiller said...

I lived in NYC in the late eighties and decided to quit my design career. I lived in Soho, which at that time was the center of the art world. Since I didn't have a degree in fine art, I thought that rather than go to school and get a masters, I would find an artist to assist. I sent out letters to a lot of artists who are now famous and most of them met me for coffee! I ended up getting a job assisting the painter, Ron Gorchov. Working with him was a life-changing experience for me. He took me to dinners at major gallerists' homes and always had an interesting lineup of people at his house. They were all so welcoming and nice, not what I would have expected! During a recent critique of my work the teacher asked me if I knew of the painter Ron Gorchov, because he thought my shaped paintings resembled Ron's! I still talk to Ron to this day. What an amazing man!

Laura Moriarty said...

The art world becomes an ugly place when you look at it through the lens of entitlement and competition, where everyone is trying to get to the 'next level', often by stepping on the very people who have helped them rise. Sometimes it seems like this practice is actually promoted as a tactic for success. But the art world is a beautiful place when you look at it through the lens of mentorship. Part of being mentored is deferring to those with more experience; not trying to stand toe to toe with them, but rather, humbly taking in their words, even when they are harsh. In this way, deep creative growth takes the place of defensive bitterness. I only wish the community of encaustic painters who give Joanne Mattera so much push-back for her own brand of mentorship would realize this.

Kate P. Miller said...

Sometimes mentorship comes from very unexpected places. Recently I had a piece of my work on display at MOCA of Jacksonville in a UNF faculty annual exhibit. I got an email from someone I dont know who was intrigued by my painting and wanted to know more about it. She made some commentary about how looking at the piece made her feel. It was a very sensitive comment that went to the very heart of my own personal intent in the painting. The woman is not an artist but an art lover and yet she read deeply into the heart of the painting and expressed what she saw and felt in a way that was new and touching to me. Getting her commentary in an email has clarified some issues I had concerning the piece and helped me to see more in this work. Needless to say, her feedback, though unsolicited was greatly appreciated and may influence my future work.

Nancy Natale said...

I’ve been having a hard time writing a comment on this post because I am immensely grateful to you for having mentored me, Joanne, both directly and through the annual encaustic conferences that you organize.

Six years ago I began attending the encaustic conferences, beginning with the very first one and attending all of them since. I was very green initially but your selection of well-qualified professionals to deliver talks and demonstrate techniques, the wonderful keynote speakers you brought in such as Kay WalkingStick, Barbara O’Brien, Roberta Bernstein and Ed Winkleman, and the panels you moderated on topics that transcended the medium of encaustic and embraced the entire career of being an artist – all worked together to elevate my expectations of myself and my work.

Over time and as we got to know each other, I began actively participating in the conferences, first by being included in a show you curated relating to books, next making presentations on various subjects and finally teaching day-long workshops on bricolage, a genre dear to my heart.

The conferences also brought artists together and you encouraged us to form organizations that met year round. I volunteered in an organization and met people who have become dear friends and art pals through this association.

Your encouragement and critiquing of my work has helped me develop a personal voice and to set goals for myself. The introductions you provided have moved my career along and given me a vision of how I can approach the future. More than anything, you have provided me with a model of professionalism and a high standard for making my way in the art world. I can never repay you for all you have done, but I hope that I have been able to pay it forward to others in small ways through encouragement, advice and support.

Krista Svalbonas said...

I've been lucky to have some really wonderful teachers in my time, one of which went from teacher to mentor to very close friend. I find her advice invaluable and really attribute a lot of my awkening as a professional artist to her. I think it's very important to realize that a mentorship goes both ways. It's important to give as much as you take. I've been also fortunate enough to have mentored a few students in my day who in turn have become steadfast friends and who have also realized the beautiful gift of returning respect and kindness.