Delicate mentoring

December 4, 2007

Dear Rodney,

Several recent emails have talked about mentoring. There are
different approaches and I've tried a few of them. They range
from "Show me, 'cause I'm going to be tough on you" to
"Whatever you do is good, dear. Go for it." After an analysis
of someone's work, degree of dedication and work habits, a wise
mentor can simply opt to share technical knowledge. A loose
time frame is handy. I've heard myself say, "Do a hundred small
sketches and give me a call in a month." Sometimes you never
hear from them again.

Generally speaking, technical help works better than the
woo-woo stuff. It's been my experience that artist wannabes who
inhale all the motivational books make little or no progress.
In the mentoring game, practicalities win.

At the same time, a mentor needs to figure out how to stimulate
creative curiosity. Fact is, mentees can be difficult, even
self-sabotaging. Some respond badly to tail-wagging, others
can't get enough of it and become dependent. Abandonment of
purpose happens with both approaches. For some mentees, a
vacuum of attention after initial bombardment helps them to
focus and carry the ball. Tough love balances raw empathy. Of
all ploys, the mentor must encourage the mentee to state goals
and aspirations. But mentors also must be aware that if goals
are too closely set, the outcome is more likely to disappoint.
Mentees have the right to change their minds.

Perhaps most important is to imply love. It's important for the
mentee, independent of influence, to name and claim his
winnings.  This means knowing that whatever a mentee may try,
when done with love, can have levels of accomplishment and
success. Historically, great mentors show love by example--love
of process, love of possibilities. The effective mentor shows,
not tells. It starts with the respect of individual vision--a
solitude of equals. Simple, sincere praise, repeated, can cause
a mentee to blossom. It's quite magical. I call it "The Kiss of
the Art Vampire."

Still, it's a delicate business and mustn't leave lesions.
Mentees can be hurt or impeded by inappropriate mentorship.
Mentoring needs to be understood as a shared experience with
payoffs for both parties. Drifting apart is part of the game.
It's important for the mentee, independent of influence, to
name and claim his winnings. Generosity of spirit arises from a
full and independent ego. That's how mentees become mentors.

Best regards,


PS: "Art's golden thread of mentors stretches not just into the
ancient past, but also far into the future." (Paul Soderberg)

Esoterica: "Mentee mentality" implies a period of rapid,
wide-ranging absorption. We live in a time of second opinions.
Art books--historical, biographical, instructional--have never
been better. By typing "Cezanne" into "Google images" we can
instantly see hundreds. While purposeful direction is valuable,
artists, true citizens of the world, also need to avoid the
cognitive hazard called "confirmation bias," the tendency to
search for or interpret information in a way that confirms
one's preconceptions.