The Laws of Nature

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Marilyn Quint-Rose, my mentor and dear friend in her studio

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 3: "Life Support"
section 2: "Murial Cooper"

One of the things I love about artists is our ability to open up and reveal to the world who we are. In a sense, it's like being loveable puppy who rolls on its back exposing its tender underbelly expecting a good rub. However, we don't always get a satisfying rub; sometimes we get a painful jab. It's evident from our wonderful discussion yesterday, that many of us have scars on our tender underbellies and feel a little more protective of them than we used to. Experience is a tough teacher. But, adversity can make us wiser and more determined to succeed. And so, Wendy Richmond dedicates the third chapter of her book to equipping us with the mental tools necessary for our long-term commitment to making art.

Section 2 is titled after Ms. Richmond's mentor, Murial Cooper, who was also the media director of MIT Press and co-founder and director of the Visible Language Workshop at MIT. The author writes a moving tribute to her former mentor who is now deceased, and ponders the importance of not only having a mentor, but being a mentor to someone else.

A good mentor has many necessary attributes. Here, Ms. Cooper serves as a paradigm for effective mentoring. My summary of her characteristics, below, isn't listed in Wendy's book; rather, it's my interpretation of her description of the characteristics possessed by her mentor. Those of you who are reading along, please add whatever I'm missed:

  • First, it's evident from the author's tribute that her mentor was an accomplished woman who possessed advanced skills and vast experience. Her thoughts and opinions deserved consideration and respect.

  • Second, it's also evident that Ms. Cooper carefully listened to others and gave due consideration to their ideas.

  • Third, this mentor encouraged collaboration among her students and peers. She saw the importance of working cooperatively toward a goal that's bigger than any single person and in a way that fosters good will among the team members.

  • Fourth, Ms. Cooper was generous with her materials, time, and encouragement.

  • Fifth, she gave informed guidance but also allowed the freedom of experimentation and exploration.

  • Sixth, it appears that she never demeaned or degraded anyone, nor did she inflict guilt or punishment.

  • Seventh, Ms. Cooper was forward-looking.

I'll save my personal comments about mentors in my life for our discussion when you post your own comments. Please tell us about your mentor (s) and the characteristics that made her/him effective.


M said...

I'm really enjoying this book discussion and the every inspiring responses from followers.

Mentors have been very important to my art practice because I do not have formal art training. In my case I have had a number of mentors providing different kinds of support. Two are not artists at all but their influence on my development has been monumental. They are both astute observers and have led me along through questioning- often prompting lines of thinking that I would never consider if left to my own devices. Some of my best mentoring has been through critique situations where the questions and comments spurred me on to rethink my original intent or to support it vigorously. Then there are the almost silent mentors who lead by example, who are willing to let you into their well developed careers and allow you to see what it really means to make your living as an artist. This is invaluable. Then there are my blog mentors who participate in discussions, pose great questions and are generous all around.

I hope this balances my somewhat negative post from yesterday.

-Don said...

I've had wonderful professors that I learned under. I had a couple great art "guides" as I grew up, but I cannot say that I ever had a mentor in regards to my art. I count my art influences and appreciate every one of them, but none would count as an actual mentor.

I did have one person come into my life when I was a very naive, very raw, very foolish young man who took me under his wing and helped to guide me into adulthood. I count this man, David Verlander, as a mentor. Thru him I learned integrity, maturity and accountability. I don't know that most parents would have approved of David. He was a hard party-er - due, in part, to a horrible divorce - but he was a loyal and trusting friend and mentor. (I was going to be partying at that age anyway, thankfully I "fell in" with someone like David) We both "outgrew" our partying together at which point I met and married my wife. David and I grew apart for a while as I focussed on being a husband and father. We reconnected a few years later, but this was short-lived. Regrettably, due to health issues related to diabetes - aggravated by his years of hard living - David passed away at the young age of 39, so he never lived to see any of my successes. To this day, I cannot hear a Neil Young or a ZZ-Top song without David coming to mind.

Thanks for giving me this opportunity to honor David's memory.

As I type this and think about the criteria you list from Wendy's book I come to realize that the person probably closest to being my art mentor is the author of this wonderful blog.


Carolyn Abrams said...

Like Margaret I missed having a mentoring teacher due to the lack of a formal art education so relied heavily on books. I became "addicted" to them not only for their techniques and technical information but their generally supportive guidance to the novice. Many of the "could be" mentors in my area were not very generous with their knowledge and so i went along until i found Kathy. Not to embarrass her but Kathy became an instant mentor to me. She is generous with her knowledge, kind in her art criticism, easy to talk to and loves a good art discussion! I have learned more from her in a few short months than years of experimenting and taking sporadic classes. I look forward to each week's meeting and will miss her when she goes off to Maine for the summer!

Don, that was a wonderful tribute to your friend and i am sure he is reading it from somewhere in the universe!

Stan Kurth said...

I think the single most important mentor in my life as an artist would have to be my late aunt Barbara Peterson. When I was 4 1/2 years old she furnished me with canvas, pigment and encouragement. I painted my first oil. I will post that painting on my blog soon. It relates to a new series I've started exploring my childhood and art. Barb and my mother were super close sisters; so close that my family and Barb's lived next to each other with adjoining gates and walkways. In eighth grade I actually had her as an art teacher in school, but I learned so much more just being around her at an early age as often as I was. She had a very strong spiritual influence on me as well. I've had many superb teachers, professors and instructors but none with as big an impact as Barb.

hw (hallie) farber said...

No mentors for me, but non-artists have helped by encouraging me to show my work to the public.

I agree with Don's last paragraph; Kathy fits the definition of mentor.

Unknown said...

I agree with Don also in you being an awesome mentor to many of us Katharine!

I honestly didn't read this post before writing my comment on the previous post regarding my underbelly.

I can tell you a bad experience I had with someone who I hoped to be a mentor. Having over 40 years as a professional artist and having work in permanent collections of museums throughout the country, I had hoped to learn much from this artist.

Unfortunately, the mood swings, the harsh criticisms, the inability to not step in immediately to take over something that I wasn't doing perfectly were some of the challenges I faced. There were other incidents that made me wonder if this artist may have even been envious of some of the things I did in terms of being able to draw and deal with people. I realized I was feeling drained instead of motivated after being with this artist so the relationship has ended. I would love to have another to be able to work in person with but I'm very satisfied with the information and encouragement I receive from a few artists I admire in the blogoshpere for now.

Unknown said...

Hi ALL - thank you for sharing all of your thoughts and experiences with mentors.

Don, Carolyn, and Sheila - I'm speechless and have tear-filled eyes over never having realized that you feel that way toward me. Truly, I'm honored but view myself as your peer, not your mentor. I respect you all and appreciate your presence in my life more than you can know. I'd write more, but I'm still speechless!!

Celeste Bergin said...

Katharine--it is a great question and I could probably write a couple of pages on mentors. I am especially happy about my first I will tell you about her. I met Kitty Wallis on Wet Canvas. We both live in Portland OR and I posted in the plein air forum that I wanted to go outside to paint...did anyone want to join me? Well, Kitty answered and the story I tell "on myself" is that I publicly gushed and ooohed and ahhhed and stated how happy I was..but in reality I wrote the other person who said she'd go and remarked something like "DRAT! Kitty Wallis is coming!" lol..I didn't want a "real" artist to spoil our outing. Well....what happened was Kitty was wonderful and shared everything she could with us. I have known her now for 5 years and she is the absolute BEST mentor--she has taught us scads of things that we could not have learned elsewhere. She is amazing! (like YOU!)

Dan Kent said...

I remember in my teens hoping for a person with knowledge and wisdom who would lead me to great things. It is kind of like the childhood dream of Santa Claus. But unless you are particularly assertive in finding such a person and/or lucky, these things often don't happen.

But lessons and skills are transferable. I have learned much over the intervening years from many people about so many things that are helping me now in my "art quest" - I am a firm believer that everyone has something to teach. So I have had a community of mentors, really.

When I began my blog as the result of an offhand comment of one blogger, I had no idea of the community of mentors available online. I can say with confidence that I would be nowhere near my current skill level without the generous sharing of the professional and nonprofessional artists alike - online. I am frankly astounded at how much this community has enriched my life.

And I hope this is not weakened with repetition, but you, Kathy, have provided so much. Even though I many not always have time to comment, I make sure I read your every post, because of the value of what you provide. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - great story!! Thanks for sharing it.

Hi Dan - thank you for sharing your experience, and for making me blush!

Unknown said...

For the past five years I have been working in glass, studying with very talented and giving instructors. But I have yearned for a mentor who will "stick" with me through my development. Two years ago I met a local watercolorist and collage artist whose style and treatment of nature appealed to me. I asked Sharon if she would like to paint with powders on glass. For the past 6 months we have exchanged knowledge, encouragement, ideas and criticism, all leading to our first joint show in glass art. I believe we have formed a symbiotic mentoring relationship that has taken us both into new artistic territory.

Unknown said...

Hi SL - serendipity!! It's wonderful to know that you've formed a partnership with another artist which has been mutually beneficial. Thank you for sharing this.