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The Etiquette of Mentoring – Robert Genn


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The Etiquette of Mentoring
by Robert Genn

January 29, 2010 

Yesterday, Judy Singer of Toronto, Ontario, wrote, "I've been an artist for 36 years and taught at York University for 30 years. I now give workshops in my studio. I'm often asked for advice about how to get a gallery, pricing, my opinion of their work, etc. Yesterday, an artist wanted to know how the gallery system works, how to show and sell. The images he sent were totally amateurish and lacking in skill. He told me that he has not taken any lessons (that's obvious!) and he is worried that lessons would get in the way. He is in his 40's and has another profession. I am at a loss as to what to say to him. Who am I to rain on his parade? What would you do?" 

Thanks, Judy. Everyone deserves to fly. On the one hand you don't want to interfere with people's freedoms or ambitions; on the other hand, you somehow have to tell them to fly to their room. The question comes up so frequently that I've often wished for a small pamphlet or tract I could silently hand out. Once, while having a bad hair day, I said, "I don't want to upset you, but in my opinion, and it's only an opinion, your work is so bad you might consider chartered accountancy." Bad as the work was, the baddest of all was how I felt after saying it. 

Then, numbers of neophyte artists are running off to (often expensive) art-marketing workshops and business seminars. It's like eye surgeons taking courses in bedside manners before they know anything about cataracts. I generally tell people that if their art is professional enough, marketing will not really be a problem. I'm not being smug here, but that's been my system. I spend practically no time marketing or even thinking about it. 

Here's what you need to do: Direct people to above-average arts organizations, clubs or guilds. Recommend ones with quality membership, professional standards, juried shows and community clout. You can often get people to join by emphasizing the fun of it all. Search diligently within their work to find even the merest possibilities. Give praise to potential. 

I've found the following sentence useful for all artists--good, bad and indifferent: "The real joy of art is in the making. Go to your room for a year and actively follow your nose. I'm interested in your growth, so please keep me informed." 

Best regards, 


PS: "There are some people that if they don't know, you can't tell them." (Louis Armstrong)

Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to publish his twice-weekly newsletter/blog.  To gain more inspiration from Robert,  you can visit his website at http://www.painterspost.com

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