One thing that art school teaches you is how to look at a piece of art. It seems simple and redundant but is essential for trying to understand it. And the rules of the Universe suggest that wisdom can be found in unexpected places. While binging on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, I happened upon this morsel of wisdom again. Russell Chatham, incredible Montana landscape painter, reminded me to engage a little bit more. “View the artwork in three ways” he said, “from 30 feet, from 3 feet, and as close as you can get.” And it sounds so simple, but can be easily forgotten if we get stuck in one position. This is where my endless devotion to ceramics chimes in. With clay you get to take it one step further, it becomes tactile and occupies its space, not just on the wall but also in our daily life, or not, the choices are infinite.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a professor came from a painting professor, Katherine Taylor, who remarked one day that the interesting thing about clay people is that they gather and to choose that path is to accept that it is part of the process of learning that art form. This brings me to my main point. If you are looking for advise seek it out, communicate. There are so many ways of gaining the knowledge you are looking for. In Veterinary Medicine after you receive your DVM if you choose to further your specialty, whether its cardiology or dentistry, you have to seek out a mentor before you can get a residency. It starts very directly either by meeting at a conference or through email. Medicine is clinical in that way, the art community is a bit different. Although I have found that there are some defined rules, ultimately the arts allow for more freedom in its definition of success.
We are living in the age of social media, Facebook, now being 11 years old has redefined how we communicate (or don’t communicate) with people within our social network. We have all had to learn this new form of communication and a majority of individuals have accepted that accessing people via social media is the new norm. Use your social media skills to your advantage. We had an assignment in school. Pick an artist that you admire and contact them. I was amazed by the access the artist I choose to contact gave me, not just to get a grade but to learn about her process and inspiration. Social media also tends to bring a sense of instant gratification, if you have a random question google can probably answer it. Just don’t let it become a substitute for human interaction. There are certain things that can only be learned by experience.
One of the best ways that I know for getting clay questions answered is to attend a workshop. Invest. This is the way the system works today. You pay for knowledge. It funds the system and perpetuates growth. A mentor is defined as “someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.” That is according to Merriam Webster. It is a practice that can be recorded back to Greek mythology. When Athena encouraged Telemacus (If you happened to be wondering.) Workshops by far are the best way to gain access to “mentors”. Art schools like Arrowmont and Santa Fe Clay and Penland and Archie Bray are accessible! And the people who answer the phone are always so nice too. If cost is a factor, and it always is with art folk, there are some scholarship opportunities available, do your research. Clay artists tend to be the accessible sort and that can work in so many good ways.
On finding your personal guru: My mother is a very interesting woman. Born in Argentina she has long relied on her most natural abilities in order to get by. My favorite talent of hers in languages, speaking at least 6 last I checked, she has been able to earn a good living in international shipping. Her rule when courting a business relationship is to ask 3 times. If the answer is no then you have fulfilled your initial goal. Contact, Reply, and Assurance. Don’t be discouraged, the best fit will present itself if you remember to keep working, keep being curious. I’m referencing my mother for two reasons. First: Moms are incredible and capable of imparting so much wisdom. Second: because the rule of three is a sure fire way to get a reply. I can’t help but think of The Walking Dead and Rick’s three questions. Everyone needs a good Zombie Apocalypse fighting team, use that for what you will. And remember that people are busy, figure out the question that you want to find the answers to and apply a relentless approach. Talk to people. Those in your personal support group and those that you admire.
So here’s the highlights:
- *Ask! Use those hard earned Social Media skills. Pick a format that is comfortable to you and use it to your advantage.
- *Join a guild, take a workshop, and/or attend a conference (like NCECA). Get out there and meet people.
- *Alter your perspective. People are busy! Working artists are always doing just that, working. If you are having trouble pinning down a particular person, move on, seek advice elsewhere. I think you will find that there are many people that can help guide and direct you to your goals and it will expand your reach within the art community.
I will be the first to admit that there is a bit of a culture shock that comes with graduation. For me it was a massive life altering event. I did not take the straight road to a BFA, working a fulltime job as a vet tech and slowly taking one or two classes a semester it took me a total of ten years to reach my goal. So as you can imagine art school had become a particular way of life. I quickly discovered after graduation that you are faced with many new questions, the first being: “what next?” and following closely behind is: “oh my God, what have I done”? Everyone graduating college asks themselves the exact same questions, this is not limited to art school, and this is a life reality. You can ease the transition however by remaining involved. A few of my former classmates and I have recently decided to band together for art support. We meet regularly to chat about our lives and sometimes we make things. Before you start searching for our manifesto though, I should say that collectively we have big dreams. The key here is to recognize that you have to participate.
There is no perfect answer for how to find the right mentor. For me it has been about stepping back, about 30 feet, to see the larger picture. The individuals that you have met while you have studied art and those that have given you support along the way each offer unique perspectives that if examined correctly can provide at least some of the answers you are looking for. Some things just take time and personal growth and perspective. Allow yourself the ability to explore and chase after your own curiosities and trust that you will figure it out. It has never failed me to remember that nothing worth earning is easy. And when I have reached a point of stagnant fear I remember one of my favorite quotes: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.”-Frank Herbert. It’s a little deep, I know, but it is a gentle reminder to journey on, ferociously.
For more information on Gabrielle Perry, please contact her via Instagram: gperryclaynerd
For more information on starting an art group: www.makersunderground.org