Throughout the centuries, artists have learned to paint, sculpt, draw, and create through the expertise of others. From Gustav Klimt mentoring Egon Schiele to Jasper Johns mentoring James Rosenquist, art has a unique and colourful history of mentorship. As a practicing artist, author, and professor of art, John Kissick has been both a mentor and mentee and champions the benefits of both. With work featured internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and publications, John Kissick lent us his expertise on the primary benefits of finding a mentor when you embark on a career as an artist.
Mentorship can manifest in several different ways with varying levels of involvement and guidance. John Kissick outlines mentorship as guidance provided by an experienced person in an organization or educational institution to help someone less experienced. A mentor should be a consultant for your ideas, a counsellor who can listen to your problems, and a cheerleader for your achievements. John Kissick explains that a mentor should be able to provide you with valuable insight, expertise, and knowledge that is not easily accessible anywhere else. It could be someone who motivates you, inspires you, or has taught you a valuable lesson.
As John Kissick points out, maintaining a career as an artist can be extremely difficult, and having someone to guide you through the ins-and-outs of the industry can be beneficial. A great mentor will show you the ropes, empower you with the right knowledge, and allow you to grow on your own and become your own artist. A mentor can help you navigate invoices, contracts, portfolio building, your online presence, and much more. Being able to lean on someone who has ‘been there, done that’ will help you avoid some of the mistakes that most artists make when they embark on a career as a practicing artist.
How Do You Find a Mentor?
John Kissick explains that if you do not personally know someone that you would like to become your mentor, you might want to consider looking at local galleries, arts organizations and institutions to find individuals of interest. If you are unsure of where to look, you can ask friends and colleagues or look on LinkedIn. John Kissick explains that if you know someone in common, it is always best to have them introduce you.
What one person looks for in a mentor may be different from what another person looks for. John Kissick explains that the term ‘artist’ is so broad that it can be useful to refine your search. What is important to you? What expertise are you lacking? You may want to find a mentor who takes a particular approach to art creation, sales, marketing, or any other criteria you consider important. If you are looking to sell your artwork through a gallery, find a mentor who has done this successfully. If you are looking to market and sell your artwork online, find a mentor with this type of experience. A mentor will outline a roadmap for you, so be sure you like where it is headed.
Once you have identified a few key mentors you want to work with, set up a time to meet with them—ideally in-person or on a video call. Prior to the meeting, you should put together a list of key questions, ideas, and topics you would like to cover in order to get the most out of your meeting. A potential mentor’s time is valuable, and showing the initiative to make the most of your limited time together makes a great first impression. Be sure to ask questions that will help you identify whether they are a good fit or not. John Kissick notes that the relationship you develop with a mentor will be one you lean on time and time again, so you need to make sure you get along with and respect them. Not every mentor is going to be a good fit for you and your work. John Kissick explains that it is important to follow-up with them after your meeting.
After you have had the opportunity to meet with your mentor(s), take the time to consider who might be the best fit. John Kissick explains that finding a mentor that is a good fit can take time, so be patient and keep an open mind. Not every mentor will be the right fit for you, and that is okay. Take your time, shop around, and if a mentor you have been working with for years no longer aligns with your current goals, it is okay to look for a new one.
Maintaining a relationship with your mentor is critical, as the responsibility of correspondence will fall on you. A mentor is volunteering their time to help you, which requires you to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Set a date in your calendar every month (or a period of time decided upon with your mentor) to follow-up, including details like: progress you’ve made, goals you’ve achieved, and any questions you might have for them. Lastly, John Kissick suggests attending gallery openings or events with your mentor to take full advantage of their network.