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Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Artist Apprentice - Teaching the New Generation of Creators

I am always envious of the old masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci who apprenticed under the Florentine painter Andrea del Verrocchio. While Da Vinci was by far the more well known artist, Verrocchio was no slacker.

Regardless of either mans status as a great painter, this was the era of apprenticeships. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement where the emerging artist could benefit greatly from the experience of the older more established artist.

This is a system that we have sadly lost over the years. Apprenticeship now is looked upon as archaic. I've never really understood why. Perhaps its because artists now have no patrons to help them learn and fund their works. An artist in today's society has to hit the ground running. The schools are expensive. The galleries won't touch an emerging artist until they prove themselves (and sometimes not even then). Regardless of whether they are young or old, if they want to set their path towards the arts, its a hard battle with very few to help them along the way.

What I would have given and would still give to have an established artist to guide my hands and my ideas. We all need our mentors, perhaps even the older more established artists. Sometimes its just a mental need, to have someone we trust tell us if our work is great or total shit. To have someone who understands the frustrations and the joys.

Many call me an idealist. They tell me that I should stick to my own art and stop worrying about the paths of others. But my personal ethics say to me that if I learn something and I benefit from it, then it is only right to give it back to others.

Art is one of those things that cannot be mimicked (unless your a forger). If I teach you the exact skill set that I have and I tell you to recreate a piece that I've already created, it will inevitably reflect the personality of the person making it. It may resemble my piece, but it will not BE my piece. So why fear of sharing skills and techniques and secrets of the craft? What you create will never be what I create (again unless your a forger, but that is a story for a different day).

Its my personal crusade to share what I know with others. I am an experimental artist to the core. I take things that have no right being used the way I use them and I bend them to my artistic will. I am not saying I know anything greater than any other artist, but I do know things. And those things should be shared.

I do this a hundred times a day right now through the social networks. Everything I make is shared from start to finish. Its photographed, its documented, its discussed. I do this so automatically now that its habitual for me. And I do it with the idea that while I may have an artist in Argentina and an artist in Bulgaria that follow the creation of a particular piece while its being made, there is no way for me to calculate how many artists may look at those discussions later, over years and decades.

Da Vinci kept his notebooks. And even now 600+ years later they are an invaluable resource for today's artists. What would we all give if there had been an internet and a great camera in his time (yeah I know, but its a fun thought to think what he would have left us). But the man gave us his genius in the one way he could for his time.

Don't get me wrong, I am NOT comparing myself to Da Vinci. What I am doing is stressing how valuable what today's artists know and can share to artists today, tomorrow, 50, 100, or 1,000 years from now. We are the products of our time. What we learn now will never be repeated. If you've never read my blog article on artistic immortality, I suggest it.

But that doesn't mean we should sacrifice the "now" for the "future". Its today's artists that will benefit most from our knowledge as creators.

When I first started my little crusade online, I attempted to create a structured program of mentoring for emerging artists and it failed. I think that many were just too shy to say "teach me", while I was too shy to say "let me teach you". But I think it was for the better because now I just barrel along and teach everyone that crosses my path. Its a much more liberating way of teaching and being taught by those I am graced to meet.

I will name drop a moment because they are great examples. Two artists that come to mind are Rosie Hartman out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Jackie Janisse out of Sault Saint Marie Canada. These are two incredible artists who I've learned so much from in the past year. Both have very different lives and very different styles, both are accomplished artists that far surpass myself. But I have developed relationships with both these ladies that I would like to think benefits us all. We teach each other and that in the end is what this is all about. Do you not think that Verrocchio learned as much from Da Vinci as Da Vinci learned from him? I guarantee both benefited.

So this week I took this offline. About a month ago I began running a simple craigslist ad looking for emerging artists who wanted to intern for the summer with the studio. I thought long and hard about this beforehand because I wanted any one-on-one mentoring to be as much like the old apprentice ways without the inevitable servitude that often came from such apprenticing. How does one structure a program that takes the best of the old apprentice system and eliminates the parts that are outdated in today's society. The hell if I know if I am doing it right, but after about a dozen interviews, two emerging artists are gracing my studio with their desire to learn and become artists. The first began last Wednesday, the second begins today.

So you can see why these thoughts are foremost in my mind right now. And also why I record them at this time. I can look back at them later and perhaps encourage other artists to do the same through what they read.

Perhaps nothing will come from it, but it is my hope that it teaches me as much as may be taught to these folk.

Perhaps I am nothing more than Don Quixote, tilting at artistic windmills.

I will follow up in a future blog post regarding experiences in this realm of apprenticeship.


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