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Can parents be mentors? I always thought that they were legally
bound to be my mentors. But over the years I've noticed that mine
seem to go above and beyond the call of duty every time, so I'll
put them first on the list.
But was there somebody who helped me grow as an artist? There
wasn't one particular teacher, who lead me out of the darkness.
Some have introduced me to new points of view, or some technique
that turned out to be important in my work. But I wouldn't think of
any of them as mentors. They just came and went too quickly. And to
be honest, I was too willful and suspicious to buy into their
artistic advice back then. If you fancy yourself a pen and ink
rebel, you're not going to take advice from your high school art
teacher. You're supposed to fight the Man... man. My relationship
with them was always a bit... operatic.
That said, I had some brilliant mentors while I was in school.
There were always non-art teachers that took an interest in me and
helped me get through the day. Whenever I'm back in Germany I visit
my old philosophy teacher, Herr Röhrkasten. He always had wise
words, an open ear, and helped me understand the world. He was a
mentor out of central casting, too: big guy, wrinkles, gravelly
voice, tweed jacket and a bit of an academic firebrand. Think “Dead
Poets Society” with Johnny Cash instead of Robin Williams.
Another wonderful mentor still writes for the first ad agency I
worked at. In fact, he was the real reason I took that job. I had
interned at the place for a few weeks after graduating from
college. I already knew I wasn't comfortable. The job sucked, I
hated the idea of leaving L.A. for Oregon. But working with this
guy, I sensed that he had a lot to teach me, so I took the job. We
grew very close over the next year and I learned a lot from him
about all aspects of life. Some of it even related to work. Then I
got fired and moved back to Los Angeles. That was in 1998. Since
then, we've stayed in touch, but it was hard to maintain the same
relationship. When you've got a mentor it helps to be in the same
town, just so you can talk face to face and share a few of the same
day to day experiences. Now we're good friends. The mentor part is
still there, but it's less pronounced. Which is natural. Parts of
the relationship wax and wane, the emphasis shifts, you evolve.
Back in L.A. I tried hiring a mentor, a consultant, to help me
propel my business to new heights. That didn't work at all. I
wanted a business mentor and she wanted to help, but ultimately I
was just another one of her clients. As a mentor you get
emotionally involved. The success and well-being of your protégé is
more than an objective, it's a mission. You can't expect that kind
of investment if you're paying by the hour.
So far I haven't found one artistic mentor. But that's fine. I
hobble along my particular path in the company of my friends from
art school and those that I've met through work. They expose me to
new ideas, they give me feedback on my work, and I do the same for
them. We all have our strong suits and areas where we're a bit
wobbly. Everybody's got a different piece of the map and we manage
to find our way together.
In the end, my personal mentors have always been more important
to me than anything. I've done this commercial art thing for 15
years now. I can handle that on my own if I have to. It's life that
surprises me. That's where I need help on my side. For the past two
years, a wonderful woman has been in my life. She's taught me more
than anybody else in a long time. Having her in my corner makes me
a better man and that makes me a better artist. I'm lucky to have
Stefan G. Bucher344design.com
Richard Danne is recognized with a 2014 AIGA Medal for elegant, effective design for corporate and cultural contexts and for sustaining a decades-long commitment to strengthening the design community.
Section: Inspiration -
communication design, editorial design, graphic design, print design, corporate design, AIGA Medal, annual report, logos
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