If you go back in a talented person's life there is usually more than talent that has helped them succeed. It's not just about talent. A lot of people are talented and a lot of people are intelligent. But navigating the world of opportunity takes something more than talent and intelligence.
More often than not, there is always a mentor, even though the mentor might not be so visible. He or she might not even be thought of as a mentor by the person being mentored. One way or another there is always a mentor who is influential on the development of an artistic person - be they writers, art directors, film makers, digital designers, creative thinkers. Throughout history this has always been the case.
Mentorship is more than teaching someone how to shoot a picture or art direct an advertisement. Who your mentor is will connect you to a network of influential people who can provide invaluable influence and advice when you venture out into your own enterprise. If you would have had the influence of a mentor in the early part of your career path, you would have ended up in a different destination, I am convinced of this.
There are so many examples. Look at mentor Andy Warhol and his student Jean-Michel Basquiat. Look at mentor Gertrude Stein and her young student Ernest Hemingway. And there are many others such as mentor Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent. Look at Frank Sinatra and mentor Bing Crosby. Mentor and photographer Nick Knight to Craig McDean. Look at Annie Leibovitz and the mentorship of Jan Werner the publisher of Rolling Stone who gave her break and then helped her build her career. Look at Leo Tolstoy mentor to Peter Verigin. Sammy Sampas mentor to Jack Kerouac, Saul Below mentor to Philip Roth and Martin Scorsese mentor to Oliver Stone.
In my case I had the honor and fortune to have in Uli Weisendanger, the "W" and co-founder of TBWA as my mentor and friend at the start of StrawberryFrog in Amsterdam in 1999. In all the time we spent together, it was as much the conversation and friendship as much as it was about the learning and the people who surrounded him. In our relationship, Uli played the father figure and I was happy to learn by his side. He was a tremendous influence, a phenomenal thinker and a good friend. He was always there for input or feedback on questions with oodles or patience and positive energy.
This was a fun interview I did with Uli back about eight years ago here.
The key learning for me is that mentors can have very different roles and influences, and they can influence you at very different times in your life. However, creative talent at its infant stage, the embryonic stage before the leap is undefined, or insecure, fragile or unsure...and a mentor at this stage can provide incredible strength and confidence. A great art director at 25 could have been an amazing film director or digital designer, it all depends on how that creative mind was influenced in the undefined stage. Imagine a situation where the talented person turns out to be a great art director. More often than not, it will be due to some extent on the influence of the mentor.
Mentors also provide another invaluable input - they serve as reference points of success and accomplishment. Reference points about what defines success and achievement. And also reference points about how to get there. You can then judge your own decisions and steps in your career from the people you respect and admire. Some people may serve as your mentor in that they provide an important yardstick against which you can measure yourself.
Ultimately the decisions are yours. But a mentor can help you find your voice and offer some helpful advice and experience, and then your decisions become better and smarter. Here's to the art of mentorship.