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Revitalizing the mentor

History is filled with stories of inspiring mentor-protégé relationships, from XX and the painters Camille Pissaro and Paul Cezanne to fictional accounts like Don Pedro and Claudio in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Mentorships are a time-tested way to for an artist to develop their vision and their craft. They, traditionally, give someone time learn, grow and create under the watchful eye of someone who has already blazed a trail.

Rolex is dedicating to reviving the tradition of mentorship by pairing young, promising artists with leaders in their fields. It’s easy to see what the protégés have to gain. They get a year of time to learn from their mentors. But, a truely successful mentor-protégé relationship benefits both parties. As we take a look back at the results of these exciting relationships, let’s take a look at what some of the Rolex Arts Initiative mentors have gotten out of their year collaboration:

Zhang Yimou:
The mentor-protégé relationship is not about learning at the feet of a master. If you met and talked to Martin Scorsese [who was a mentor in the Rolex Arts Initiative in 2008-2009], for example, you’d still need to go away and think about it, figure out what works for you, internalize these elements and then weave them throughout your own films. Thinking for yourself can’t be taught. There’s an ancient Chinese saying about the importance of experienc- ing life for yourself: “Walk 10,000 miles and read 10,000 books.” It means travel a lot, see a lot and read a lot to gain knowledge.

Brian Eno:
I could have chosen a musician who might have taken me in an unexpected new direction, but with Ben I felt I could solve the…not the problem…but this self-imposed challenge I have given myself about what a different form of collaboration might be in this new world, one adapting to post-Internet circumstances and possibilities. Where can I go now that I haven’t been before in the area that I already inhabit….The intention was then that we would together create something that we could not have done separately. Together we would produce a bigger idea.

Anish Kapoor:
The only difference between the two of us is that I’ve had 30 years of making and showing stuff. But I hope all my innocence and wonder haven’t been lost. I want to protect them. It’s like being continuously in love, and your inner life matters….(For me) there was Paul Neagu in the 1970s, who taught me at Hornsey College of Art in London. He was important for me, and he emphasized that it wasn’t really about objects. It’s more about the way that objects come to mythologize a certain presence.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger:
The classical idea of a mentorship is that of an unequal relationship. But it is not selfless on the part of the teacher. The mentor needs to take something away from it. Which is what I’m finding out. The great strength of the program is that we can take the mentorship in any direction we wish.

Peter Sellars:
My deepest influences are other artists. I am very deeply influenced by Bill Forsythe and shaped by his work and what it is about. Mentoring is always a two-way situation. It is important that the established artist is challenged anew by another generation. It should be challenging in both directions – emerging and established.

This post is sponsored by Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in partnership with Sundance Channel.