What is a “Mentor”?

Mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted advisor” (Oxford English Dictionary). For this essay I will further clarify that one need not have ever met their “mentor”. It widens the spectrum dramatically. The stars can mentor. The Earth. Nature in her intense detail and awe inspiring enormity.

The Connection Between Mentors & “Copying” From Art Masters

It took me years to understand the value of a mentor. In this sense I find the idea of a mentor similar to how I felt about “copying” from the masters in terms of art or architecture. In my teaching I speak of how I came to appreciate Plato’s views on mimesis, although I always had a place in my mind for the more “organic” notions of his student, Aristotle. My work in architecture is absolutely a mix of Platonic and Aristotelian lines.

The Process of Mimesis Begins from Birth

Plato in his essays on “Forms” talks about “ideal” forms in the ether, as it were, that the artist must in some way use as a basis for what she creates. Plato’s philosophy, remarkably, denies the reality of the material world, considering it an image or copy of the “real” world. The material world is ever changing, in this philosophy, while the ideal world is immutable. Its almost as if Plato predicted the world of the digital, where everything is made from a tessellated triangle or cube (or other static geometry) then “activated”, in effect, by the algorithm of materiality.

An analogy I have used in my teaching is that a 5 year old (arguably) believes everything she creates is “original”. A mature artist, on the other hand, realizes that in order to create “original” works of art one must initially understand that nothing is “original”. When we open our eyes in the mornings of our births, we begin the inexorable process of mimesis. It is this paradox that defines true creation.

Artists of Ambition are by Necessity Polymaths

I’ve been a somewhat apologetic Renaissance man most of my life, for better or worse. I suppose because of interest in so many arts I have always felt that most artists of ambition are by necessity polymaths. These artists want to practice all the arts, basically.

In my teaching I support the act of being an “architect” as a place in the arts where it is critical to explore as many arts as possible in (hopefully) a competent manner to thereby enrich all of the practitioner’s creative endeavors.

Being an Architect
As an architect I’ve learned great lessons from the modern masters as well as the early history of architecture and its trajectory towards our current era in view and in respect of the greatest architecture deriving from ideas beyond mere building. Yet it is the search for influence outside the profession and the portfolios of the architects that I find my greatest inspiration and the source of my teaching in this discipline.

Being a Painter
In my watercolors I’ve learned about abstraction from Wassily Kandinsky and Mark Rothko, and from Ferdinand Leger and even Anselm Kiefer, and further from Jackson Pollack, Yves Tanguy Sol Lewitt, Ad Reinhardt, and Picasso among so many others. Yet as I strive for a bio-mimetic painting oeuvre I gain the most by learning more about botany, chemistry, physics, and arts other than painting to help fuel a more original expression.

Being a Songwriter
As a songwriter I’ve learned a lot (as so many songwriters have) from the narrative structures of the great poets as well as contemporary singer songwriters. Similarly, I’ve been inspired by musical innovations from Jazz and Classical precedents as well as from simple blues structures. Though I strive for “originality” I become more original in my writing as I test other methodologies and intermingle the work of other writers. Yet far deeper than this surface mimesis would be striving to simply listen to nature, to learn from other arts, and to intertwine these “soundings” into the music I might create.

Mentoring Leads Directly to Teaching

Mentors “hold” who we are in the world. They give us bearing. They are a salve to loneliness. Yet the concept of mentoring leads directly to teaching. For the greatest mentors may be my students. Once a mind is activated it gives back. A mind activated is a mind connected.

Direct human to human connection through the compulsion to learn yields a geometric explosion of creativity and thought.

Letting Go Through Mentorship

Further – human connection to things other than humans or the creation of humans yield a deep form of enlightenment. For nature herself is the greatest mentor.

As the Dali Lama has suggested – “Suffering” arrives from craving. When we no longer crave we cease to suffer. If we struggle to accept what is around us we can more readily interpret. What is, is. Mentoring and accepting the mentor is actually the act of letting go. The ego is satiated only when the ego is set free from desire and craving.

The greatest among us, I believe, know this. We are but shadows in the continuum of time. A twinkle of stardust. Knowing this allows us to open to others and to give to others. We are, finally, one. Work inside the system. Control its forces. Be a stone in the River. Mentor.

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David Kesler is a Multi-Disciplinary Architectural Firm in San Francisco

David Kesler is a multi-disciplinary firm specializing in architectural services for residential, commercial, and institutional clients.