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The Missing Mentor

These days, the terms mentor and master are tarnished, and there are very few seekers of knowledge in the world willing to submit themselves to someone who knows. Perhaps it is because of the proliferation of those who pretend to have expertise. Perhaps it is because a student is unwilling to make the sacrifice of time and energy that it takes to achieve mastery. In both cases, true excellence is sacrificed on the altar of ignorance.

This apparent duality of the mentor/apprentice relationship is a profound problem in our culture in general and in digital art specifically. Finding a mentor can be difficult, but it can be done if you are persistent and open to the possibility. There is a saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!" It works the other way around as well: "When the teacher is ready, the student will appear." Your task, then, is to make the commitment to be teachable. When you do, you will find your teacher.

Any master or mentor worth listening to will tell you that true power lies in learning and applying the basics. If you are interested in learning about mastery and then applying it to your efforts to become a digital artist, I encourage you to read the book Mastery, by George Leonard.

Although there is no substitute for a real mentor relationship, there is much wisdom to be learned from the words of the giants of science and art. One of the first questions I ask of interviewing artists is what they are reading.

A thorough understanding of the world around you will be incomplete without the visual imagery conjured in the mind during the process of reading history, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and biography. What you read is as important as how often you read; read as often as you can—every day, if possible. The following list contains many of the books that have influenced my development as an artist and designer. However, read whatever interests you—it's all good stuff, and what you learn will relate to your artistic endeavors in one way or another.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright: Between Principles and Form, by Paul Laseau and James Tice

  • The Master Builders: Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, by Peter Blake

  • The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman

  • Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects, by Thomas G. Smith; George Lucas, introduction

  • Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, by Mark Cotta Vaz and Patricia Rose Duignan

  • Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul M. Sammon

  • Ridley Scott: The Making of His Movies, by Paul M. Sammon

  • The Adventure and Discovery of a Film: The Story of the Fifth Element, by Luc Besson

  • CG 101, A Computer Graphics Industry Reference, by Terrence Masson

  • Special Effects, by Richard Rickett

  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  • Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  • Five Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman

  • Chaos, by James Gleick

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