Artists, Where Did You Learn the Value of Hard Work?

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been writing about the hard work and discipline it takes to create art. From what I’ve heard from readers, and what I’ve observed as I’ve interacted with artists, you all are a hard-working group of individuals!

This series of posts has had me thinking a lot about work ethic and the hard work it takes to make a successful career.  I’ve reflected on how I learned to work, and I’ve wondered if I’m doing enough to instill a love of hard work in my children.

How I Learned to Work Hard

I am very grateful to my parents for instilling in me a love of hard work. My dad, who is a painter, and my mother, who has worked as his business manager since he first began his career, are two of the hardest working people I know. They have labored tirelessly to build my father’s career since the late 1970’s. Their example alone would have given me a great perspective on the value of hard work, but they went much further to teach me first-hand the value of work.

From a very early age, I remember my mother giving me and my siblings responsibilities around the house. We learned how to clean and help cook. We were expected to do well in school without being hounded to finish our homework.

My family on a recent pilgrimage to the dome home

Around 1979, my parent began building a geodesic dome in Southern Idaho. This dome was to serve as our futuristic, highly-efficient home. Dad was a bit of a visionary and loved Buckminster Fuller’s vision for the future of architecture. Dad believed he could use some innovative materials, build the house by hand himself, and create an amazingly artistic home in less than a year. Well, it’s now been almost forty years since he started building the dome home, and it’s still not finished!

It took almost ten years to complete it to a point that we could move into it, but the interior is still pretty rough. To be fair, in addition to the technical aspects of building this house, my parents had a lot going on in their lives. The were working to secure Dad’s reputation in the art world and to make a living selling Dad’s art, and they were busy raising a huge family – I’m the oldest of my parent’s nine children! Eventually my parents bought a home in Arizona, where they spend most of their time now, and the dome became a kind of crazy cabin where they spend their summers.

The interior of the dome – still not quite finished . . .

While the building project was a bit ill-fated from the start, building the dome gave me countless opportunities to do hard, physical labor. I remember digging trenches with a pickaxe and shovel, I mixed concrete, I carried tons of cinder-blocks, and I drove hundreds of nails. I watched the structure rise from the ground and saw how my work impacted the progress of the building project. I remember some blisters and muscle-aches, but also remember feeling proud of the adult-like work I was doing.

As a teenager, I also joined the family art business. My father taught me how to build stretcher frames and how to stretch his custom canvases. I learned how to use a miter saw and the importance of quality-control. I thought it was pretty cool that my handiwork was ending up in the homes of art collectors. Dad paid me for each canvas I built, and by managing the money I earned, I learned the importance of saving and thrift.

I don’t want to make my childhood sound too idyllic – there were a lot of challenges along the way (don’t worry, I’m working on the memoire now!), but I have no doubt that my parents did a great job of preparing me to face the world and to embrace hard work.

Parents Play a Big Role In Teaching the Value of Work, But So Can Others

As I’ve reached out to readers to ask where they learned to work, I’ve come to see that my experience was far from unique. Parents obviously play a big role in the development of work ethic, along with other important role models. Here are some insights from artists who responded to the question “Where did you learn the value of hard work?”

 

That is an easy one – from my father and his work ethic. How did my father teach me work ethic? He had me drive the old Chevy truck down the hill in compound gear while they loaded the hay. When I could not reach the pedals and had to turn the truck off to stop it. He had me drive nails and fix things that would have been easier to do by himself. He did not yell at me when I dug a duck pond and accidentally drowned one of the sheep, just took me to a better place in the pasture and had me dig a new one there. He took me on long rides in the mountains, and complimented me on the things I did and made. He did not care what my grades were in school IF I had done my best.

Dale Ashcroft, Cache Valley, UT

I never shunned hard work. As a child, grew up on a farm with six siblings.  We all had chores to do, and there wasn’t any, “I don’t want to”.  After marriage at an early age to a Military Man, moved so many times, three daughters, many times he was overseas while I was the only adult..work had to be done.  When I started college after all three were in school, I went for Art Education as a way for me to earn a living,  if anything happened to my husband…and because I have always loved doing, seeing Art.
Yes, doing Art is hard work, but it is so satisfying and I love it!
Patricia Pope, Orlando Florida

 

My grandparents and parents set a very fine example of hard work, which they instilled in me at an early age, they also taught me to give 1000% to anything I am involved with, not room for slacking.

Joseph Marion, Santa Fe, NM

 

Throughout my life I have worked on projects and initiatives in the community that created opportunities for people to improve their lives. What I learnt from that is that if I love doing something it is not hard work. The hard work for me is getting to do the work, once I am creating or teaching it ceases to be work for me. I get frustrated and get things wrong but love the challenge of making it ‘right’. I get lost in the creative process and seeing something come into being that was not there before. What a privilege to be able to do that, to have the courage and commitment to create something and ‘put it out there’ and hope it has some good influence on those who receive or are in proximity to it. Of course I had to learn how to quilt and paint and went through some tough times to learn the basics but once I had those down the world of creativity opened up for me. Hard work for me is having to do things that don’t enable me to feel I am creating something of value. Art is not hard work once I get to it. My sister bought me a wonderful canvas for my birthday that says ‘Do more of what makes you sparkle’. Creating makes me sparkle.

Chrissie Hawkes, Cambridge, UK

 

As to the value of hard work, as a young man in collage I was a member of the schools rifle team. I held national records, won a national championship, and was named to the collegiate All American rifle team. Those achievements took an enormous amount of hard work and discipline. I believe that if you want to be the the best at anything, it has to be your passion and you have to work harder than anyone else.

Bob Hays

 

It was never a question of “IF” my father would go to work. He was a very dedicated employee. On weekends both my parents worked on a ski resort. When the resort was closed, they still went and worked helping build, clear brush, whatever was needed. I learned that if someone needed help, you just pitched in in any way you could. I don’t have any memories of my father complaining.

Vicki Gough, Hesston, KS

 

I grew up is rural eastern North Carolina. Both my parents had working class jobs. We were not affluent but they made ends meet. At 16 I worked in the tobacco fields in the summer. I was a store clerk at a discount store while in high school. I apply the work ethic I learned then to my art.

Rick Bennet

How Did You Learn the Value of Work?

Where did you learn to work hard? What experiences in your life prepared you for the work you do as an artist? What did your parents teach you about work? How did you teach your children the value of work? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

15 Comments

  1. I can’t say my family actually sat me down and instilled anything in me, but they worked hard so I guess it’s an observed learning. And like you said, others can teach as well. My Band/Orchestra teacher in high school drove discipline, in a kind manner, in our playing , performing, and, especially, in the marching band.
    I always think of him when I have to endure something not so easy.

  2. During formative years, I lived in a small mill and logging town. The mill was where nearly everyone worked and there was nothing but hard work. It was a matter of survival. Both my father and grandfather came home each night exhausted, but proud of their accomplishments and the food it put on the tables. Their work ethic, coupled with a mother who was a Rosie Riveter, and a grandmother who worked her entire life, the hard work ethic was instilled in every fiber of my being. You must work hard. My grandmother, my influencer, always said that no matter what job you do, do it to the very best of your ability. She would add that it included simple tasks like “making the bed.” As a young adult when I left the mill town, I took that ethic with me. During my life, it served me well. Today as an artist, it has a become part of my driving force.

  3. My mother was a lawyer and my father owned the bowling alley in our small Idaho town. I went to work for my mother in her office doing filing and even typing simple legal documents when I was about 11 or 12. I worked for her until I finished high school. My dad put me to work every summer cleaning the bowling alley and I eventually worked for him on weekends behind the counter for concessions, etc. I literally worked five days a week for one or both of them for $1 an hour. I babysat regularly during high school. I was always expected to work and had to hold a part time job while attending my first two years of college. I appreciate the values they gave me because they have carried over into the production of my art.

  4. I was raised by a single parent during the 60’s, when such a thing was unheard of. I watched my mom work everyday so we had a roof over our heads and I got a good private-school education. I learned respect and a work ethic from her. She never complained about what she had to do (I didn’t get too much of that trait, however!). I also learned that I had no limits of what I could do if I worked at it. She encouraged my art from the very start, even when others continued to ask, “But, what are you gonna do with it (art)?”

  5. My parents were products of the great Depression. They discussed it with us and and the value of a job. I could describe the early self as a slacker…..Big dreams but I couldn’t complete much of anything . I dropped out of college and worked several labor-intensive jobs. If you couldn’t keep up you were let go-sometimes the first day. I worked on old-time coal-burning steam locomotives for many ears and if I wanted to make it home that night I had to shovel 6 to 8 tons of coal per trip. There was always a job to do and the legitimate expectation that it be completed. That cemented my work ethic. It also taught me procedure, problem-solving and doing consistent-quality work. So I applied this training to art- planning and executing a painting, then the follow-through of framing and display. It is hard for me to divine what saved my life railroading or becoming a professional artist. Both made me a better person.

  6. I never learned about the value of hard work until I got involved in theater. Sometimes you work as an individual and sometimes as a team and everyone puts in more than 100% because we are all there with the same goal. That is to put on the best show possible. Many’s the time I was the only artist/designer/painter and I would be in the theater until 3am to get scenery completed. Sometimes, paint was still drying as the curtain rose on opening night. Hard work, total exhaustion, and complete satisfaction all rolled into one.

  7. We grew up in a converted chicken coop on my grandparents property. We were poor in a sense but never went hungry. My clothes came mainly from the thrift store with my mom fibbing that there were from our “cousins”. i learned very early on that if i wanted a bike or stereo or just about anything, i would have to earn it myself . And so i did..i worked babysitting or as a waitress way before i was 12. i worked 3 jobs in the summer on cape cod(a beautiful place to grow up i might add) to earn money for college. i paid my way and did work study in college as well. my mom cleaned houses and my dad was a letter carrier. i learned early on that it was of the utmost importance to love what you did for a living. my dad hated everyday that he worked as a letter carrier. he also did side jobs painting houses when he was not working. i don’t remember more than 2 family vacations. i guess i learned about hard work but most importantly to choose wisely. we only get one go around in this life .

  8. My father was a logger here in northern Wisconsin. Later he built a full operational sawmill which was located behind the home where we lived. Seven day work weeks were common with this. I don’t think there is one easy job on a sawmill. Being around other loggers that could curse like a sailor coming into port was also common but I was taught to respect and not to use obscenities. Growing up in the sawmill environment taught me the value of hard-work and also dedication to succeed.

  9. By example. My uncle raised me on his farm at a critical time in my adolescence; before dawn to well after dark during harvest I watched this quiet, remarkable man work until he could hardly stagger into the house to shower and fall into bed. Then he was back at it at 4a. The overriding work ethic was, you do it until it gets done. His early life in WWII was one they made movies of.

    As an adult I’ve had good and bad times. I did the same; you do it until it gets done. There was a time when I worked a family business, went to school full time, plus trying to raise a toddler. I refer to those years as “the sleep deprived years.” But, we got through it.

    It doesn’t matter if it is art or whatever … you do it until it gets done. You do whatever it takes. Tired, stressed, no idea where the next bump of energy will come from … but yeah, you can do this.

  10. My parents both worked very hard. When I was little, Dad was still in grad school, painting and arranging shows on weekends. Mom eked out a comfortable life for us with creative shopping, cooking, sewing and knitting. (When I lost sweaters she knitted for me, I couldn’t appreciate all the hours she spent.)

    As I grew, I reaped the rewards of study in school. I also enjoyed the money I earned babysitting. It paid my high school expenses. I paid my way through state college with part-time jobs at a cafeteria and Sears. Work has always just been a part of my life.

    After 20 years of relentless freelance writing assignments, the last few years have been like a long sigh punctuated by a lot of necessary travel. I’m having trouble getting started again, but once I get going, I’ll be happily back at it.

  11. I learned perseverance and hard work from failure. I am a mirror dyslexic and have a genius level twin brother and teachers compared us. I was always told Peter can do this why can’t you. I also acquired strenth and hard work by living and absorbing others during WW11. It is more than rewarding that I have become an accomplished artist and an award-winning author.

  12. Like so many others a work ethic came from my parents. They ran a small manufacturing business that opened around the time I was born. Father worked extremely long hours and my mother did the bookkeeping from home so she could be home with my brother and I. We grew up thinking that was the norm. Working hard was just how you lived. I started working for them in the summer when I was 11 or 12. I was in the inspection and shipping department, which was a monotonous task but I could do it while almost by rote, so it never really bothered me. It was great having some money to save starting at a young age. That money went toward art lessons shortly after I graduated from high school.
    After getting my college degree I worked for an engineering firm for 32 years before retiring early to focus on my art. I was the one who worked long hours and always get things done one time or early. That work ethic now helps me in my full time art career. I never hesitate to learn new skills so I can improve my art or my marketing, etc all the tasks you need to do as a sole entrepreneur.

  13. I’ve decided after reading these comments that I might say stubbornness and a cheering section drives me to hard work. I have a knee-jerk reaction to being told something might not work, might not sell, to prove that it does. And of course, it doesn’t always.
    I grew up with a mill-working dad who ‘got through’ life and didn’t understand dreaming, but had a mom who did, but lacked opportunity, so she was a cheerleader, applauding my landing from whatever cliff I took a leap from, whatever chance or risk I took. I am sometimes not realistic, and remember telling an editor that if I worked ten hours a day I expected to make a living writing and illustrating books. I did, but with both the writing and art I’ve collected some wonderful role models of determination that keep me going.

  14. My parents were entrepreneurs, in other words, sometimes poor sometimes fairly well off, but mostly the former. My dad was an inventor, paint contractor, and a plumber. My mother was a seamstress and sewing machine repairman. One instance of believing in yourself and pursuing a dream that stands out in my memories was when my mother got the contract for repairing all the sewing machines in a large high school in West Texas. She had never done that work for anyone else, but she knew how to clean and repair her own machine. I was in the seventh grade when we went to the high school in Lubbock to pick up the sewing machines. My dad came home from his job site that evening to find mom sitting in the dining room surrounded by a sea of sewing machines on the floor, just beside herself with fear. “What have I done?” she cried. She did complete the job, and was an official sewing machine repairman after that. One year, they decided to buy an old motel. I was eleven years old, and was their only housekeeper. I earned $5.00 per week and thought I was rich. I would use some of the money to go to the movies every weekend. Seeing The Sound Of Music would take my life in a different direction, eventually, in music. After marriage, I went to work at a radio station. I walked in, handed the manager my resume, and said, “I’m Dianne James, here’s my resume, and I’d like to work for you.” I spent the next 30+ years in radio stations in three states and then television, working at a local station doing sales and commercial production and at the same time, to make ends meet, I was a news correspondent for the ABC affiliate and the CBS affiliate TV stations in large cities in New Mexico, working from home in the southern part of the state, and sending news footage by either bus or plane for those stations’ evening broadcasts (unfortunately, this was slightly before our current internet capability). I also did legal depositions for a company and was trying to get my own videography business going at the same time. I was raising two children and tried to work my schedule around them, too. I nearly killed myself doing five jobs but I did it. One more radio station job and then I moved into newspaper work for several years. I can honestly say that I’ve done most of the things I dreamed of doing as a kid. My parents were big on following your dreams, and they taught me, through their own journey, that any thing can be accomplished if you work hard at it, and believe that you can. My daughter considers herself a multipotentialite, and I think that’s what I am, too. I’m a singer/songwriter AND an artist. I love the magnificence of seeing a scene in my head turn into a painting. If you dare to dream, then dare to do the dirty work (discipline) to reach it. I am finally somewhat retired, so can enjoy painting. I need to build a studio, but until then the little corner nook at home will have to do. There are a lot of distractions that can keep us from doing our dream. We mustn’t let them. Thank you, Jason, for your blog and videos, and the inspirational comments of all those wonderful artists who comment here.

  15. Only later, I realized what my parents and care-giver great aunt had gone through. Mom graduated high school in 1931. She wanted to be a teacher but went to work for an insurance company and made a successful career as a bookkeeper for various companies. She was always busy, always thinking, always looking ahead, always seeking better and finer. She was so pleased that I became a teacher. She had and played a Chickering spinet piano which was the one I practiced on and also my sister and daughter. Don’t ask my sister about piano practice. She was born and raised in New Jersey.
    My great-aunt was a superb dress-maker possible professional, married to a house-builder but pictures of him indicated he was more an architect. She was widowed and living with us. She was a very stylist and proper woman and we had paintings that her husband had done as well as fine china. She was a riot as was her b rother who came yearly to visit us on the farm.
    Dad was a student. He attended college, was a rose hybridizer working in New Jersey. In the early 1940s, My uncle (the farmer) was conscripted into the Army and Dad, my mother, her father (now a widower) and my great aunt were moved from New Jersey to be at the farm my uncle was taken from.
    I tell you all of this because my family always made the circumstances work and that required lots of thought and labor. I was never told what work was, I knew it in my bones. I was never told tp set aside my dreams because it was something both my parents did, never being able tp look back. They wanted better for me and so I had an electronic organ in the house- a church model with full pedal board. I had soft pastels and paper always in supply. There have been dreams I’ve set aside but it has not been as devastating as it might have been. I’ve just known it’s what happens and one makes the turn. I can see whty I am the way I am and am grateful.

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