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.

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16 Comments

  1. I grew up in a home where my father started a new business the year I was born. When I was 11 my mother started to go to the business with him to run the office; prior to that she did the bookkeeping at home while she cared for my brother and I. At 12 I started to work summers in the business in the shipping and inspection department, while my brother learned some of the manufacturing processes. We were both paid and able to save money, learning to put toward things we wanted to buy. As I moved into my teen I was moved from the shipping department to the office where I took on invoicing and bookkeeping tasks. Seeing my parents working from 7am to 11pm every day to make his business succeed was an important lesson. It also meant I was responsible for making dinner for the family during the week since we ate late when they got home.

    Prior to working in the business there was always and expectation instilled by my mother to work hard at school and do well. We were expected to do our homework before my parents got home from work and we didn’t ever consider no doing that. It was just how things were done.

    Before doing my art full time I worked as an Electrical Engineer, working for a large company but not thinking twice about putting in 10 hr days if that was what was needed to get things done on time. A few others did the same, but I definitely stood out and was promoted quickly when my superiors saw what I could accomplish. Now in my art business I don’t blink about spending 10 – 12 hours producing art, marketing, and taking care of all the business tasks needed to run a business.

  2. I started in our neighbor’s hay fields when I was 12, making a few bucks a day, this was in the early 60’s, a few bucks was a lot of money to a 12 year old. On the Family Farm, I took care of the chickens, helped with the milking, feeding, of all the animals. I helped in the Garden every day, and learned how to can what we grew. My parents were more interested in my brothers and I learning to work than getting A’s and B’s…However a D on the report card got a single swat on the butt, (Dad had a healthy “swat” too), and F got a couple of those dreaded “Swats”. “Your not doing your best if you get a D or F” and the “Swat” were all the lesson we needed. I went to college to get an Art Education Degree, but when it came time to do my Student Teaching I decided I didn’t really want to be a teacher, so in the early 70’s I decided I wanted to be a Painter. The road was long and hard, required working some “tough” jobs to become a professional Artist, if paintings weren’t selling, the kids still needed shoes and groceries. By the time I was in my mid 30’s my Art Carrier was on an up hill swing, but I would still have down swings that required working for some one else, which I am not very good at. So, to end that problem, the family and I took on a small ranch in NW Montana, to help out with the Art Sales when they were low. However the ranch is a full time job too. 40 years later, I’m still painting, selling and ranching. Wouldn’t trade my life with anyone. Hard work, Studio Time, Sales Time, are all worked out in a schedule and my wife of 47 years and I go from daylight till late into the evening 7 days a week. We have a hand full of the Fine Art Shows that I do, that she will go along and we make them into a “Working” mini vacation. All three of our daughters had daily chores, the same as we did as a youngsters, all three were AWESOME Students, and all three work very hard today, raising families, and living what they think of as THE GOOD LIFE, Working…

  3. The value of hard work came from my fathers example, but there were also some strong women in my life. My father was a builder of custom homes. Every 5 years or so we moved into a new better than before house, he designed homes, did the plans, tore houses apart and remodeled them. He would take me with him sometimes. Then there was a women who taught me how to perfect my horse riding skills. On her Ranch we cleaned stalls, horses, used shovels to put DG in in the stalls, she was tough and new how to work like a man. She set a good example!

    This is a topic that I have been sharing with people lately. The whole idea of the importance of hard work. The way it was when I was young was, “You don’t spend money you don’t have, your room must be clean before you leave, you can’t play till your work is done, all these sayings still run through my head and because of them I have written and published 5 books, there are two more on their way, I founded and co-owned a company called “Outdoor Learning Adventures” (school and corporate team building) I founded a nonprofit, “Healing Horses & Armed Forces” that supports the transition of the military by partnering with horses, bought and sold several properties, have two short term rentals, and I have painted and had framed over 25 paintings this year. However, there has to be a balance, my new philosophy is “eat your cake first.” My dad worked hard and new how to play hard. I think the work value is important but we must also teach our children how to play hard and work towards their dreams. We all had chores in my family, we all got an allowance, I babysat since I was old enough to be a baby sitter. We had horses, and physical work. In fact, I still do work that other women especially my age don’t do, but why does it have to be called hard work? If we chose it, let’s change the name to chosen work. Putting in the word “hard” doesn’t support a positive attitude towards what you want to accomplish. Why does our work need to be hard?

  4. My parents set the tone by working very hard at their jobs. What impressed me the most, though, was that after work, they took their respective “passions” just as seriously. In his youth, my father had been a jazz trumpeter, who played around New England with a big band. Later, when raising a family took center stage, he made sure that every night before dinner he practiced his horn. Among the later “after work” gigs that left vivid memories, one stands out. On occasion he performed with his old band mates in nursing homes for vets returning from war. As heartbreaking as the scenes he described were, this taught me that music, and therefore the arts, have a role to play that is both morally uplifting and aesthetically pleasing. I have tried to incorporate this awareness into my teaching, as well as my painting, throughout my career.

  5. I’ve learned the value of hard work with my parents.
    Coming from Russia with nothing immigrants to Mexico City my father was the best sample of discipline.
    I have the memories of my father working all day long, he start selling uniforms for schools, latter he got his own factory and several stores in Mexico City.
    Before Classes each August, the whole family worked with him hard.
    My task at 10 years old was to fold uniforms, and claiming a wall stairs to second floor to give him any size he needed.
    My father work until 80 years old, the day he died.
    He was an workaholic, I never saw in my live a person with more discipline in my hole life.

  6. My great grandfather was a farm labourer and handyman. Six days a week, he walked up to 10 miles to work every day, put in up to 12 hours labour and then walked home. His wife brought up six children in a tiny 2 room (not bedroom) cottage. My grandmother started work as a scullery maid aged 12 and worked her way up to head cook. She had one afternoon off a week and worked similar hours. This was considered privileged job. When she married she brought up six children and baby sat the grandchildren till school age while their parents worked. She also held down a part time job. My grandfather won a medal for bravery in the first world war and died young from injuries. Both my mother and father came through the depravities and violence of war and learned to use their wits: They both worked two jobs and saved hard to create a good life for the family. We were told if we wanted any ‘extras’ we had to work for it. I got my first part time job when I was twelve. It wasn’t an option to miss school or fail exams. By the time I left art school and secretarial college I had already been working for 10 years. My first few full time working years I held down two jobs and manage. house and husband. I worked hard. I still work hard. I now have a full time art business and have cared full time for my ageing/dying parents for 16 years. Hard work is in my genes. There is no other option!

  7. I grew up in a rural area of Ohio in a house which my father built by hand even digging the foundation. We never had a lot of money. My parents made it clear to me from a young age that they could not pay for superfluous items. So when I wanted a specific pair of shoes (Spaulding saddle shoes), my mother said, “We don’t have money for them.” I decided to find a job and earn the money. I found a job at a Woolworth’s dime store close to Central Market in Columbus, 60 cents an hour, 12 hours on Saturday manning three long counters, and making ice cream sandwiches in between. My father drove me to the job on Saturday morning and picked me up at 9:00 PM. I made money and bought my shoes and continued working through high school and college. I learned from my father who worked long hours that work never hurt anyone. Thank goodness for the work ethic that has been with me all my life.

  8. My mum. She wanted a deck out in the backyard, as well as a fishpond. My dad had raised dogs, but they got divorced , so after he left, mum took a sledgehammer to the cement kennels ( revenge?) and she and my sister broke the cement with sledgehammers. I put on goggles and broke those pieces up smaller with a hammer. I also learned how to lay on the charm, and bake , as mum coaxed a neighbor to help with the deck as well as a patio out front.

  9. I grew up in Nevada, and at age 9 my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. My brother and I did so much for he and mom. And dad was a great teacher and provided great strength and wisdom through his hard journey. Yet through this mom and dad always ensured we played, I of course did drawing all the time and was encouraged but mom and dad at an early age.

    You can’t escape becoming a hard worker when you have a catastrophic situation at home. My mom was so strong and worked so hard to keep us going. without much insurance eventually paid off all our medical bills. We were not wealthy but wealthy in many ways.

    Hard work and living ones life to our full potential is what I learned. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, I am great full to mom and dad.

  10. I never appreciated my early, family, life skills until these recent past years. My parents were “stock” car racers, Dad was a stock car builder with lots of friends who did the same after World War II. Mom raced in the “Powder Puff” derby with a handicapped left hand . They were scuba divers in the days of Jaque Cousteau. Our entire family experience was focused on work with an enjoyable experience laced in. We grew through our several boats which required family duties while on board an always alert to orders given by the Captain and First Mate, i.e., taking lines when passing through “locks”, putting out the “bumpers” before approaching docking, etc. In winter, we sanded the hull and painted it ( in a limited way, we were young) . We learned to clean and preserve our family, wooden cabin cruiser which we slept on when we traveled to locations like Martha’s Vinyard, MA. We caught and ate our cod, haddock and flounder for dinner. We became independent and did not have a moment to “hang out”.
    My Dad worked hard during the day on cars like the ones of the famous Red Sox team and went to night school for automobile electronics in the very early 1960’s. He achieved a college degree in automotive electronics and was offered a design job in Detroit yet he said no. He did not want his family to be separated from school, our summer explorations and our extended family.
    And a few weeks before he died at 39 from a cerebral hemorrhage on our boat, he instilled in me that I must go to college, and take care of my mother and younger brother. I did I was 15 then. There was no money but I knew how to work and although I pumped gasoline in a college town, waited on tables at Howard Johnsons (long gone) cleaned motel rooms, I did it. I am second generation on both sides of my family tree. I am also the first woman to earn her college degree. As Dad would say this is America our country full of opportunities.
    Inspired by the example my father gave ( he was a third degree Knight of Columbus with service as the focus) I taught pastel painting for over 23 years in a small community center near Chapel Hill, NC. With a great group of 11 students, we painted, exhibited and founded the Pastel Society Of North Carolina. We very slowly grew as more artists moved to our area.
    I am delighted and grateful for the many students that came to my studio at the community center from countries like Australia, Japan, Germany, Wales, South America, Quebec and many other locations in our own country.
    Hard work, discipline and follow through are the gifts I was given by not only two fantastic parents but also the extended members of my family of origin. I am the only artist. I was born into a family of musicians. I love music! What a great life I have had. Thank you, Jason for leading and inspiring the next generation of creatives!

  11. My parents owned a printing business in England, Dad worked long hours, Mum had a job too. I was eldest of 2 and helped with housework.
    Later, in America, Dad had 2 jobs and Mum had one. I came home, made his dinner so he could come home, eat and go. And we had a new brother, I would wash his diapers, hang them on the line and then tuck into my homework before Mum got home. On the weekends, I’d help clean house and mow grass .
    Even later, owning a print shop again, Dad worked 16 hr days, and Mum helped him for 8-10 hrs before coming home to start dinner. I went to work in the shop too, doing cleaning, accounting, bindery and graphic art.
    My last year of high school, I went to school in the morning, then drove into town for my 8-hr job (more around holidays) in the pie bakery next to the print shop.

  12. I grew up in a family of eight kids. I was second to the oldest and a girl, so from an early age I had a lot of responsibilities taking care of my younger siblings and helping mom in the kitchen. The boys got the outside chores. All of us had our jobs to do around the house. Dad was in the military and deployed half the time and mom worked outside the home to help bring in a little extra. As a teenager, if I wanted something new, I worked to earn the money to buy it. I got up every morning at 5, to deliver newspapers before school. I also had jobs after school cleaning homes for people. I would babysit in the evenings and on weekends I had a job at a gas station, pumping gas and checking oil for people (that gives away my age!). I learned that working hard was key to making more money. We weren’t considered poor but with eight kids on a military paycheck, we didn’t have a lot of luxuries. To this day, I still work a lot. It’s ingrained in me now. Even my mother is still working at 83 and I’m probably going to be just like her.

  13. If we can learn how to access the part of our mind that creates “FLOW” then there is a “feeling” that creating art is not hard work at all, but rather, PURE BLISS…. You know you are in flow when you loose all sense of time, hours fly by and you are LOST in the JOY of creating. A person can learn how to enter this beautiful space, at will, over and over again. Top Athletes experience this all the time. They are doing the HARD WORK of running, and perhaps they encounter a small hill. Instead of slowing down, they CHARGE TOWARD IT…and all sense of physical pain, stress, hard work, etc DISAPPEAR into PURE JOY…and they literally FLY up that HILL. We are programmed by relatives, friends, mass media and other sources, to get locked into all kinds of limitations. So much better to train our MIINDS to be unlimited in creativity, in original ideas, in beauty…our minds have EVERYTHING we need. This natural function of the mind can be TRAINED to be applied in any way…including art. Many of the great artists like Michaelangelo knew this state well. Stephen Kolter’s book “FLOW” and his other books…

  14. Jason, thank you for showing photos of the dome interior. I was so curious about it after reading your book because I just couldn’t picture how all the floors worked. Fascinating photo, engrossing story of your family.

  15. Both of my parents were the oldest siblings in large immigrant families (14 and 9 children). They had to leave school in their early teens so that they could work the farm and help take care of the younger children. That didn’t stop them from reading and learning and making a better life for themselves. My father was a fine craftsman who took pride in building furnishings for a hospital. My mom cleaned house and was employed by the same families for over 20 years, building close friendships with her employers.

    We didn’t own a house until I was in the 7th grade but even so, we rented a garden plot outside of the city and after we were finished with our household chores on the weekend, we would head out to the garden to harvest the vegetables and fruit. We canned fruit and veggies and filled a freezer with them. My father was a hunter out of necessity so I grew up eating wild game since a young deer would feed the family for the year.

    We sewed our own clothes and baby sat on weekends for spending money. I got a part time job at a bakery as soon as I was old enough.

    My parents sacrificed and scrimped and saved and I learned the value of hard work and persistence through them. It wasn’t what they said, it was by their example. I am so appreciative of what I learned from them because it’s given me the drive to continue when life is challenging.

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