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

Over the last couple of 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 1970s. Their example alone would have given me a great perspective on the value of hard work, but they went much further to teach me firsthand 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 I 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 (as you know if you’ve read my memoir), 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.

8 Comments

  1. I remember from a very early age loving to work—especially entrepreneurially. I had a lawn mowing business at 11 and a paper route and also reclaimed and sold golf balls back to golfers during the summer (amongst many other early biz adventures). My home wasn’t the happiest so earning my own money gave me a great sense of fulfillment and gave me much needed independence. Both my Mom and Dad were hard workers so they showed me through their example , too. I continue to work really hard on both my freelance photography business and my art business.

  2. Hard work? My mum. Dad as well. And stepdad.
    Mum was learning to paint. Landscapes in oil. Pets in pastels. She knew how to scrub a house from top to bottom. My dad tied flies for fishing. It is meticulous and creative. Stepdad was a composer. So long hours at the piano, slow working out the different voices of the instruments and how they wove together.

  3. I don’t know.
    I was surrounded by family that were always working.
    We grew up on the farm. We were never pressed into much service as kids
    Somehow, a responsible work ethic was instilled as was the idea that one helped out their neighbors.
    Another characteristic was a commitment to one’s word. Every adult I knew did what they said they would do. It was imperative that the resultant actions follow the letter of the word uttered.
    To my great dismay, this remains a partially learned lesson with inconsistent results, try as I might.
    I was given leeway to develop ideas and talents. All that was asked in return was that if I set to work, that I complete it.
    Both parents had had major right-angle turns in their lives that changed their path forever. Dreams evaporated in the Depression and later in World War 2.
    When I changed colleges, my mom took me aside and told me that there was only enough money for four years. One was gone which meant I had to make up a year’s financing and do it while also going to school.
    It was hard work.but I had lived with the examples of how it was to be done.

  4. My parents from the Greatest Generation gave me a sense of doing work and doing it well. Being committed to a job or a way of doing things with did not come naturally to me as I was always in a hurry. But I began to see more and more the example by my hardworking parents and grandparents the value of doing everything as best I could. I still fight my lazy side but I do what needs to be done in the best way possible. My late husband was a hard worker and both of my sons are also.

  5. My parents, grandparents, and what I remember of my great grandparents, kept me working hard. It started very young. “You get up and go to school.” “You do your best to be the best!” “You take care of your pets and keep them happy.” Well, it carries on and on. “Make me proud of you!” My grandparents were over achievers being in politics and community service. (My husbands grandparents and parents, too!) My parents were also hard workers, too, and, as a funny/serious thought, my parents went to work everyday even if they had a hangover! “Hard work makes you successful!” It had gotten to be such a Mantra for me that I had to follow up…and it had to be done very well– all my life! When I failed it was devastating. But, I still work very hard, remembering the little kid that heard it everyday. ( It can also be a BIG problem for some of us… )

  6. Once upon a time, a love-child was born… I was the youngest of five, with two half-brothers and two half-sisters, who were all foaming at the mouth to be top dog in our single mom household. Mom was a performing artist, singer and musician. My dad was a traveling jazz pianist who wasn’t around much and eventually moved to the mountains. Adversity seemed to be the welcoming challenge from the moment I was born.
    What helped me survive the overwhelming environment of older, self righteous siblings, and mom going crazy, was living on a ranch with many animals. I learned very quickly how to care for horses and exotic pets and the positive impact hard work had on the people around me. Mom was doing her very best, yet she struggled to make ends meet just to keep a roof over our heads.
    So, I cooked, cleaned and cared for the horses and various animals. Such as, goats, pigs, chickens, wild turkeys, cats, rats, dogs, rabbits, a donkey… even a pet monkey named Willie joined the family for a short time. I really think my mom believed she was Mrs. Doolittle!
    Everyday, I would climb our huge pine tree next to the house to access the roof where I could escape the mayhem, hoping no one would ever find me. It was there where I found solitude and love for drawing in my sketch book… either that, or repel Barbie down the chimney!
    However, my older sister, Kit, became my mentor. She was a loving, kind person who adored swimming and photography. She taught me everything about 35mm and medium format cameras. She also helped me work hard on becoming an avid swimmer. Which later in life, helped me excel in ocean water sports.

    By the time I was a teenager, I started to freelance as a portrait artist, either drawing or taking photos of people and animals. Which eventually steered me into wedding photography.
    Although I studied painting and photography in college, photography at the time seemed to be the more lucrative career choice. In due time, Kit and I were shooting weddings together and doing really well.
    Though, deep down, my true calling was to be a painter. So, after 20+ years and wedding burn-out, I decided to pursue fine art painting. That’s when I discovered Jason’s Red Dot Blog, Xanadu Art Gallery and the Art biz academy.
    The rest is history!

  7. In summary to what I wrote above, hard work pays off! Not necessarily in terms of money. I am talking about the solid relationships that hard work enabled me to build over the years which led me to where I am today. Integrity, commitment and perseverance have also become the foundational values that carved a way through the messy twists and turns along the path.
    I was a bit of a late bloomer too and lucky to finally meet the love of my life, Mike, and his two young kids later in life. There is no easy button when it comes to being the outsider to a new relationships. But because of all that hard work I did on my self growth and care for animals put me in the perfect position to give back to kids in need of a mentor.
    Day by day, sometimes a door slammed in my face, we worked through our challenges and came out the other side with a ton of respect, love and admiration for one another. Apart from a great school and healthy peer groups, Mike’s kids are now enthusiastic, successful college students.
    So, it just comes to show that hard work will pay off in numerous ways. Ones that are far more interesting than just making a good income.
    Hard work gives me great pleasure, confidence to get the job done and fulfillment in what I do for a living.

  8. When i was a teenager of 13 I went to work on the local farms bringing in the hay working from dawn to dusk and moving from farm to farm. The farmers helped one another and they hired teens to help stack the hay on farm wagons and bring it in and unload it in the barn. It was strenuous hot work but i enjoyed the camaraderie between the farmers and learning to operate tractors and machinery on the farms. They fed us well and treated us equally and i loved it. I did that for three years turning the money over to my mother to buy food since my dad wasn’t around. It was a good way to grow up and appreciate hard work that strengthened me and gave me responsibility.

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