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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.