Any two art professors or artists will always work differently. Julia Hechtman and Tony Luong, art professors at Northeastern University, have different takes on how things work. Hechtman specialises in interdisciplinary art, such as video and animation. Luong is a photographer by trade. The only thing they have in common is that they both serve as faculty mentors. And when they rewind their artistic journeys to the beginning, there’s something else they share: they’ve both had mentors of their own.
Adrienne Salinger, Hechhtman’s photography professor, was the reason she became a photography major. Hechtman didn’t know how to use the 35-millimeter camera she inherited from her mother. Salinger’s class at Syracuse University changed that, drawing Hechtman away from her current major and into the arts.
Luong, who struggled academically in high school, found similar direction in a classroom. What began as a hobby of photographing his friends on bikes and skateboards, took shape in an audio-visual course. Years later, he met Claire Beckett, a professor at the New England Institute of Art. Beckett helped him identify what he was after both “in art and the world,” he said. Beckett advised him to dig deeper. To look into his life and find what makes him compelled enough to take pictures of.
Now, Hechtman and Luong have students taking after them. The mentorship Hechtman offers isn’t the same as what she learned. She uses her lessons and shapes them for her students as per their needs. She wants to have a soft touch with her students so that they don’t feel judged. That’s the crux of mentoring: providing safety and criticality in the same space. Luong often teaches and advises students who have no picture-taking experience. Some may just be curious; others may want to combine photography skills with another passion. In either case, Luong doesn’t try to define their path.
He makes them look for something they want to pursue further. Mentorship is fluid, especially in a field less quantitative than psychology or finance. When Hechtman was asked how long she’d been a mentor, she paused.
“Gee, I don’t know. It depends how you define that word,” she said. “I would say every faculty member is a mentor—and I believe that.” Every professor has experience worth sharing with the students and we never know how it might help them.