When parents continue to treat their progeny like children well into their adult years, it can certainly be annoying but it also makes sense. After all, parents raised their kids from the first. If they have a hard time seeing their offspring as anything but the three year old whose laces they tied, it’s understandable.
On the other hand, when college professors can’t see their former students as their peers, it’s just annoying.
A few years ago, I was looking for an art historian to contribute an introductory essay to a catalog of my work. In my extensive search, I ended up writing two crucial letters, one to a former professor and one to Richard Brilliant, a prominent art historian. The letters had a similar message: I asked both of them if they could recommend a writer who would be good for my project.
My former professor responded by giving me the names of two people who had graduated from the art history department at the same time as I was finishing up my studio major. These people had just earned Masters from writing programs. They didn’t have résumés as writers beyond their degrees, and, to me, they did not seem like a rational match for an artist who had spent the years since college working as an artist.
Meanwhile, Richard Brilliant responded to my query by offering to write the essay himself.
Neophobia. That’s what I call it. It’s the fear of the up-and-coming, and it’s caused by the belief that these new players will take your slice of the pie. More specifically, it’s the fear of those whom you have mentored too well.
This fear is one of the reasons that I don’t like the academic world. It seems to me that too many professors in the arts would rather have spent their lives doing instead of teaching. So when former students do instead of teach, jealousy intervenes, and the people who have spent their lives the wrong way forget that they chose to teach.
Maybe I’m way off. Maybe this is just the circle of life, and maybe one day I’ll feel the pangs of neophobia too even if I don’t become a professor. But if I do ever fear those I’ve mentored, I hope that they call me out for the ridiculous behavior that it is.
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