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Practice Still Makes Perfect And The Arts Still Needs To Be Mandatory

May 25, 2014

With the onset of industrialisation, our educational system changed to suit the market. And The Arts has been gradually crossed out as an essential basic of our curriculum and increasingly set against The Sciences. But with us now long gone having entered the Information Age; where technology ridden societies cry out for analytical perspectives, interspersed with innovative thinking; isn’t it high time for us to reconnect the two?

 

Paul Cezanne - Mount Saint Victoire

The post-impressionist artist Paul Cezanne studied and painted the mount Saint Victoire almost obsessively. An example of a raw and intensive analytical study of technique, light and colour.

 

For as the anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston once put it, “[Science] is a formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” The purpose noted here, generally being either testing or attesting a supposition. And in my opinion, there is no way you can rightly do this without having an open minded approach and being an able cross-disciplinary thinker.

 

Developing A Sharp Eye, Creative Mind And Analytical Skills

At the academy we had this art teacher who taught us draughtsmanship. And like most teachers tied to the academy, he too was an active artist with private work. And he looked every bit the part. He was this larger than life Marlboro type man, with a tousled grey do and a grey goatee to match. And mind you, this was way back when the goatee was still the choice facial signature of many a social rebel and other misfits; long before it became a mass fashion statement.

He would lined us all up along the walls of the classroom, ‘circling’ some or the other object which did its quiet artistic duty as the subject of our next class. Sometimes there were no objects; and we would get a (de)constructive assignment. But, whatever he had planned for the day; he started out standing tall in the centre of our classroom circle; gauging each and every single one of us as he explained a drawing technique and what he expected from us.
 

Leonardo Da Vinci – Proportions of the head

Leonardo Da Vinci is the prototype of the polymath mind. And along with his contemporary Michelangelo, he epitomised the idea of the Renaissance Man; the artist and the scientist rolled into one. Here’s one of his beautiful studies of the structure and proportions of the human head.

 

And, afterwards at the end of every class, he would drill us again and again with the old familiar truth ‘practice makes perfect’. Urging us on to take some time everyday—even if it’s only five minutes—and, draw. Draw anything. From your breakfast coffee cup, to the bare winter trees or the intricate construction of a building site. Just draw.

Our sketch pad and led pencils were to become our dearest and closest friends. Mapping out our progress as we gradually sharpened our aesthetic eye, creative mind and drawing skills.

 

His Eyes Lit Up And I Knew I Had The Job

Years later I applied for a marketing internship at a utility organisation up north. The interviewing party of two sat me down at the head of the table, while the marketing manager sat across in his three piece suit. He turned to me; looking me over with this half mocking smile.

“You are a former art student, are you not?’
“Yes”, I replied.
“This is more of a marketing position. What makes you think you can do the job?”
“Because I’ve got the analytical and creative skills required.”

I then set out to explain to him that Art has its own share of theories and movements; and continued with the Bauhaus derived analysing and creative techniques I myself would use, were I to do a portrait of him. I jauntily pointed out that if the drawing were to bear any resemblance at all, I had to first (literally) step back and study the big picture in its purest and abstract form. Break it all down, set the corresponding boundaries, define the geometric structures and then gradually fill it in. As I described the characteristics of his features, translating them into analytics and form; I sensed his manner slowly shifting. And the minute I saw his eyes lit up, I knew I had the job.

 

Interconnected Thinking

Now there are many renowned professionals out there, who believe in cross-disciplinary thinking. For example Tim Brown, Elizabeth Coleman, Bran Ferren and Stefan Collini. Just to name a few. But here I’d like to draw your attention to a TED talk by Mae Jemison; an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector and a dancer. In her 20 minutes talk, titled ‘Teach Arts and Sciences together’, Jemison fervently calls on educators to interconnect the two disciplines; and discusses why this is crucial.

 

 

This talk dates from 2002. The world has changed a lot since then; and then again it hasn’t. What pains me most is that the message still hasn’t quite sunk in. For some odd reason, we continue to believe that The Sciences and The Arts are two separate and opposite entities. That by definition, an academic is not capable of creative thinking and an artist lacks analytical skills. Jemison states, that if we keep hanging on to this dichotomy; we are messing with our future and we are holding back progress.

Now, that is something to mull over; isn’t it? Let me give you another one and leave you with this really beautiful Mae Jemison quote:

“Science provides a [personal] understanding of a universal experience.
And Arts provide a universal understanding of a personal experience.”

 

(Source image used: Wikimedia Commons)

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Play, Learn, Evolve


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29 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2014 04:37

    Perhaps the separation begins at the school level when we are forced to choose classes with specialized teachers. What if we were to hire teachers who could apply knowledge in both sciences and arts like when I was in elementary school? Would that possibly help bridge the gap? Thank you for sharing this.

    Like

  2. May 30, 2014 14:41

    Hi Evita: As someone whose life is now consumed by the arts (I am a writer, live in a very artistic community, and am president of the Toastmasters in the Arts club) I heartily agree with the premise of your post. In many jurisdictions, the arts often suffer when there are cuts. We’ve been that in Canada in the past few years. But fortunately, there seem to be philanthropists who try and make up the depleted public finding with private donations. Thank goodness for them. Me and science don’t jive, but I certainly value its importance.

    Like

  3. May 29, 2014 18:01

    Good post! I am right and left brain oriented yet the lack of respect for the unusual (but necessary) balance often is harmful to me in the work environment. Employers want to place people in right OR left brain roles rather than seeing the benefit of having a sales person that has a creative background and the ability to think scientifically (tactically). It has allowed me to be independently successful and gain clients so I have always pushed my children to find that balance and use it to their advantage.

    When my son, a cellist, was facing losing his middle school Orchestra program I fought tooth and nail, went to Board of Ed meetings, and wrote letters to prevent it and it worked! Today he is heading into the Air Force, speaks Japanese, and is an accomplished multi instrument musician–how could anyone argue against the arts as a catalyst for multi level aptitude?

    Like

  4. May 28, 2014 03:21

    I just spent a day with my kids at the Art Gallery of Ontario where they used new technology to reintroduce kids to Art. It was amazing. I hope for my kids sake that art makes a comeback in schools quick and not on a computer.

    Like

    • May 28, 2014 09:40

      Dear Sarah,
      if you can combine the knowledge of Arts with learning digital skills; I am all for it. As long as we also teach to explore the Arts in every personal way possible. I think it’s wonderful that you explore the Arts with your kids. That is all you need to instigate a curiosity for beauty; which in the end, opens the door to creative thinking. Good for you!

      Thank you for your comment!
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  5. Meredith permalink
    May 28, 2014 01:50

    I couldn’t agree more and I love that quote from Mae Jemison. I am an artist and my husband is an engineer, which makes for a great combination. We are trying hard to give our kids a well-rounded education, but it is so hard to find good arts training, given our current educational scenario. Thank you for writing this!

    Like

    • May 28, 2014 09:27

      Dear Meredith,
      All I can think while reading your comment, is: “Wow. Your kids are very lucky to have you both as parents!” And though our current education system is not the best it can be, I do believe your kids will be all right. :)

      Thank you for contributing to the discussion.
      Greetings, Evita.

      Like

  6. May 27, 2014 15:16

    Friends, family, work, play – it’s human nature to label and categorize. When do we start seeing the interdependence, as you have so clearly laid out here.

    Thanks for the message of the importance of moving this direction as our world does need it to solve some of our biggest problems.

    Like

    • May 28, 2014 09:22

      Dear Patricia, you’re welcome! :)
      Thanks ever so much for your comment.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  7. May 26, 2014 15:19

    Hello Evita,
    Lovely post! When one thinks about it, life itself is both an science and an art. From the data we extrapolate, we shape and form the contours of our lives.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 15:33

      Dear William,
      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post.
      And yes indeed. What a very beautiful way to put it; life is both science and art. And what better way for our education system to prepare us for this. Teach us to see the creative beauty of The Sciences and the constructive beauty of The Arts.

      And, thank you for contributing.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  8. lenie5860 permalink
    May 26, 2014 08:51

    Cross-disciplinary thinking – isn’t that just saying no narrow-mindedness. I fully agree that the Arts are a necessary part of learning even though I am not the least artistically inclined and totally hated having to learn to play the trumpet, but that discipline learned has been invaluable all through life.
    Lenie

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 12:52

      Dear Lenie,
      Having an open mind is indeed the first and an essential step to be able to think beyond your own discipline(s). But to develop a cross-disciplinary mind, you will need a broad curriculum. And, should you be an informal learner or autodidactic; a very curious mind—but that is a trait I guess of the autodidact. :)

      The (Liberal) Arts trains you to think constructive, more than most disciplines. If only, because that is what you need to sharpen your creative skills and creative thinking.

      And in your case, learning music taught you more than ‘just’ discipline; subconsciously it also taught you to tap into your own personal source of inspiration.

      Thank you for adding to the discussion.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  9. May 26, 2014 03:44

    It has always been a source of bewilderment that arts must suffer in the education system. This is a worldwide issue, not just in the US, so it is bewilderment compounded. There are plenty of examples of science and arts mixing with incredibly historic results; Leonardo da Vinci is but one.

    Like

  10. May 26, 2014 03:07

    How times have changed. I had art and music when I was in elementary school every single day. It was part of the curriculum. Today, the kids are lucky if they have 20 minutes a week with a “teacher” who isn’t even credentialed. Very sad. Love the quote and I hope history will repeat itself and the arts will come back to being mainstreamed again.

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 13:58

      Dear Laurie,
      History doesn’t really have to repeat itself—though it always does somehow. Or so it seems. ;) But seriously, we just need to cherish The Arts more. To quote Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.”

      Thank for your contribution to the discussion.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  11. May 26, 2014 02:34

    This type of thinking is very important for those looking to make a career switch. That is the first thing that popped into my head after reading your interview. I am helping a friend re-do his resume as after 20 years he decided he wanted to try another industry. All the subjects are really interdependent. Nothing stands alone.

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 14:05

      Dear TheGirl,
      My point exactly. It is what Liz Coleman calls ‘The Interconnectedness of Things’. A beautiful thought.
      Thank your for your comment.
      Greeting, Evita

      Like

  12. May 26, 2014 01:05

    Absolutely the best teaching combines the arts and science. My daughter is a Stanford grad and I personally loved their practice of having students from the arts sample science. And the best part was that their BEST person in the department taught these classes!

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 14:21

      Dear Beth,
      Again. My thoughts exactly. ‘Mixing’ Arts and Sciences broadens your mind and perspective.
      And yes, I agree. The best educators think cross-disciplinary. In my humble opinion. Of course. ;)

      Thank you for commenting.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  13. May 26, 2014 01:01

    I love the quote that science is formalized curiosity. How true that we need to integrate creative (art) and the sciences. Hmmm…interesting that maybe we need to look backward in this instance and learn from the master, DAVinci. Great TED talk!

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 14:26

      Dear Jacquie,
      Agreed. Great TED Talk.
      And do forgive me; I am a sucker for The Classics. :)
      But let us be honest. When I say ‘Renaissance Man’; who is the first that comes to mind?

      Thanks for your comment.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  14. May 25, 2014 23:36

    It’s amazing how evolving education can be and what takes priority (and receives funding). In some discussions, I’ve heard people add an “A” into STEM so now it’s referred to as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

    Like

    • May 26, 2014 00:10

      Dear Christina,
      And so they should! Add the ‘A’ I mean. Thank you for adding this to the discussion.
      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  15. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) permalink
    May 25, 2014 22:10

    I agree with your premise and I think it’s tragic that in the US, teaching the arts is one of the first things to go as schools struggle with budget cuts. I was a fairly serious music student during my youth and the discipline and skills necessary to be a successful oboist (in my case), definitely transferred to the rest of my life. I’m a (recovering) lawyer and surprisingly, some of the best lawyers I’ve known, were physics majors—-seemingly unrelated disciplines with, apparently, an overlapping skill set.

    Like

    • May 25, 2014 22:27

      Dear Suzanne,
      It’s the same here in The Netherlands. Today, we all somehow see The Arts as superfluous; and so it’s indeed the first to go when there are any budget cuts.
      And thank you for proving my point; cross-disciplinary thinking can only make you a better professional. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Greetings, Evita

      Like

  16. May 25, 2014 20:28

    Evita, you make a strong case for teaching The Arts and for valuing them both in their own right and in relation to other areas. I recently read an old quote to the effect that Craft involves not being afraid to make mistakes and that Art involves knowing which ones to keep. At the time when Art and Science were not seen as mutually exclusive a lot of breakthrough research could have borne the same definition as Art.

    Like

    • May 25, 2014 20:51

      Dear Paul,
      I couldn’t agree with you more. And I don’t know if you enjoy TED Talks; but if so, you should watch this wonderful talk by Bran Ferren whenever you get a chance. It highlights your point. Here’s the link:

      To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering

      The line between Arts and Sciences is a whole lot blurrier than a lot of us choose to believe. According to me, cross-disciplinary thinking is the only way to go.

      Thank you so much for you comment; and for the retweet. :)

      Greetings, Evita.

      Like

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