Monday, April 4, 2011

On Arts and Teaching

"Crank it out the night before it's due" dance responses...

A point which stood out to me in Carol Becker’s lecture was that people who pursue a subject matter with dedication, love, and “a spirit of play” will always have a better grasp of the subject “at its core” than those who rely on “information, quantification, and objectification.” She later talked about failure and success, which directly relate to this idea of pursuing a subject with passion. Much of entering adulthood has to do with loosing a sense of idealism and learning to deal with failure. For many, failure is something to be avoided at all costs. If one sticks to the routine, the commonplace, there’s little chance for failure. The fear of taking risks, of stepping outside of the norm stifles creativity and fetters the human capacity to achieve greatness far beyond what is immediately practical. As a result, our motivation for work comes not from an internal drive, but from our bosses, bills, reputation, societal status and the like. There is nothing wrong with “making a living” since artistic endeavors can only began after the most basic biological needs are met, but for many, the lost of motivation or passion comes from a fear of repeated failure more than anything else. For some of us, we shy away from expending maximum effort on a task – any task – because we are afraid that our efforts will be in vain should the outcome prove to be unfavorable. This focus on reward rather than process produces mediocre work, unsatisfying relationships, and a never-ending search for fulfillment. If we were to engage ourselves fully during work, challenge our selves by taking creative risks, and never settle for mediocrity, then we will discover, or rather rediscover, the “spirit of play” that Becker spoke about. Passion or love for a subject is simply dedicating as much of your attention as you can to it. What is utterly beautiful about a child at play or an artist at work is that both are completely engrossed in what they are doing. To them, there exists no distinction between work and play. In putting love into everything we do by always trying despite failures, we’ll have already succeeded.

In “The Role of the Arts in the Invention of Man”, Eisner discusses how “those who teach the arts must have skills that are never required of an artist”. I find that the best teachers are those who teach the student to teach himself. Much research has been done on how to handle different learning styles among students. Significant differences exist even within the broad categories of “visual” learners, “tactile” learners, and “auditory” learners. Therefore, it takes people who are incredibly sensitive to the uniqueness of each individual student to teach the arts because as Eisner mentioned, an artist must be able to see, understand, capture, before rendering his subjective experience of the world to others. In a sense, the student needs to learn how to become intensely aware of the world around him in addition to other more technical aspects of the art form. Good teachers cultivate that awareness by encouraging the student to explore, pointing him in directions he otherwise might have callously overlooked. Most importantly, they must evoke in their students a natural curiosity towards life, diminish any fear of making mistakes, and not smother their creativity with their own established way of thinking. Oftentimes, the room for miscommunication between teacher and student can be enormous. In academics, facts and information can easily be obtained from textbooks. In arts, it’s difficult to grasp certain concepts unless you’ve personally experienced it. For instance, I never understood what it meant to “feel as if your violin bow is pulling through molasses” until suddenly one day, I felt a consistent vibration of the string, the resistance, through the wooden stick of my bow. The teacher may guide, but ultimately, it’s up to the student to discover. The teachers I’ve had who really taught me something worthwhile, were not the ones handing me facts to memorize or exercises to practice. They were the ones who showed me a different way of viewing the world. Through example, they inspired me to always have faith in my abilities, yet always be humble because there can never be an end to learning. And I think that’s what all the great teachers in history have in common. They inspire.