Aristotle said in his Poetics, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality.”
He spoke mainly about poetry, which was the highest art of his age, but his words also apply to the fine arts. Today, many people are still mesmerized by artists who practice various styles of realism, but they overlook the artists who show us the realities of emotion and inner vision.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said the spiritual writer, Thomas Merton. Some people use art as a cathartic exercise, and pour out their inner emotions on the canvas or their chosen media. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Van Gogh’s late works are good examples of emotional expression. We all know folks who have a project going in their garage. They go work on “that worthless piece of junk” to focus their attention and energy on fixing something on which they can make a difference, instead of getting tied up in knots about things they can’t change and must accept. Gardening and knitting are also good hobbies for focusing this energy.
We know our nervous system grows to the modes in which it has been exercised. This is what we call building a habit over time. Just as a child doesn’t walk straight out of the womb, they have preparatory skills that must be acquired by stages as they grow. Exercising their muscles by rolling over also helps to strengthen their necks to hold their heads up. Crawling leads to pulling up, and that leads to letting go to learn balance.
Each time a child repeats these movements, he or she will simplify the movements required to achieve the needed result, make them more accurate, and diminish fatigue. In this, they’re building habits that bring them closer to walking. Rushing them to achieve “early” walking actually puts them behind cognitively.
Not only are there twenty five body parts in a baby’s body that are used in the crawl movement, but crawling also strengthens the hip sockets, so the baby will have a strong platform on which to stand. Crawling helps the corpus callosum, which is a band of nerve fibers between the hemispheres of the brain. Criss-cross crawling on the knees and hands stimulates the corpus callosum to develop in a balanced way, facilitating the hemispheres of the brain to communicate. These cross lateral movements work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of the eyes, ears, hands, feet, and core muscles. This helps support cognitive function, problem solving, and ease of learning. Exploring the floor in a baby proofed home allows your baby to achieve his or her optimal potential.
“Practice makes perfect” is only as true as the practice is directed in a true direction. This is where a teacher, a parent, a coach, or a spiritual guide comes into play. Only one who’s been led well can lead others with grace. We don’t tear down the learner, but ask questions, give guidance, help them see alternative paths, and allow them a safe place to explore their choices.
Art class isn’t brain surgery. No one will die if the painting isn’t successful, and no one’s salvation is at risk if the painting doesn’t come out the way we hoped it might. Art class is a safe place to take risks, unlike jumping from a tall tower without a parachute. Learning to accept failure on our canvases and coming back next time to try again is a mark of resilience and courage. Every time we fail closer to our target, we realize we’re gaining on it! We never say I CAN’T in art class.
The sad reality is we can teach and expand the horizons of young people up til the age of 25 or 30. After that, they seem to lose energy and desire to learn more or to change. They “habitually” repeat their previous acts, for good or for ill. We’ve all heard the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Those of us who are no longer young have sometimes been accused of being set in our ways. Some of us are afraid we won’t excel at a new challenge, for we’ve always been held to a high standard of achievement. Since none of us will be the next Georgia O’Keefe or Leonardo da Vinci, we can set that worry aside. They both had more years to practice than we have left in front of us. Instead, we should give our remaining time our most focused attention, so we can get the most from our experience.
My high school chemistry book had the same information in it which my daddy’s college chemistry book covered. He was amazed I was learning “advanced” ideas at my young age. In 1982 R. Buckminister Fuller introduced the idea of the “knowledge doubling curve.” Up until 1900, knowledge doubled every century. By 1945, knowledge doubled every 25 years and by 1982, it doubled every year. Some say it’s now doubling twice a day! The newest computer we buy off the shelf today is already obsolete.
We can’t train our students for the jobs of today because these jobs likely won’t exist tomorrow. We need to train people to be lifetime learners instead. Luckily, we don’t have to know all things, but we do need the skills to find the knowledge and sort through the best sources for the best possible information.
Today, knowledge we acquire in high school, college, graduate school, and our last job may already be obsolete. (I’m one who still grieves the loss of Pluto as a planet; it exists but is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt). This is especially true in fast moving fields like technology. As futurist Alvin Toffler wrote, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
This means all of us will need to become lifelong learners or we’ll risk losing touch with an ever evolving world. Maybe we think our brains can’t handle something new, for we’ve heard about the effect of aging. Cognitive process studies with older brains show learning, memory, and problem-solving in humans are often less efficient in these areas.
However, it has recently been established that dogs show many of the same kind of age related changes that humans do. A study in Vienna showed that older dogs learned new tasks just as well as younger dogs, although they took longer to do so and required more repetitive corrections. This aptitude is also known as “resilience training.”
I think it’s also important to know why we want to keep our brains agile as we move into our later years. John Wesley was fond of repeating William Law’s summary from the Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection,
“Do all the good you can, to all you can,
by any means you can, as long as you can.”
Because Wesley was better known than William Law, this quote is now attributed to Wesley alone. We Methodists have made it our own, however, and have carried its banner around the globe in our world wide mission efforts made possible by our Connectional ministries. Wesley thought enough of Law’s writing to reprint 19 editions of his work.
My late mother, at the age of eighty, learned how to use a laptop computer. She was motivated because she wanted to see emailed photos of her grandchildren, but then she realized she also could find recipes. When a child in her hometown needed a Mercy Flight, she used her new skills to get him transportation to an out of state hospital for treatment. I occasionally had to reteach her on how to double click quickly on her icons, rather than slowly, but she finally caught on.
If we want to keep our brains agile throughout our middle, silver, and golden years, we always need to try new things. Doing art challenges makes our brain build new neural pathways. Every time we look at a still life or a landscape, we have to make multiple decisions: what shapes do I see—circles, squares, triangles, or rectangles; how do these shapes relate to one another on the plane of our canvas; what is most important; what colors will I use; what emotions do I want to express; and where will I begin?
Eventually, we will find our “style.” We don’t find a style by copying another’s work, but we create enough works until our hand becomes one with our spirit. Since God has placed a special spark of God’s own creative Spirit within each of us, eventually we’ll experience the joy of being one with God when we are in our painting moments. As Paul said to the Romans (8:16):
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God.”
Last Friday we had a simple still life as our inspiration. Half our class was out sick with spring pollen troubles, but it was good to see those who could come after a two week hiatus. After a brief show and tell to get us inspired by other artists’ takes on the subject for the day, we got started. I reminded everyone not to make the fruit too tiny, so it wouldn’t get lost on the canvas. I believe everyone succeeded with this goal!
Mike painted his whole canvas with one brush. This gave the fruit a certain texture with contrasting colors, and the background, which was in a close value, didn’t show much brush strokes or texture. I like the perspective he chose, which brings the viewer in close to these fruit.
Gail tried a larger canvas with bolder colors than she normally uses. It was more dramatic and stronger in contrast than usual, while she kept her smooth strokes of paint as usual. She also took a view from above.
I stuck to a traditional rendering of the still life, since I do many abstract paintings in my own studio. I’d call these two Day and Night, for the Apple is quite awake and the Pear seems to need a little nap. It’s a study in contrasts: red and green, blue violet and yellow orange—a color wheel study masquerading as a still life.
Next week we’re in the season of Lent. As Christ turns his face towards Jerusalem, we’ll begin a study on the icons. This will be accessible and interesting. You’ll end up with your own icon for your personal worship center also.
Joy and Peace,
Classics in the History of Psychology — James (1890) Chapter 4
Crawling is important for childhood brain development
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks | Psychology Today
Letters of John Wesley – John Wesley, Augustine Birrell – Google Books, p.423
What It Takes To Change Your Brain’s Patterns After Age 25 https://www.fastcompany.com/3045424/what-it-takes-to-change-your-brains-patterns-after-age-25