Tag Archives: Learning


Light Breaks the Darkness

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Until we see the light break
Across our shadowed world
We do not know what darkness is… Continue reading


Water Colors

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The colors of water are richly varied – there to be observed and shared… Continue reading

Matisse and the Idea of Reinvention


M. Mair, Before the Rebirth, Acrylic painting on canvas, Original art.

MoMA Features Pivotal Moments in Henri Matisse’s Radical Invention | Art Knowledge News.

This article in Art Knowledge News on Matisse and the way he ‘re-invented’ himself got me thinking about the idea of reinvention.  Particularly as I was in the process of reinventing this blog at the time.

I think there is more than one kind of reinvention.  Sometimes, it seems to me, an outward change reflects a real and deep change in who we understand ourselves to be.  But at other times what looks like reinvention to others may be something different to us: a movement closer to being who we really are rather than a change in ourselves. Not so much re-invention as re-presentation.

Children, less certain of who they are, enjoy a different kind of re-invention.  Children love to spend time pretending to be other people or other creatures.  It gives them a way to explore what it might feel like to be someone or something else.

As adults re-invention becomes something more thoughtful and less playful.  We have to have good reasons to re-invent ourselves, publicly or privately.

There are times when a strong sense of self is the reason for changing, rather than a reason for staying the same.  These are the times when knowing who we are gives us a strong basis from which to act, on which to build, from which to continue to learn.

Reinvention becomes something we do as we grow; a way of presenting not so much a new person as a new persona to the world.  We reinvent the self we show to others, rather than the self we know we are.

You could sum it up this way:

  • As we learn we grow;
  • as we grow we change in subtle ways;
  • as we change, we change what we show the world;
  • and then the world sees us as a new person, a reinvention of the person they think we are.

It’s Doing That Counts

It’s the doing that counts.  It’s more important, in the end, than dreaming, scheming, planning, thinking, watching, listening.  Not that we don’t need to do all of the above – but we do need to make sure that  we don’t let them take the place of actually doing things.

Doing involves using the body.  It enhances the senses, increases skills, feels good (unless overdone) and leaves a person feeling they’ve achieved something.  Doing makes us grow stronger – both in body and mind.  Besides, the more we do something we enjoy the better we become at it – and the more we enjoy doing it.  It’s a good cycle to get into.

It’s true for adults; it’s even more true for children.  Now there is more and more evidence that when it comes to growing the young brain, learning to do the arts really makes a difference that counts.

One example:

A review of studies shows that as children learn to make music, the number of connections in their brains increase (growing the brain) and they learn to listen better and better.  The result:  they learn more than music – they learn to process words and meanings better, are more aware of tone and nuance, hear and see patterns and rhythms more easily, have a better vocabulary.  So they learn and communicate better, and find learning new languages easier.

Which means that enjoying music is wonderful, but doing music is better.  At least when it comes to how children’s brains grow.  Art, dancing and acting are other activities that we know build important life and learning skills, the kind that give a child a good foundation to build on.  Not just motor skills, but skills like observing, listening, empathizing and communicating well.  But to really benefit a child has to spend time learning to do them.

Learning from an experienced teacher helps; but there’s a lot children can learn from other adults around them and from each other, given the opportunity.  Singing together, playing clapping games, playing games where people have to listen to each other or to music, dancing together, pretending, drawing and painting and building and making castles in the sand or shapes from clay   – all encourage the same kind of development. Simple exploration is a good way of learning – trying something to see how it works out (as long as it’s not dangerous).  And everyone benefits when children and adults learn to do new things together.  All it takes is a bit of time and imagination.

So why not get doing?



Street Games, Running, Detail


The quote from the article in Science Daily that got me thinking about this (again):

“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development, ” the researchers conclude.

An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning, researchers say.

Citation: Northwestern University. “How Music Training Primes Nervous System and Boosts Learning.” ScienceDaily 20 July 2010. 27 July 2010 <http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/07/100720152252.htm>.

Uncertain About Certainty

Life is full of uncertainty; the only thing certain is change.

One part of us knows that; the other part craves certainty.  Certainty gives us an anchor when life gets rough, a firm piece of ground to take off from, a comfortable place to come back to.

Maybe certainty is like the skeleton of a story (thanks, Viki), the strong elements that we use to fix everything else against.  But then:  where do we find it?  Within ourselves?  Outside ourselves?  Some combination of the two?

If it is in ourselves, is it in the strength we build when coping with challenges, in remembered joy, in focusing on hope, in the decisions we make?   Can we build our certainties on what we learn as we go through life, with all its changes, or is there something at the heart of ourselves which doesn’t change?

If we find our certainties outside ourselves, how do we find them?  How do we come to trust that they are true?

I suspect we all find our own ways, our own tools.  For me, an important part of living with uncertainty is being aware, open to new experiences, observing and learning.  I feel certain that being aware gives me the best chance of responding well.

When I think about it, I realize that this is probably because I learned  that kind of awareness early, and now I know how much it helps me when I am traveling on the sea or learning my way around new places.   It is a learned certainty that helps me deal with the uncertainties of new situations.

And it is only one kind of certainty.  I wonder – what are the certainties in your life?   How did you come to them?  Do you think they will change?


A Stairway to Heaven


The Importance of Being Curious

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They say that curiosity killed the cat. Whoever they were, they were probably hiding something! Curiosity is the thing that keep us alive, that makes us ask questions and helps us learn. Continue reading

How Can Arts Teach?

The Right to Education

The Right to Education

The most important thing about the arts as a way of teaching is that they reach past the barrier of the written word to touch a much wider audience.

No-one need be left out, if they have ears to hear or eyes to see or, as Evelyn Glennie said in a TEDTalk, a body to experience with.

Here, we place a great deal of value on literacy – how would we live if we could not read? Yet there are many places where going to school long enough to learn to read is a challenge in itself. Children have a family to help support, or must care for themselves or other children, get caught up in war or struggle to survive poverty. Learning to read takes a poor second to survival.

But illiteracy does not equal stupidity. In many countries the arts can teach what otherwise would remain hidden, start a dialogue that creates deeper understanding and enhances knowledge, help people become actively involved in learning and teaching and create the circumstances that make literacy possible.

That is the thing that draws me to FUNARTE. The artists who created the organisation did so to use their knowledge and skills to give people a way to move past that written-word barrier, and to learn in and from the process of making art. They use art to give the gift of knowledge and to encourage children and adults to explore and understand the world they live in.

I hope you’ll help me support FUNARTE’s work, however you choose. One way would be by buying one of the prints or the new e-book in my store – all images are from the paintings in my last show. The e-book has been created under a Creative Commons license, so you are also free to enjoy it and share it without payment. You can find in the sidebar.

For more information on FUNARTE, Nicaragua and Pueblito Canada, go here.

To visit my store, go here.

Many thanks to all who’ve helped so far. Now I’d love to be able to let everyone know we’ve raised another $800!

Whose Shoulders Do We Stand On?


“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.

Newton acknowledged that his revolutionary theories found their roots in the work of others. Building knowledge is a cumulative process, and the results, for better or for worse, accumulate around us. As knowledge becomes accepted more widely then human ideas lead to human creations that become objects and concepts we integrate into our lives.

It’s a good thing we never have to start from scratch. Consider the difficulties – we would have no home, no clothes, no farming, no way of cooking – nothing we did not create ourselves. Should we find time for creating images, we artists would have to make our colours from earth and clay and plants, and paint on rocks or other natural surfaces. Writers would have to tell stories instead of write them, carry their stories with them to share with one or two or a few instead being able to send their words in books or files around the world. Because every one of these things and many, many others we take for granted were created by someone else who developed them based on knowledge developed by someone else before them, starting at a time so long ago and in a place so far from here that we find it hard to imagine a world in which such knowledge and skills did not exist. We stand and build our lives on the shoulders of many, many who have gone before, whether or not we acknowledge it.

Why would I bring this up? Because we so often ignore the fact that we are nothing without all the things that those who came before us learned and passed on. We would not even be able to read this if someone else had not invented the alphabet we use – never mind enjoy the benefits of printing, books, computers. Counting would be pretty difficult too, if others had not figured out how to do it and then how to write down numbers. Someone had to figure out how to measure things, draw maps and charts to guide others, make the wheel – never mind engines. The list goes on and on.

What kind of people created the many things we take for granted? We will never know about the lives of many of the early inventors and explorers, but we can be sure that they were people who observed, learned, explored, analysed, created. Perhaps they had to create new things to survive; perhaps they invented new things to meet a need; perhaps they simply enjoyed the pleasure of achieving a new understanding, finding new way of doing things.

In the end, I’m not sure that their motivation matters. But I do think we owe it to all who have struggled to understand and to create to treat the gifts of knowledge they have left us with respect, to acknowledge them, use them well and add, if we can, our own little bit to the store. For those who will stand on our shoulders.

Arts and Sciences – two sides of the same coin?

Mae Jemison: On teaching arts and sciences together

Who better to talk about the arts and sciences, what connects them and why they need to be taught together, to be re-integrated with each other in popular culture than someone who embodies that integration? Mae Jemison is an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector, and a dancer. Her words come from experience, knowledge, and thoughtful analysis. Of all the words she spoke, these particularly caught my attention:

“Science provides an understanding of a universal experience, art provides a universal understanding of a personal experience.”