Sunday, September 01, 2013

Helping student practice arts is a lifeline that can help him avoid mediocrity

Last week, I went to a program to listen to a friend's child who was playing tabla. He is just of 8 years. In his group,  children of the same age were playing tabla . Everyone was playing tabla with serious intent. In that program, one parent had come with her daughter. I praised her willingness to support her child's intent. She was almost apologetic and self-justifying herself when she said, 'Oh, it is just a hobby. It keeps her busy. She is so jumpy and energetic'.

Why do we misunderstand the use of practicing arts, be it singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, painting, sculpting, pottery, making artifacts like jewellery, purses, story writing or anything else? Why do we consider it as a 'time-pass' activity only? Why do we value it so less when it is so important even in becoming a good engineer or a doctor ? Why do we presume that  practicing arts is not just a luxury, but necessity of our life?

I guess we value arts less, because we are ignorant of talent-developing process. We therefore do not know the role that arts plays in developing our own talent. If we knew this process, we would not only take our 'hobby' of any arts seriously, but develop it with intent and focus. As we saw in our earlier blog, our talent-package is not just developing one ability, but includes developing a package that includes ability plus our character traits and conative traits. 

In other words Talent = Ability like teaching, programming or designing  + character Trait like self regulation and creativity + Conative traits like passion and purpose. All three are required together to develop a talent. Like we saw in the earlier blog, only ability like batting is not enough.

Practicing Arts like tabla offers a student three benefits for developing his/her talent of anything (be it engineering, medicine, or accounts) :

1.  It helps her practice and develop personal trait of Self-regulation 

In developing his talent, say in mathematical deductive reasoning, personal traits like motivation, patience,persistence, are as much important as the basic skill of mathematics. And the most important personal trait the student needs is self regulation, regulating his attention and energy into a specific activity until he can produce the desired result. I shall later show you the research of psychologists on why they think that self regulation is more important than IQ in excelling in our talent.

But, for now, let us ask ourself 'how can a student develop self regulation' ? It cannot be developed by reading books, or by saying any mantra. The only way to develop self regulation is to engage in an activity - like tabla, music, singing, dancing, skating, or anything else - and use the generated interest to learn that activity more and more. The process of engaging in an activity like arts automatically helps a student 'practice' and develop self-regulation.

For instance, when my friend's son plays Tabla, he forgets everything for that time. He is fully engaged in it. He learns 'concentration'. When his teacher wants to play a specific 'matra' in tabla, he has to try again and again and practice them for a long long time, until he gets it right. This develops 'persistence'. Every day, he plays tabla even at home without being told. That develops internal motivation. The child goes through the practice of self regulation every day. Where else can student practice this? Practicing tabla is therefore a playground where a student learns to develop self regulation.

2. Practicing arts develops another important trait to excel: Creativity 

Creativity is a character trait that a student badly needs to excel in anything. Psychologists have discovered that this is one reason why students with average IQ manage to produce extraordinary performance in their lives.

But students do not get any playground in their school-life for practicing this habit of creativity. Students observe something novel only in experiments of physics or chemistry. Their surprises are limited to observing the birth of chicken from egg, or seeing a butterfly coming from a caterpillar. Their creativity is therefore expressed only in one-off venture such as painting elephants white, making a birthday greeting, decorating a friend's party, or taking photographs. The closest these students come to create anything new is writing an essay on their first visit to Zoo.

On the other hand, while practicing arts, creation is the centre-piece of the work. Whether it is playing music, or doing a painting of flower pot, Creation is an experience. Initially the child imitates and copies. But slowly and surely,  the child learns to create something from nothing. More importantly, the child practicing Tabla understands the process of creation. Within the constraining rules of Tabla, the child learns to produce 'new' experiences first hand and learns the habit of creativity.

Last week, i had gone to a birthday of my creative coachee, Jaya, who is good in drawing. Her close friend had telephoned all the friends of Jaya, asking them to send back a video clipping of what they thought about Jaya on mobile, compiled a collage out of it, and presented it to Jaya on her birthday. This is creativity !

More importantly, because a piece of arts cannot be evaluated as right or wrong, the child learns that everything in life cannot be evaluated as 0 and 1. It is a lesson which is also useful to find his purpose of life. In my coaching, professionals take 40 years to appreciate that their life achievement cannot be measured only by the amount of  'money' they earn.

3. Practicing arts gives us first hand feedback on our 'minds' capability

In the school, children study subjects such as physics, mathematics and chemistry and reproduce their understanding in the test or exam. This feedback from exam of 'how their mind is functioning' is not accurate, because exams are merely reproducing what was taught to them. Exams are not good outputs. Exam does not show that a student has understood 'as-is' reality well enough to manipulate the reality.

But in practicing arts, outputs are excellent because they give us an accurate feedback. In arts, when we produce an output, we get a 'feedback' from others on 'how it looks or feels to them'. When we draw a picture, for instance, we are not praised for 'the right strokes' or the 'best use of colours', or the 'layout'; we are praised for the 'whole picture'.  The feedback is direct and whole. The same is true when we design a greeting, or write a story, or play a song on cello. Art offers this experience of producing outputs that we all crave for. Because it provides us a feedback that increases the capacity of our mind to understand as-is reality ( which can then be used to manipulate it).


When the parents are apologetic about their children practicing arts, like the parent i met at the program, i almost wanted to scream at her and tell her, "Please do not apologise for your daughter's arts. It is not a hobby. In Arts, she will find a key that will unlock the the doors of her talent, whatever her talent."

Arts is a beautiful practice ground to  practice personal trait of self regulation and creativity that is critical to succeed in life. Output of Arts offers us a first hand feedback ( and that too early in life ) that helps us believe that we have a 'capable mind' that can deal with as-is reality. 

Practicing arts is not for learning arts, that is a minor objective. Its main purpose in our life is unlocking the puzzle of our talent ! 

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