Art in Education: In the Now

Unplugged conversation with a learner at The Integral School, Hyderabad. As usual, conversations have a start point. They have no predestined roads, no predestined conclusions.  We stop, whenever. 

He peeps through the open door,  takes a few steps away and then turns back. “You said we can talk,” he says. I nod. Within an Asian Indian context,  a nod is a metaphysical delight, open to any number of interpretations.  The easiest way to allow the recipient to feel they have control over their decisions.  “Shall I come now?”. I nod again ( For those of you who do not know me, I have a PhD in Nods and the Zen).

This learner started his journey with us a year back. He is finding his way, through life, education and himself. We can see him open up to question, reflect and to assimilate. He draws well and is very focused as he draws. The word for our conversation sort of preselected itself. He works on the art project he is doing as we talk.

Let us talk about Art. You seem to have a good hand. Do you like it?

I like drawing and sketching. I like using a pencil, re-creating images and shading. I have not used much of other media,  just started on pastels and have tried a bit of acrylic paints. I like it, though.

When did you start?

Maybe when I was 7 or 8 years. I used to just doodle before, make some images but I remember really wanting to start when I was about 7 or 8. There used to be this tailor we used to visit. One day, he had his daughter with him and she was sketching. I was fascinated to see her draw, the ease, and the way she gave life to those images. At that point, watching that drawing take its life, I felt I had to draw. It helped that my mother draws/sketches and I had seen her draw many times. So, maybe an influence has always been there but watching this young girl bring life to images, it just lit a spark in me.

Did you pursue it?

Of course, I did! I drew a lot with pencils. My parents felt I was good at it, but then they feel I am good at everything, so. My teacher, at school then, called my parents in one day and told them I am really good at it. That was good to hear.

I think I was developing a good eye for detail by then. I could make a good image replication of something I saw. I enjoyed that. Sketching the details and bringing my own shading to the image. I really enjoyed that.

We left the country then, and I guess I left my art, the way I knew it. Nothing specific, no particular reason. If I look back, I think the curriculum really did not focus on art. It was there, but not so prominently, just somewhere amongst the other subjects. It never left me, I guess, but it was easy for me to just push it to the back of my head. Hidden there somewhere. I started again when we returned and I joined the school.

What made you restart?

I don’t know. It was there, I started, I guess. And then, I realized I had not forgotten much. A lack of practise and hence my muscles had to rebuild their memory. But the hand sort of remembered many movements. And when I started, in a few days, it all came back.

Is there a specific reason? Maybe, it was no longer hidden. Maybe there was more freedom to use art. Maybe we had art classes. Maybe. Maybe no reason.

Does art do anything to you?

I have not thought about that at all. I have heard people say it helps them relax, reduce stress. I have heard people say it helps them express their feelings, that art is a medium to communicate. Personally, I don’t look at it that way. Not yet. I am not sure I use art to express anything or to connect with my feelings. At least not now.  Or maybe, I do not know it yet.

How do you use art, then?

You mean the process? I like to see the image built especially when I am replicating something. Have I captured every detail? Have I observed everything? I used to work with pencils and that is still my preferred medium. Then play with shades. The focus was to practise strokes so that I build a good image. I was not thinking much about how I felt that time. I liked looking at the final product, feel happy about it, but the focus for me was, have I practised my strokes enough. If the final product was not good, it meant I did not practise enough. I had to practise more.

I do not really think over the process as I am doing my art. It is not thoughtless, though. I have an image of what I want to do before I start. When I start, though, I let my hands take over. They move of their own will, almost mindless, translating the image from my mind to the paper. I think of many other things at that time, memories, nostalgia, work to do,  deadlines, whatever. It is like my hands and mind are connected but working separately. I break in between and then see my work. I look to see what can be added. If I have done something “wrong”, I look to see how I can adapt around it, after all, what is done is done, isn’t it. You adapt, why erase?  It is rare that the final product matches the initial thought I had in mind. Each break might make me think of other stuff to add. That depends on what I see unfolding at that moment. That moment matters, that moment determines. The past image does not really or need not really connect with the future product. I am comfortable with that.

This piece I am working on as we talk, this is the first time I have started from scratch. You said, want to do an art piece? But it should be yours and do not let anyone influence you or tell what do. You showed the space and walked off. I was like, well, wow, this is new, I have not done this. This will be mine. Mine alone. And I thought about what I want.

I have not and do not usually think about connecting with an audience or what they may think. That is not why I draw. I draw for myself and an audience is not at all a factor. What do you think about my art? Well, please feel welcome to think whatever. That may sound rude, but that is the way it is. What do I think about my art? Now that is what I am looking at. I draw for myself, I want to see what I have ended with. It gives me satisfaction to see that, happiness, to see how my efforts ended. Comments from others, I welcome that, but honestly, I feel, please feel welcome to take a paper and redraw my art whichever way you want. Just not on my paper. That is mine. My creation.

What do you think about Art in education?

I think it should be there but not forced. Not everyone wants to do it, not everyone likes it. I do not know if it can be linked to every subject, if it connects with every subject. I have not thought about that. I know I have used art as part of my assignments in Science, History, Language but that is more taking a part out and making a visual of it. A part of poetry, plays, etc. But I have not gone deeper than that. I have not thought about it.

The way I see it, those who like and want to do art, can do it and will find a way to do it. Let learners choose what they want to learn. Only one life and all that  you know. Let learners do what they want, learn the way they want. If they bring art into it, let them, if they don’t,  they don’t. That has to be the way for all subjects. I mean, I won’t live forever, why not let me learn whatever I want than what a system wants me to?

I think subjects have to be there, call them resources. Let learners choose what they want. I am doing a project on dogs. Many people ask my “Why?”. There is no reason other than I want to know more about them. Will I use that later? That is for later, I don’t know. Now, I want to know more about them. Let me do that.  Like art, that is for myself.

So, in a sense, the process is the same. Do it for yourself, not because a system wants you to. Listen to opinions, but the choice to accept or not,  that choice keep for yourself.  Learn the things you want to learn now, who knows if you will get another chance later? One life, right? Why do things you don’t want to?


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