In The Faith of an Artist, Leopold Stokowski is quoted as saying:” As the moon reflects the burning light of the sun, so Bach and Beethoven and other inspired musicians reflect the sacred fire of creation from some divine source we dimly feel, but do not yet clearly know…beauty and inspiration are beyond time. They are forever and they are for all men — in all the centuries to come.”
Creative people are not generally paragons of virtue, or pillars of moral rectitude. This is because, as Somerset Maugham says,” The end of other men is right action, but the end of the artist is production. And he produces not because he wants to, but because he must. His spur is the need to liberate his soul of the intolerable burden of creation.”
Every culture has its own definition of humanness. The development of a human being implies the fullest growth of these defined potentialities. In literature and research on education in the West human development is seen in terms of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth.
Anyone studying the growth of children or for that matter his own development is aware that airtight categories do not exist in reality. Each individual is a complex sum of all these aspects and functions vis a vis equally complicated experiences. Research in cognitive psychology has established that the human brain, like the computer it has created, processes all information through a system of symbols. There are two main systems- – notational and expressive. The first has a standard one-to-one relationship, that is, the numerals one, two or three stand for quantities. The letters of the alphabet are notational symbols for sounds. Schools tend to spend much of their time and energy teaching children the notational symbol systems through the three R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic. But notational systems represent only a part of what the brain can do.
Expressive symbols have levels of meaning to represent different ideas in varying circumstances and contexts. While there is only one way to spell red, when the child sees the colour on a traffic light its meaning is not the same as seeing a woman wearing a red shirt, watching an actor in a movie with liquid red smeared all over his dress or looking at a procession of people carrying red flags. Thus, red has many related or unrelated connotations, each determined by culture, history or natural association. In one culture brides wear white while in another only widows wear it. In music, dance, painting, sculpture, architecture and literature, people use and create symbols that are expressive, not notational. A diya lit at the commencement of a performer does not merely signify light but also wisdom, removal of darkness, victory over ignorance.
Schools by concentrating on three R’s not only limit the normal functioning of the human brain but also make a child incapable of interpreting the expressive symbols common to a cultural environment. Role of the arts in education ensures the development of the human brain to its fullest capacity. It enables the child to relate to what he learns in school.
The human mind begins to develop by moving from general to the specific. This movement from the general to specialised knowledge is the most exciting part of education and is not as linear as it sounds. A microbiologist would describe how human cells could be broken up into bone marrow cells, brain cells and others with specific functions and forms. Similarly, a music lover would elucidate the name of a raga, the gharana and the nuances of the notes of a sound. Specific knowledge is a long way away from the particular sound, but the way to it is precisely the point of education.
Knowledge of the outside world is gained through as many as five human senses– sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. A tree offers a multisensory experience. It is green, its bark is rough, its flower fragrant, its rustle of leaves musically resonant. As a person gets more familiar with trees, he observes they are not always green, flowers and leaves vary in colour and may and may not be fragrant, and the music of the rustling of palm leaves is very different from those of the pine.
Complex analyses and refined differentiation of sensory experience are common to the arts. Music makes the ear and brain sensitive to the most imperceptible qualities of sound and silence. Painting trains one to look at the subtlest qualities of line, colour and form. Dance offers the nuances of movement and stillness. If students must move from the general to the specific, their senses need to be finetuned to pick up the most discerning clues. They must internalise information and later express the subtleties they have experienced. Art is essential for the discovery of poetry in every experience, from the magic of mathematics to the wonder of language when it becomes literature.
Intellect and emotion go hand in hand. There is no thought without feeling. A thought or feeling does not need verbal expression because verbal symbols are but one of many systems the brain operates with. The average student has more feelings than he has skills to express them. And he is seldom given an opportunity to learn about them.
Paulo Friere coined the term “culture of silence”. This culture is perpetuated at every stage of school. Spiritual development is undoubtedly the most important aspect of human growth. Education, indeed the entire process of becoming human, rests on spiritual nourishment. When it comes to teaching a child, it is not merely physical, affective or cognitive development which matters; it is the spirit, will to learn, motivation, curiosity, psychological make up and response to the rest of the world that are crucial. A broken spirit cannot grow, function or learn.
To nurture the growth of a child’s spirit, to motivate him to learn, to give him the will to survive his mistakes, to help him strive, to make him accept others, to help him live without fear or inhibition is the very goal of education in a free and democratic society.
It is time for education to be geared towards making the internal process of learning external. The process includes making mistakes. The creative will must be disciplined, cautious, thoughtful but full of feeling. During the creative act the human being is most alone for he is in communion only with the thing created. Which is why the experience releases an individual, delivered to his inner self, from dependency on others. Because of a combination of singularly uncommon traits, a true artist stands apart from the crowd as some sort of a freak, and hence his intense loneliness. But without his unique talents, the world would have been a blessed place.
Every human being is creative. Society could not exist if this were not true. Even women, despite their lack of education and exclusion from the world of art in the olden days, found their sense of being through limited opportunities – a song sung in the group, playing a game with children, drawing a rangoli, a prayer or a dream.
Creativity is necessary for human growth. Denied the opportunity to create something, a child can only learn to destroy. Torn school books, irrelevant graffiti on walls, violation of nature, rape of human sensibilities and destruction of life are day-to-day testimony to a world without creativity. Even Francis Bacon was aware of this fact. He exclaimed: “Great men, like heavenly bodies, move violently to their places and calmly in their places”.
(The writer is former Associate Professor, Dept of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata)