This morning I was on the phone with a painter I’d Googled. He Googled me as we spoke. We looked at each other’s stuff. Then we mutually Googled the same works of the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla. We moved on to Francisco Domingo Marques, a teacher to whom Sorolla gave a lot of credit. This led to the less well-known Bernando Ferrandiz and Munoz Degrain, fellow Valencians who were also influences on Sorolla’s early work. They were great painters we had not previously heard of.
We live in the fastest curve of democratic learning yet to occur. Search engines have the potential to revolutionize traditional systems of education. It is a wave of free thinking and awareness of alternates, a bonanza for the independently curious. Like the “Mind Mapping” concept developed by Tony Buzan, ideas and images flow naturally from one to another and form into an ever-expanding web.
In his remarkable little book, Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill said, “I have always had a curious nature; I enjoy learning, but I dislike being taught.” Winston understood one of the basics of learning — self-direction — the way of the autodidact. He would have been proud to announce the triumph of independent curiosity.
The giant online Wikipedia is currently about ten times larger than the tree-based Britannica. And it’s not the largest. That honour goes to the Hudong, founded in 2005 by Dr. Pan Haidong, with over 4 million articles and 2 million registered contributors.
Since its inception in 1967, the American magazine Psychology Today makes a pile of magazines about 20 feet high. You can mouse every one of its mind-benders. If you happen to be thinking about creativity, for example, try Googling any of the following: “What do creative people look like?” “Stimulating imagination through constraints.” “Painting and praying.” “Being nice to yourself increases creativity.” “Get creative, lose weight.” “Hobbies — the personal path to creativity.” “Are conservatives less creative than liberals?” “Can fundamentalists be creative?” And so it goes. On and on. This is the time of the curious. And it all comes through a tiny line or out of thin air to find us in our homes, offices and studios. “Curiouser and curiouser,” cried Alice.
PS: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (Arthur C. Clarke)
Esoterica: After talking with my new friend and fellow traveller, I wandered to my easel. It was still early. The cars on the distant highway were tiny lights moving toward the big city. The laptop beside my palette sprang to life when I touched it, producing a sharp image of last summer’s rugged mountain climb. “Is this a dream?” I wondered. Somewhere around 1830, a British Lord, seeing an early steam engine, declared, “This is not good; now the common people will be able to move around at will.” I picked up my brush. “This is good,” I thought, “now the common people can go anywhere their curiosity takes them.”
Learning more than you ever thought possible
by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA
You are so right about this era of technology being close to magic and the wonder at being able to see, read about, and enjoy any subject, finding more on any question than you ever thought possible. My problem is that once you start into any subject on the Internet, as you mentioned with creativity, you end up going on and on, sometimes getting lost, and learning more than you thought possible, which is good for a ‘learner’ but seems to zap the time like nothing has ever before. There goes my drawing time, painting time, my exercise time, and even more mundane parts of life. But when I do call a stop, I always want to see and learn more! Having just returned from Tuscany, I still feel seeing the real thing so much more exciting than the research showed me, but maybe it was the looking at everything in miniature, first, that made the real so very impressive.
Beware — here be dragons!
by Pesach Ben Levi, Fayetteville, NY, USA
The Internet is the greatest enemy to personal productivity ever invented. It is a mind stealer and addictive. You go on to look up one tiny thing, and before you know it, POOF! an hour is gone. And creative minds are the most susceptible! They are generally more visual and the Web is nothing if not a visual trap of unending beauty. As we creative types are our own bosses, we don’t have the resources that the corporations have to monitor our ‘usage’ and control it. Many major corporations lock out access to Facebook, YouTube, and Instant Messaging — for good reason. It takes strong self control to not lose easel productivity time to this insidious danger. Beware! Here be dragons!
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In praise of masters
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
It is all very well Winston Churchill ‘hating to be taught’ but if he had not had a good education surrounded by people who had great knowledge, who knows who he might have been? No one really likes to settle down and learn by instruction — least of all artists and those others of a creative nature. Most of us need a reason to ask questions and thereby absorb new information. You may recall that I sent you a letter response recently about all my tools, brushes, planes and spanners, etc. They all have pet names! I remember telling you that I have a ‘personal relationship’ with each and every tool and this helps me to realize all the work I do in my workshop. Winston would be the first to accept that I had to learn from others (my masters) just how to use my tools properly. Ever tried to sharpen a drill bit by hand without prior knowledge? So learning leads to teaching quite naturally. But no one likes to be told — ask a 14-year-old boy.
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In praise of natural learning
by Ren Allen, Jonesborough, TN, USA
I love that you wrote about one of my favorite topics, natural learning. I’m actually speaking at the same conference as Peter Gray who writes for Psychology Today so I couldn’t help but respond today. As an artist and unschooling Mum, I really enjoyed this latest email you sent. One of my best friends and amazing artists was quite damaged by her art education. She’s still recovering. I guess it’s all about knowing when/where and how to seek out knowledge that helps you grow without stifling your own inner voice. Autodidacts never cease to amaze me….my four children show me the way every day.
The creativity of Liberals and Conservatives
by Paul Wolf, The Pas, MB, Canada
For more than 10 years I worked in areas of the Canadian Fed. Government that required enormous creativity. I worked with many highly qualified (often more than I) professionals. At the same time I was close friends with more than a dozen West Coast (Canadian) painters and sculptors, and with my wife operated an art gallery — “Artists West.” I therefore had an unusual opportunity to compare personalities and training and personal values, conservative versus liberal in my day to day experience over a long time. (As you know liberal is not a “dirty” word in Canada – instead it is honoured!) In my experience, the answer is yes. Conservatives are the ones who immediately question and to strenuously check to see if new discoveries in fields like biology etc. are replicable. The creative personalities, liberal to a person, immediately begin to consider and use the new ideas, testing as they go. I haven’t yet looked up “Are conservatives less creative than liberals?” but my bet is the response is YES.
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The illusion of progress
by Chris Saunders
The last quote about the steam engine is by (the Duke of) Wellington is actually: “It will just encourage the poor to travel needlessly!” Of course, Wikipedia is notoriously full of inaccuracies, having no system of checks and balances, (editorial integrity). Sam Clemons (Mark Twain), said “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed; if you read it, you’re misinformed.” In this dubious “information age,” one third of Americans are functionally illiterate, and 70% can’t read two editorials and fathom the disparate viewpoints. Ahh, don’t cha just love the illusion of progress?
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by Jacqui Douglas, Australia
I am doing a BFA degree as a student in Australia. We are not able to quote anything off Wikipedia in our essays as the University will not allow it. Wikipedia may be large but it is not classed as academic research.
(RG note) Thanks, Jacqui. This seems to be changing. Some academics are naturally going to lock themselves into ivory towers and resist a democratically-based, grass roots, learning environment. But many observant academics are finding the wiki’s more up to date than other, more traditional sources. Further, when the facts count, they can be checked by going to sources and other publications that the researcher has tended to trust in the past. As a further note, Wikipedia goes to one heck of a lot of trouble to find and footnote sources, and seems, of late, to be trying to gain credibility by demanding footnoting and sourcing even more.
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by Chris May, Burnley, Lancashire, UK
Hi Robert, I’m an abstract painter based in the North of England and in my ‘spare time’ I run a charity called “Curious Minds.” You’re right about learning — the systems we use need to change radically if our schools are going to keep pace with the world around them. Further, your letters are a regular treat — thank you.
(RG note) Thanks, Chris. Chris is working with schools and educators to develop the creative skills of young people in unique ways. He’s interested in forming partnerships to bring about positive personal and social change through the development of curiosity, creativity and learning. It’s a good idea. For curious minds who might want to take a look, the site is at www.curiousminds.org.uk
Mind mapping one thing to another
by Dave Edwards, Blyth, Northumberland, England
I so agree with you regarding Tony Buzan’s mind-mapping being similar to Googling. I love to find an artist I haven’t heard of before. I will be Googling Joaquin Sorolla for example. It is a pure stream-of-consciousness experience at times. When Googling one artist I get led to other artists who have been an influence and then before I know I have often discovered someone else I was unaware of. I am a member of Redbubble and your name is often mentioned by fellow Redbubblers, many of us who also subscribe to your letters.
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Sorolla Museum in Madrid
by Susan Viccars, Vancouver, BC, Canada
This morning’s letter brought back a memory of visiting the Sorolla Museum in Madrid about three years ago. It is a small museum, off in a quieter area of the city, housed in what was once the Sorolla family home. Sorolla’s lush and yet understated, mainly figurative, paintings are the feature but the pleasant house with its furnishings and charming garden all give substance to the artist too. If you’re ever in Madrid and you haven’t visited the museum, make it a side trip on a pleasant morning or afternoon ramble.
acrylic painting by Henry Pryke
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Shane Rogers of Victoria, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I always read your letter and feel I have somehow reconnected to the deeper meaning of life, peering a little closer at where I am or what I’m doing at that moment.”
And also Ling Yeung, who wrote, “While the Internet is messy and dirty at times, be thankful that it is largely uncensored in the west, and people can say what they wish — stupid thing, even wrong thing.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Curiouser and curiouser…