Life has bestowed many blessings upon me. Among them is my first and very excellent Observe teacher. He came to me during my crucial formative years in high-school.
We had to choose an additional subject in grades 9 and 10, in addition to all our regular subjects. The additional subject options were: Economics, Psychology, Art.
I chose Art.
Then on, for grades 11 and 12, we had to choose a stream: Science, Commerce or Humanities. While subjects were clearly specified for each of these streams, two options were offered for the Science stream:
Physics, Chemistry, Maths & Biology
Physics, Chemistry, Maths & Art
I chose the latter: Physics, Chemistry, Maths & Art.
The result: heaven for 4 years – grades 9-12.
There she goes again. Heaven? What does that have to do with Science?
Sorry sorry (garam kachauri). We are here to talk of Observe- the duty of the scientist, and my first observe teacher.
So, surprise of suprises! My art teacher taught me to observe.
Again and again, via his words, via the exercises he asked us to do, he gave us this message and hands-on training: to observe. It was there everywhere in our art classes. In those hours, we lived and breathed observe as an explicit action to be performed.
“When your parent buys fruits and vegetables and brings it home – pick it up, see it. Pick up the apple, turn it around, see it.”, he used to say.
Most of our drawing exercises consisted of “still life” or “nature study”. This meant drawing models sitting on the table in front of us. The model sitting on the table would be a vase, pot, bottle (still life) or simple arrangements of flowers, leaves, fruits, vegetables (nature study).
This was a science lab of a different kind. The lab apparatus: our eyes, pencil, paper and a thing to be observed.
So, on the one hand, in my Physics class I learned about light, optics and that mankind has identified two regions of shadows and named them “umbra” and “penumbra”. On the other hand, in my Art class, I directly experienced the impact of shadows. I experienced the combined effect of light and the curvature of objects. I learned to look out for and be aware of the predominant direction of light on my model. I experienced how light and shadows highlight form, depth and also the texture of surfaces.
Science classes talked of properties of materials. Their brittleness or malleability. How light interacts with materials via different refractive indices. Internal atomic structures. In my Art class, while drawing clay pots or glass bottles, I experienced these materials and their stark characteristics in a direct intimate way. Making a shaded sketch of objects of different materials can be a very fascinating experience. I did not learn of their atoms. However, when a person has to do a realistic large size drawing of a model, full pencil shading and all, she does end up penetrating that model and its behavior in a very real way. Add just one drop of water to the model, and she gets to learn and experience the impact of surface tension of liquids.
In Biology class there was talk of compound leaves and other kinds of leaves (I’ve forgotten) and the count of petals on flowers. We tore the hibiscus apart and saw its tummy where new baby hibiscus eggs are laid. In Art class, we experienced those leaves and petals directly, touching it intimately all over with our eyes. To tune into leaves, petals, barks – their shape, texture, shades – has become a part of my being and years after those years it continues with me even now.
I could, if I am so inclined, write a P.G. Wodehouse series with a casting of all the quirky leaves and petals that are there out there.
I am not inclined. Typing on a keyboard while I keep my body inclined is tough. Right-angle works better. Inclined keyboards are fine though.
Art classes taught me to observe and gave me hours and hours of hands-on practice doing it. This learning via observing is so direct, experiential and intense, one does not forget it. One may forget technical scientific terms and concepts – refractive index, surface tension etc. that mankind has labeled nature and its dance with, but this experiential learning beyond words does not go away. The knowledge or experience garnered by observing is important, yes. The practice inculcated of observing itself is even more important.
It is only in the last few years that I am beginning to understand the many ways in which art impacts my life. All of them contributing in the scientific pursuit. I may visit some in future posts. Right now, only this –
Art was my first explicit observe teacher and an excellent one at that!
Thank you Mr. Mishra!
Dear Reader, please give me feedback, share your thoughts – on the point made, the writing style, or whatever else catches your fancy (other than Nirvana inducing drugs). There are question marks blinking top-speed in my head: is it ok? is it good? is there another perspective? etc. etc. etc.