Art: My First Observe Teacher (SAM Series)

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.

Summary of previous post of the SAM Series: To do Science, Observe. That is the duty of the scientist. Problem statements and solutions follow from that.


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
or
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).

From blog: One hundred drawings

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.

Flowers Pencil Sketch

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.

Focus!
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!

Drawing by Sir
Drawing by my art teacher for me, at the time of graduating from high-school.

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.

Observe. The Duty of The Scientist. (SAM Series)

I wanna join the Science club. It is a mighty prestigious club I hear. So how do I join Science the club? How do I “do Science”?

So Science is beautiful. It has the beauty of open-mindedness. It is beautiful in other ways too …

Ok ok. Cut out the preamble. I wanna join the Science club. It is a mighty prestigious club I hear. How do I join the Science the club? How do I “do Science”?

You are so sweet. Asking such nice questions!

What was the question again: How do I “do Science”?

Here is the answer: Observe.
girl observing
That is what you have to do, to do Science. Observe.
Just simply, observe.

That’s it? Really? What about Physics and Math? And Biology? I like Biology. And Chemistry? Don’t I have to do Chemistry?

Hmm… they are nice sorts. Physics, Math and all that. You are hereby granted permission to make friends with those guys. They indeed are nice sorts. Very good company to keep.

But to do Science, you must observe. No getting around that one. Its a big plain in-the-face secret about Science. People don’t say it in school or at college. We are friends. Sharing secrets is our way of cozying up. So here we are, in our pyjamas, away from admonishing voices asking us to go to sleep, we whisper in each others’ ears: To do Science, you must observe.

What about problem solving? Analysis? Strategic thinking? Deductions? Don’t I have to do any of those? And think? Don’t I have to “think”? That guy Descartes, he said “I think therefore I am”. That means if I do not think, I am not? If I don’t think, I won’t exist? That’s scary! I must analyze. I must think! Else, I won’t even exist! Forget about doing Science. I wanna exist. I must think!

Easy does it. Let’s not get pulled away by our own pant straps.

There was this other guy too. He was called Krishna. He said, “कर्म कर, फल की चिन्ता मत कर”.
Ya, that sounds greek. Not to worry. English translations are available.
Translation: Do your duty. Don’t worry about the results.
Book reference: Bhagavata Geeta.

Duty of the scientist: observe.
Results: problem statements, solutions, strategies, deductions …
One duty, so many results. How cool is that! But do not worry about the results. Don’t gun for the results directly. Observe.

If we gun for the results directly (as often people do), if we explicitly try to analyze, try to solve, chances are we will get all entangled in with our own two left feet, dancing a never-ending dance drama. That is not exactly the Science dance idea. Gunning for analysis, gunning for solving, chances are we will miss the target altogether! It will seem like we are doing something, but the actual solution will be sitting elsewhere, happily tapping its fingers on the table. Why? Because the thought in our mind was, “I must solve/analyze”, rather than, “I must observe”.

When we observe, the problem states itself (half the problem solved!), the solution emerges (yay!), the analysis self-happens (and you will get to strut and feel, I am a smart dude!), the deductions deduce. Plop! You shall find them all in your palms. Like mangoes. And then you can place the mango in front of the world: Here. This is the result I got. Tan-ta-dang!

(Btw, go ahead – eat some of the mango yourself. Mangoes are tasty.)

This is the way I see it. Krishna did not say this, so we’ll keep that dear innocent guy out of this. With me, you are welcome to disagree. (Btw, with Krishna too, you are welcome to disagree.)

We spoke about replicating results, right? What if there are no results? What do you replicate? You are the only scientist here. Everyone else has lost it. The world is looking up to you. She shall produce “results”! How do you get results? Bang. From scratch.
Observe.

This is what I have to say. To do Science: observe.

That’s it. Its really simple. Anyone can do it. You, I, anyone. We can all be cool dudes.


boy observing

Image credits:
Mama Smiles. Reliving Childhood.
Kids Gardening
Getty Images

Open-mindedness. The Beauty of Science. (SAM Series)

Very good question: What’s so great about Science?

Now frankly, “great” I don’t know – but there is this basic tenet of Science, and what emerges from that, is something beautiful.

तेरा हाथ पकड़ चलना है, ओ मेरे रखवारे
पथ आलोकित करते चलना, सत्‌ करुणा उर वारे


Here we are. Gathered around. Welcome to us. Welcome my friend, to the first post in the SAM series.

What did we say we shall talk about? Yes, Science.

What’s so great about Science? Why talk about it? Why not talk about what I am wearing right now? That is a nice idea isn’t it?

Maybe. But we said we will talk about Science, so we will.
(don’t whisper: “She’s already getting heavy handed”. I can hear you.)

And yes, very good question: What’s so great about Science?

Frankly, “great” I don’t know – but there is this basic tenet of Science, and what emerges from it, is something rather beautiful.

The need for replication of results

“The need for replication of results.” That is a basic tenet of Science.

Someone more authoritative might say: “the demand for reproducibility”.
That sounds a bit intimidating.
I propose we take a softer, gentler approach. Softer, gentler approach is good marketing strategy.

The need for replication of results means: If I can see what you say there is, if I can get the same results, I shall accept what you say. Otherwise, no, very sorry, with all due respect, I cannot accept what you say.

Now really, there isn’t such a big deal to this. Its plain common sense. This is the basis on which we all operate. Don’t we? Yes.

Actually, half-yes. This is the way we operate, but we want the other person to operate differently. We want him to simply accept what we say. At least kids better accept what we say! 🙂

Let’s expand this need for replication of results a bit further, to see how we can follow it. If we wish to.

1. I shall not believe you, unless I myself experience what you say. However, I shall give you a due ear. I shall try to replicate your results. If I am fully sure that I met all the conditions you laid down for the results, and I still do not experience what you say, I shall reject your claim.

2. If I do experience what you say, I shall accept that what I knew earlier was not fully correct. Instead of feeling bad about “being wrong”, I shall only feel gratitude that now I can see more.

Now can you smell something beautiful and fragrant? It is the beauty of open-mindedness. It is how we go forward together. Hand in hand.

Both these above tenets are worthy of being lived by, by every individual.

The Beauty of Open-mindedness.
The Beauty of Open-mindedness.

Implications

There are many fall-outs that fall out from these two tenets. Here are some.

  • It is good to ask a question.
  • Its ok to disagree.
  • Discussion is a good idea.
  • Believing blindly without checking out yourself, not such a good idea.
  • Scoffing at an idea, person, thing prematurely – not a good idea.
  • There is no need to “defend” your theory or stand.
  • The need for clarity of articulation.
  • The need to listen.
  • The awareness that I may be wrong.
  • Being wrong does not make a person stupid.

Science is a way of dancing. You know, like Bharatanatyam, Zumba and stuff. If you like Science, if you are afflicted by a teenage crush on it, then it is good to repeatedly check that you are on this track of these tenets. That you are dancing the Science dance.

Are we dancing the Science dance? Are we following these tenets? Or are we choosing to believe science blindly?


Image courtesy: Holiday Philippines Blog