How the Arts enhance Learning Ability

“How can we develop techniques in learning to engage the emotions? Learning should not be driven by fear but by desire. Why are the arts considered separate from the sciences? What were the first arts? How did the scientific enquiring mind arise?”-d’Amboise

Despite the divergence between arts and sciences, a growing body of quantitative research suggests that the learning of science may be enhanced by relationships with the arts. Contemporary research is beginning to explore explicit neuroscientific hypotheses concerning the effects of activities such as, drawing, visual esthetics, and dance observation.

Visual art learning is reliant on a complex system of perceptual, higher cognitive, and motor functions, thus suggesting a shared neural substrate and strong potential for cross-cognitive transfer in learning and creativity. Within just a few weeks, for example, human infants can imitate and action such as sticking out the tongue in response to someone sticking out his tongue at them – how does the infant know just what motor action plans to implement based only on a visual input? Mirror neurons may account for this ability, translating visual input to motor output, underlying a connection between visual arts and movement, and the auditory arts and music. From pre-historical times, visual art has been a form of communication deeply imprinted in human nature; the act of experiencing art and esthetic appreciation in the “receiver” also has the power of cross-cognitive effect any time during individual development. Compositional universals have been shown to govern the design of visual artworks across ages and cultures (Arnheim, 1988; Tyler, 1998, 2007; Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999).

The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is 'man' in a higher sense - he is 'collective man,' a vehicle and moulder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind. (Carl Jung, Psychology and Literature, 1930)

Symbolism in Writing- (I think we often forget writing is drawing symbols for a meaning)In connection with our general research, Luria undertook to create this moment of discovery of the symbolics of writing so as to be able to study it systernatically.[6] In his experiments children who were as yet unable to write were confronted with the task of making some simple form of notation. The children were told to remember a certain number of phrases that greatly exceeded their natural memory capacity. When each child became convinced that he would not be able to remember them all, he was given a sheet of paper and asked to mark down or record the words presented in some fashion.

Frequently, the children were bewildered by this suggestion, saying that they could not write, but the experimenter furnished the child with a certain procedure and examined the extent to which the child was able to master it and extent to which the pencil-marks ceased to be simple playthings and became symbols for recalling the appropriate phrases. In the three-to-four-year-old stage, the child’s notations are of no assistance in remembering the phrases; in recalling them, the child does not look at the paper. But we occasionally encountered some seemingly astonishing cases that were sharply at variance with this general observation. In these cases, the child also makes meaningless and undifferentiated squiggles and lines, but when he reproduces phrases it seems as though he is reading them; he refers to certain specific marks and can repeatedly indicate, without error, which marks denote which phrase. An entirely new relationship to these marks and a self-reinforcing motor activity arise: for the first time the marks become mnemotechnic symbols. For example, the children place individual marks on different parts of the page in such a way as to associate a certain phrase with each mark. A characteristic kind of topography arises — one mark in one corner means a cow, while another farther up means a chimneysweep. Thus the marks are primitive indicatory signs for memory purposes.We are fully justified in seeing the first precursor of future writing in this mnemotechnic stage. Children gradually transform these undifferentiated marks. Indicatory signs and symbolizing marks and scribbles are replaced by little figures and pictures, and these in turn give way to signs. Experiments have made it possible not only to describe the very moment of discovery itself but also to follow how the process occurs as a function of certain factors. For example, the content and forms introduced into the phrases in question first break down the meaningless nature of the notation. If we introduce quantity into the material, we can readily evoke a notation that reflects this quantity, even in four-and five-year-olds. (It was the need for recording quantity, perhaps, that historically first gave rise to writing.) In the same way, the introduction of color and form are conducive to the child’s discovery of the principle of writing, For example, phrases such as “like black,” “black smoke from a chimney,” “there is white snow in winter,” “a mouse with a long tail,” or “Lyalya has two eyes and one nose” rapidly cause the child to change over from writing that functions as indicatory gesture to writing that contains the rudiments of representation.-It is easy to see that the written signs are entirely first-order symbols at this point, directly denoting objects or actions, and the child has yet to reach second-order symbolism, which involves the creation of written signs for the spoken symbols of words. For this the child must make a basic discovery — namely that one can draw not only things but also speech. It was only this discovery that led humanity to the brilliant method of writing by words and letters; the same thing leads children to letter writing. From the pedagogical point of view, this transition should be arranged by shifting the child’s activity from drawing things to drawing speech. It is difficult to specify how this shift takes place, since the appropriate research has yet to lead to definite conclusions, and the generally accepted methods of teaching writing do not permit the observation of it. One thing only is certain — that the written language of children develops in this fashion, shifting from drawings of things to drawing of words. Various methods of teaching writing perform this in various ways. Many of them employ auxiliary gestures as a means of uniting the written and spoken symbol; others employ drawings that depict the appropriate objects. The entire secret of teaching written language is to prepare and organize this natural transition appropriately. As soon as it is achieved, the child has mastered the principle of written language and then it remains only to perfect this method.

Hetzer’s research indicates that eighty percent of three-year-olds can master an arbitrary combination of sign and meaning,

But Montessori’s example best shows that the situation is much more complex than it may appear at first glance. If we temporarily ignore the correctness and beauty of the letters her children draw and focus on the content of what they write, we find messages like the following: “Happy Easter to Engineer Talani and Headmistress Montessori. Best wishes to the director, the teacher, and to Doctor Montessori. Children’s House, Via Campania,” and so forth. We do not deny the possibility of teaching reading and writing to preschool children; we even regard it as desirable that a younger child enter school if he is able to read and write. But the teaching should he organized in such a way that reading and writing are necessary for something. If they are used only to write official greetings to the staff or whatever the teacher thinks up (and clearly suggests to them), then the exercise will be purely mechanical and may soon bore the child.- his activity will not be manifest in his writing and his budding personality will not grow.