Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Be the Tiger Woods of Painting!

Be the Tiger Woods of Painting !

Hearing the news accounts of last weekend’s action at the US Open golf tournament, I began to speculate on the remarkable abilities of golfer Tiger Woods. I related these thoughts to an article on memory that I read recently in Smithsonian magazine. In it, the authorities stated that your “how to” memory is stored in a different location in the brain from short- or long-term memory. All of my conclusions were purely my own and may not hold up to informed scrutiny, but I’m not one to immediately disqualify an opinion just because it’s made by a non-expert.

Woods’ familiar story relates how he began swinging a golf club as a very young child, just when I’m told that neural pathways are connecting. If something interferes with the properly timed connect-up of those pathways, like psychological trauma or illness, the opportunity is lost forever. The unfortunate individual may have to search out another way of accomplishing the skill or task for which he was meant to use that synapse or, perhaps, will never master it. Probably, he will be unaware of “something missing” other than a vague consciousness that X is more difficult for him than Y.

Conversely, it stands to reason, in my mind at least, that if the child, by luck or destiny, is motivated to practice a skill at precisely the time when his body is developing the miraculous, shining cobweb that links his body and his mind, extraordinary things can happen.

Applying these thoughts to the subject of art and making art, what would happen if a child were drawing – from direct observation, of course – when this miracle took place? Would he become a draftsman equal to Nicholi Fechin? If he were playing with color, would he equal Sergei Bongart? Are destinies such as these set that early in one’s life? If the moment is missed, is the opportunity lost forever?

Hopefully not. Accounts of stunning recoveries of brain-injured patients abound and credit is given to retraining the brain to use a detour. Though not always as easy or graceful as the original method, the magnificent human brain is able to accommodate in incredible ways. From motor skills to cognitive operations, patients who are determined enough and receive informed assistance will improve and some will reach performance levels with imperceptible signs of impairment.

How does this apply to being an artist? Unless your parents were extraordinarily perceptive and caught the first faint sign of Picasso-like qualities in their little darling, they did not strap a vine charcoal to your chubby little hand and let you loose on the nursery walls. Instead, you may have dreamed of that 64-color crayon box, but just couldn’t get it across to your parents that it was essential for developing the sensitivities necessary for your desired vocation. I suspect, and all I read confirms it, that Tiger Woods and his family were the exceptions, and that’s what has made him so exceptional.

But if we were like most, we were occupied with pulling girls pigtails or telling on our siblings rather than spending precious hours with pencil and paper, connecting those all-important synapses as required at the precise and singular moment. Most of us fall into the mildly brain-deficient category, and there is blessed comfort in the thought that we, like the patients I described, can make up for lost time by our own dedication and effort and with the direction from those more skilled.

Keep the faith!

1 comment:

Liza Hirst said...

Wonderful!