Above all, there were two things I learned from Dr. Sharon Paul while pursuing my master’s at the University of Oregon: don’t beat yourself up, and have a good anecdote or, better yet, scientific study to back up your thoughts. The “Look at Your Fish!” story was one of our favorites. Samuel H. Scudder (1837-1911), an American entomologist who studied under zoologist Jean Louis Rodophe Agassiz (1807-1873), wrote a wonderful account of how he learned the value of a thorough investigative process. You can read the original here, but I want to focus on the fact that we don’t spend enough time obsessing over details.
One thing Dr. Paul and I always happily disagreed on was whether or not someone can be taught to compose, or in an even broader scope, whether each and every one of us is innately a composer. Per my earlier post, I was a kid who found fun in connecting the dots between seemingly disparate things. But that grew over time, leading me to believe that everyone has the capacity to continue their imaginative leanings and explore the world in new ways if they invest enough. If a child can say the darndest things but also have some amazingly complex thoughts beyond their years, why can’t adults? Do we take ourselves too seriously? Bob Ross often thought so, and he crafted paintings in 20 minutes. Do we lose our ability to focus? Kids are often given that excuse, yet many spend days obsessing over some small detail, word, or view before they move on, yet we run around with so little time on our hands that we distract ourselves when we finally have a moment to breath. Whatever the case, many of us don’t spend as much time as we should to see “how little [we] saw before” as Scudder did with Agassiz.
Beyond time constraints, we often get bogged down in our own view of things, making it difficult to consider alternatives. This could easily lead down a political or socio-economic rabbit hole, but it’s important to remember that none of us know everything, and that includes what we think we know about something we’ve studied intensely. By deeply considering the fish, or the music we write, or the kid who asks why for two months straight, breakthroughs are inevitable. It’s why I believe in kids, and it’s supposedly why Einstein found his answers. Here are three of his quotes to bring home the message:
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
What are some things you regularly do (artistic or otherwise) that would benefit from more investment?