How Your Mind and Body Cooperate to Learn Brush Painting

I learned this concept while attending a lecture by Max Winkelhaus who developed this concept to help dancers. My understanding of this concept has not only accelerated my learning of dancing but of brush painting as well.

Basically, the concept boils down to:
Learning brush painting can be difficult because your mind has A.D.D. and your body is a dog.

What??

To explain further, your mind learns concepts quickly but easily forgets and loses focus, meanwhile your body requires patient, positive training and repetition over time to "learn a new trick." Not being aware of this simple idea can lead to frustration as you try to learn brush painting.

For example, whenever I help someone with their bamboo leaf stroke, they often do the stroke by flicking their wrist. I then offer the time tested teaching of my father who suggests that you instead move your entire arm like a "choo choo train" and then do the stroke by incidentally making contact with the paper. Delighted by the results of this new technique, I ask them to show me again. They immediately go back to the old way of flicking their wrist.

What just happened? The mind either quickly forgot or more likely just momentarily lost focus. Then the body simply reverted back to the old habit.

Tips Based on this Understanding

Remember the basics of being a good student. Set aside focused time to learn, eliminate interruptions and persist for the full amount of time you set aside. This is especially important while we are social distancing. The convenience of learning from home comes with a flip side where distractions and interruptions make effective learning difficult.

Take notes and repeat concepts back to yourself out loud even if you don't understand them fully. Remembering is the first goal and note taking and repeating concepts out loud can lead to later understanding. This type of "meditation" on new concepts allows the mind to open up to new ideas slowly over time.

Be patient while your body learns a new habit. Good brush painting is really just a combination of a few fundamental skills. It's alright if these skills take time to master, as there are only slightly more than a handful that need to be learned. When you do a good stroke, focus on the delight and the feeling of that accomplishment. If you struggle, softly and positively redirect your body to the better technique. Remember, your body is a dog, it does not understand negative instruction. So, rather than saying "Don't use your wrist", instead say "Use your whole arm, move it like a train."

Understanding this idea can transform your learning process into something invigorating and joyful and we are happy to offer it to our OAS extended email list family! Happy learning, and Happy painting!

Bamboo leavesChinese brush paintingLearning tipsMind body learningSumi-e

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