Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve had a low-grade fear on the back burner of my mind that since I am no longer school that I will get dumber. Graduation requires quite the mental shift when you think about it. From age 4-22, I have spent Monday - Friday, 9 months out of the year in a classroom. When that all of a sudden stopped, the knowledge-seeker in me felt a little desperate, not knowing where to go to satisfy a yearn to learn (rhyme master, right there). I was keenly aware of the need for my brain to be engaged in something, anything. There were (and still are!) times when I feel like my brain is a dry sponge. The capacity to absorb is there, but it’s left without any input, so it isn’t serving its purpose. To combat that, I’ve made small steps in the way of mental engagement by reading books, reading the paper, and engaging in a creative activity on a daily basis. Building my art business has certainly given my mind a workout, and I know, deep down, that the life I live is a result of specific intelligent decisions that got me to where I am today. I am, in fact, not dumb!
I’ve been specifically searching for new things that I can learn, art-related or not, in an effort to help me think outside of my box. “My Box” in my mind is my self-given category of a Texas landscape artist. While broad in opportunities, I often feel that I have trapped myself in this strict category of subject matter. How do I push past what I know and what I am comfortable with in order to discover another layer of my artistic abilities?
One way that I keep my brain engaged is by listening to podcasts on a variety of topics, often very far away from anything art-related. A recent favorite is Wine For Normal People. I’ve always had the desire to drink wine just to drink it, but to understand its history and flavors so that I can appreciate what I’ve poured in my glass that much more. The problem is that I’m one of those people who has a hard time discerning the nuanced flavors of wine. I can tell the difference in a good wine and a bad wine, and certainly know when I’m drinking a great wine. At the end of the day, though, wine just kind of tastes like…wine. Those notes of chocolate, fig, cherry, or what have you, are kind of lost on me. But an episode of Wine For Normal People changed my perspective on developing my wine palate.
The host, Elizabeth Schneider, a certified sommelier, emphasizes the importance of smell when tasting wine. Our taste buds are deeply connected to what we smell, so it’s important to know what you’re smelling just as much as what you’re tasting. In the episode, “How To Develop Your Wine Palate,” Elizabeth points out the obvious: How will you be able to discern distinct flavors in wine if you do not know what those descriptors smell/taste like on their own? In order to be able to taste these flavors in wine, your tongue and brain have to know what they taste like as an item independent of wine. Here’s the part I really loved. How do you learn to know flavors well? You have to slow down, and not just eat that item, but really taste it. Eat slowly, take the food in with your senses and understand it. Let’s use a fig for an example. I’d never tried figs before, but after I listened to this podcast, I went to the store and bought a bag of ripe, juicy figs. I loved them! They were new, and interesting, and I’d definitely go back for more. Now the next time I try a wine that has notes of fig, my taste receptors will recognize that flavor, and I will be identify it in the flavor profile of the wine. By simply broadening my horizons on the foods that I consume, I have improved my capabilities in another area, that is, understanding the flavors in wine.
So, how does understanding wine translate to expanding my creativity? What I’ve been mulling on is that what I am artistically capable of is quite limitless. The only limiting factor? Myself. All it takes is taking a step into uncharted territory, using a new medium or depicting a new subject, and going for it. What I might find is that there are connections between what I know, and what is unknown. So, like figs, I just have to decide to try it. I have to set myself up to experiment and play, and add this new method/technique/subject to my artistic language. And just like with developing my wine palate, the possibilities within my artistic scope will widen as well. A lesson so simple and so obvious, yet so effective.
In conclusion, I will only become dumb if I choose to be stagnant. Whether or not I seek knowledge is completely up to me. Be curious, explore something new, and dive deep.
“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” – St. Augustine