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I thought this might inspire some comments! <g>


Imitation Learning
by Robert Genn

Researchers at the Volen Center for Complex Systems at Brandeis
University have taken a second look at "imitation learning." It seems
that when natural talent is added to one's flagrant imitation of
others, what results may be the dual assets needed to gain proficiency.
Repeated practice and focused desire come into the equation as well.
"We are trying to determine what strategies will optimize imitation
learning," says study co-author Robert Sekular. "These strategies are
crucial for acquiring many of the skills needed in daily life. A lot of
what we do is learned by watching and imitating others." This includes
tying our shoes, feeding ourselves and, apparently, creating art.

Humans have a natural tendency--in some cases a necessity--to do things
in the "correct" way. Much basic learning is done in "monkey see,
monkey do" methodology. This goes for sophisticated procedures as well.
Novice heart surgeons, for example, learn order, technique and
proficiency by watching seasoned pros. Golf swings are refined by
playing Tiger's videos. Complex ballet steps are mastered by observing
the legs and feet of expert ballet dancers. It's the honoured principle
of the "demo." While some human activities are more formalized than
others, "visual recipe gathering" is part of our psyche.

The visual arts present a problem in this area. Time-tested processes
and academic principles are, of course, valuable, but when large
numbers of artists begin to imitate one another a kind of rigor mortis
creeps into the creative landscape. Art often expects and demands that
one artist be unique from the next. Artists on a quest to find "the
secret" can easily fall into the imitation pit. In art, there's no
single, golden way.
Ideally, individualists need to sidestep imitation learning and instead
rely on direct observation of either the physical world or the universe
of the human mind. That's why self-education is so important in the
visual arts. Becoming a student of your own processes and following
your nose in the quietude of your workspace can be the most effective
route to private bliss and public success.

Many art schools understand and exemplify this dichotomy by teaching
little but attitude. This is often a mistake. Those experts at Brandeis
say we grab our basics by imitation learning, but it seems it is only
later that we get a decent grab at attitude.

Best regards,


PS: "All education must be, in the end, self-education."
(Robert Henri)

Esoterica: If you accept the proposition, as many do, that imitation
learning is the swiftest way to proficiency in the arts, a certain
obligation comes with your process. Sooner or later you must give a
personal spin and attempt to raise your standards beyond that of your
imitated master. Apart from being valuable in the building of
self-esteem, this move is vital to wider acceptance and is more in
harmony with the idealized wisdom of art history. There is a price to
pay if you don't. In the words of landscape painter A. Y. Jackson,
"Those who follow are always behind."


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