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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Retreat on Awakening Aesthetic awareness

A w a k e n I n g A e s t h e t I c A w a r e n e s s
The wholistic way of being in the world.
're integrating art, science and language' ‘re integrating work, play and learn’
‘re integrating intuition and reasoning’ ‘re integrating the mind and body’
‘re integrating the feminine and masculine’ ‘becoming PRESENT to the moment’

Why we should awaken the sense of beauty within ourselves?

The retreat/workshop is an attempt to repair the psychological, physiological and cognitive damages done by modern institutions (schools, market and hospital) and culture.
Schools makes us in to rigid, mechanical and second hand beings, ready to serve or to order as we learn 'authority' at schools. Authority of teacher, authority of knowledge.
Another damage is the inability for creativity as we loose our intuitive ability because of over use of logic and dependency on memorized knowledge. The reasoning ability is often used to reason away, to maintain status quo of our rigid and static mind.
Since our link to the world is through text our experience is textualised.

16th Feb to 20th Feb 2011 (Wednesday to Sunday)

Nilambur, Malapuram, KERALA

Beauty is the most fundamental of human existence. Beauty is what truly makes one authentic. Beauty is what binds us to the external world.
Senses are our doors to knowledge and beauty.
Consciously learning to experience the beauty of the world by seeing, touching, feeling.


Engaging with nature, Habit breaking, Dialogues, silence, reflection, sharing,
Sensitizing senses, Awakening of aesthetic sense is brought in as a central issue. making, drawing, seeing, listening This helps them to move away from ‘rational’ mind to some extent.

For whom

Anyone who wants to reclaim the authentic natural learning process and creativity. This could help Parents and teachers to enable them to see children’s real potential and to enable them to let children be.

Fees and registration

Rs 7,500 to be paid by 20th January 2011 along with the registration form. Any contributions over and above the basic registration fees are welcome to support those who can’t pay. (Fees also includes stay and food)

Stay and food

Simple stay will be arranged in a neat hotel in Nilambur town and food will be kerala traditional home food.


Nilambur is 70 km from Calicut, 100 km from Palghat and Trichur Rly stations. 45 km from calicut airport. Passenger trains run between Nilambur rly station and Shornur. Contact for more details.

contact details. mobile 09447121544 or 09995495325.,
Postal address: Surabhi, S.N.Park, Thrissur, Kerala. 680004

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The wholistic way of being in the world.

The wholistic way of being in the world.

're integrating art, science and language'
‘re integrating work, play and learn’
‘re integrating intuition and reasoning’
‘re integrating the mind and body’
‘re integrating the feminine and masculine’
‘becoming PRESENT to the moment’

“We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
Language forces us to perceive the world as man presents it to us.
Julia Penelope
there are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.
J. Robert Oppenheimer

The  retreat/workshop is an attempt to repair the psychological, physiological and cognitive damages done by modern institutions (schools, market and hospital) and culture. All the tools and skills we acquire become tools for escaping from ourselves. To escape from facing what is wrong with us we do ‘social work’. We are afraid of confronting ourselves.
Foremost that comes to mind is our tendency to imitate the west which causes inferiority complex. As you know most of what we do is imitation of the western culture. But in response to this our reaction is to imitate the east since ‘to imitate’ is what we learn at schools. Imitation as a way of learning is drilled in to us and any exploration is disallowed.

Schooling causes several damages. It turns us in to second hand people as we keep learning about what others have thought and did. We are all born original but schooling makes us second hand. All our senses are crippled as we never use them to make sense of the world.
Boredom is an experience typical to 'modern' human beings, again caused by schooling as it forces us to do things we do not like to do and on top of it do things against our biological or natural propensities. I suspect boredom has its roots in making us sit immobile from childhood quite against our will.
Schools makes us in to rigid, mechanical and second hand  beings, ready to serve or to order as we learn 'authority' at schools. Authority of teacher, authority of knowledge.
Another damage is the inability for creativity as we loose our intuitive ability because of over use of logic and dependency on memorized knowledge. The reasoning ability is often used to reason away, to maintain status quo of our rigid and static mind.
Since our link to the world is through text our experience is textualised. With the digital era this is getting totally illusionary. Even beauty is intellectualised. since we lack experiential and concrete way of being in the world words become our guide.               
So workshop is meant for addressing our mechanical and habit formed selves, de intellectualizing beauty which means to be with beauty with out creating theories, sensitizing our senses to become aware of the world as it is, addressing our reasoning mind, understanding the organic way in which we remember and comprehend.
In a way to become child like again, to be open, curious, attentive, innocent, humble.
Or like children to live in meditation all the time.
Any attempt to search for alternative end up with in the frame work of the fragmented modernity.


1. to attempt to regain child like qualities that enable one to be creative .
2. to enable the adult to understand what the child needs to retain their creativity.
3. to address various damages caused by schooling.
1. To address the fragmentation caused by schooling. To re integrate the wholistic nature of human being
2. To address the alienation caused by schooling. To regain originality and authenticity.
3. Initiate awakening of senses so that they become more observant and attentive which will make them to strive for becoming first hand.
4. To awaken their aesthetic sensibilities so that their being in the world becomes contextual and this also helps the learner to learn to engage with the world aesthetically.
5. To learn to observe children with out the biases of the so called educated mind.
6. to address various aspects that blocks unbiased learning like power, lack of humility and innocence, partiality of all types etc
7. to address the block created by the ‘reasoning’/ rational mind.

Why/ whom/

1. For Parents and teachers to enable them to see children’s real potential and to enable them to learn from children.
2. for the cognitively damaged adults to enable them to re look at certain fundamental issues related to How learning takes place or how human beings learn and to attempt some recovery. Modern education damages our cognition and fragments the being. We not only sees the world fragmented but also fragments the our very being. We become mind, word and reason dominated with the loss of body, intuition and experience.

how human beings learn?

Knowing is an integrated act, not separated by language, science and art
nor is it fragmented as learning, working, playing etc.
Children, in the process of making sense of the terrain in which they find themselves, observe, touch, smell, twist, break, taste, make. They engage with the world with out fragmentation.
Toy is an idea totally misunderstood by the modern adult. Playing is actually learning.
The world outside is integrated and the child is born holistic and is part of this NATURE.
This is the way human beings respond as biological organism.

What schools do?
As we all agree what ever is happening at schools are terribly wrong. We are crippling our children and ourselves.
Children are born in to the experiential paradigm to be rooted but we soon pull them out to believe in our distorted intellectual notions about life.
We need to understand how cognitively damaged and totally confused we are regarding all this and try to undo the damages.
How learning happens- conditions- internal and external
Like water knowledge flows from above to below. So if one needs to learn from children one needs to give up power.

Why learn from children?

When we compare ourselves with children it is clear that they are superior to us in the following qualities.
They are more observant, open, honest, inquisitive, innocent, flexible, daring and also in constant wonder. They are totally rooted and present. They are in touch with the beauty of the world.

Which of these qualities do we still retain?

The paradigm in which we are bringing up our children is one of greed, power, authority, brute force, competition, selfishness, pride, cheating, hypocrisy, boredom etc

The topics I would like to address.

Biological basis of knowing. To understand how as a biological organism we learn.
Bilogical basis for beauty. To understand what is the basis for beauty. Art is a psychological construct where as beauty is a biological fact.
Human being can live with out art but beauty like breathing is absolutely necessary for the human organism. The beat of his heart, the gait of his walk, his connection to nature all are part of this biological necessity.
Human alienation begins with the disconnect between the biology and psychology of BEING.

Cognitive damages of schooling. To understand how schooling damages us.
Paradigms of knowing. To understand how the cognizer is conditioned by the paradigm in to which he is born.


1.Mirroring- facing oneself
First phase is to make the participents realize where they stand in terms of their learning capacity, knowledge base etc for example rigid, habit formed mind. Dependent learning style , initiate self reflection etc

2.Habit breaking
This phase is to make participants address their habit formed responses, biases, inhibitions etc

3.Sensitizing senses.
This phase is for the participants to awaken their observation skills and aesthetic sensibility.

4.Re birthing
Hopefully this will happen may not be during the workshop but may be at a later date.

Techniques used.
Meditative work with clay, habit breaking activities for body and mind, sensitizing the sense activities, Theatre workshop, drawing, painting, clay work. Dialogues, silence, presentations etc

Material requirements.
Clay, Poster colour, 6 inch scale, pencil, paper, sketch pen.
For any substantial impact the duration should be a week to 10 days.
Rule of conduct
During the retreat the participants need to follow instructions strictly as other participants will be disturbed. No reading, no watch, no mobile phone, news papr, tv etc. no discussions as silence is required during the workshop. No processed food allowed. As far as possible un cooked food. eat less, eat only when hungry, break away from routines. Listen to the body, Respect the body

I am no expert in the above said matters but have been at it from 1982 or so.
I am a victim of modern education and culture that crippled me in several ways. For the past 25 years engaged in recovering what I lost with the help from children and non literate people. No credentials to prove anything. Just that the search/ research had been a very consistent and a committed one.
Would like to share the experiences and insights.





Biology of knowing links

‘what is wrong with design education in India’

This question of ‘what is wrong with design education in India’ has been my last 25 years of re search (research). That is from 1985, from the third month of my stay at NID I have embarked on a journey that has led me to several aspects of learning, aesthetic sense, cognition, biology of knowing and children, indigenous wisdom knowledge etc. 
What bothered me at NID was that the design sensibility that was being imbibed was very western and industrial (this was a later revelation)  that it was producing designers with western aesthetic sensibilities and were also being conditioned for a standardized design process (which is probably ok in Industry). A kind of a mass production of sorts. The same process is being applied whether the designer is working in the craft sector or with children!
 The outer manifestations of any culture- architecture, craft, food, music, dance and ritual are imbued with the aesthetic sense of the people who belong to that culture. When year after year students are subjected to a western design process and learn design through western history and western sense of aesthetics, is it any wonder that generation after generation gets estranged from their own history, culture, individual sense of beauty and their very being. This is true of all educational institutions in this country. All aspects of our being are subjected to this false conditioning. At the level of information all we learn is about the west. At emotional level we feel inferior to the west and become imitators and our aesthetic sense is also transformed as we learn the western aesthetic sense. At the same time all true qualities of a learner is also destroyed by the schooling process. One learns to compete, lie, to cheat, to project one self etc.
Humility is replaced by arrogance and false pride.
 Before I go on I would like to state my admiration for various thinkers and doers who were part of the design movement in the west. They were being very honest to their situation and were responding authentically nor am I blaming the people who brought design education to India. Probably the political climate of those times did not allow this kind of search and obviously we were imitating (aping is a better term) the west in every other aspect of our lives too.
There no villains, only victims of their conditioning.
At two levels the design education was creating problems. One at the aesthetic level and the other at the process level. The second may be ok with in the industry frame work but it was surely creating havoc when that process and sensibilities were being applied at the craft sector. Designers working with artisan communities are already doing lots of damage and from the past few years the NIFTians and IICD ans (NIFT National Institute of fashin technology, IICD- Indian instiute of Craft and design) are also systematically taking part in this. Students can’t be blamed as they are being ‘taught’ that they need to ‘help/ save’ the artisans with their ‘design skills’. Power corrupts perception. And added to this if greed is also present then it completely distorts they way we see things (want to see things). 

Now that I have been going to IICD, it has clearly given me a picture of what is wrong with design education preparing students meant to work with artisans.  Machine aesthetics is being imposed on students as they are being taught the same courses that are being used at NID. The design process also makes students to think in terms of the logic of industrial production. Mass production, scaling up, standardized design solutions, moulds, mechanization etc. One is taught to forget the strengths of the craft system. That they can produce variations with no extra effort, artisans are very skilled already or have the potential to become one (see the link and the strength of the craft is that it is very location specific with diverse aesthetic sensibilities etc. But since we are only taught how to impose and not the sensitivity, respect nor the eye for seeing their strengths we, along with other professionals takes away the self respect and self initiative of the rural artisans. So in that sense the designers will soon homogenize and standardize the diverse crafts in India unless serious re thinking is initiated. 

Since the introduction of design education in schools has not yet happened we do have the possibility of re think. My research has also gone deeply in to the biology of learning. Till now the focus has been on the psychology of learning. It is very clear that our educational system is producing mindless and insensitive professionals with no sensitivity and creativity. The recent increase in suicides among school children points to the big crisis. Again and again the real culprit is not identified and instead the students, the parents and to some extent the teachers are being blamed.  The very idea of ‘schooling’ or in other words ‘cloning’ goes against the very nature of how human being learns. So we need to take this as a design problem and find out what is wrong with schooling. A deeper study is called for.

 I would like to end this with looking at what has gone wrong with modern Indian architecture as they also had followed a similar path. Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, is the only city in India that has a distinct architectural character. Because in Srinagar architects have not had opportunity to practice architecture.  Even though the designer has to function in local contexts the design education is non contextual. Every generation needs to relive, recreate and reinvent certain aspects of its cultural sensibilities by engaging with the reality around them. The student needs to be PRESENT to the local contexts totally-psychologically, emotionally and sensually and the teachers should play an effective role to ensure all. Contextually rooted aesthetic sense is what once created the diverse cultures around the globe. The present architecture of Srinagar also points to the fact that ‘un trained’ people have the ability to respond to modern needs with in their cultural frame work, most often unconsciously. May the conscious and sensitive designers role is to step out and allow this to happen. Laurie Baker, a British man by birth seems to be a good example to emulate. He learned architecture in England but practiced in India, creating culturally rooted architecture. He responded honestly to the local needs without being driven by the market forces. So what did he bring from his education from England and what did he drop? How do we produce more such people through education? Authentic aesthetic sense is one of the key factors that lead to cultural diversity.

I have researched on indigenous design process and education since 1989 among non literate artisans and children. Traditional artisan’s learning is experientially rooted, learner driven. It has the quality of re-creating, re-inventing and re-living knowledge. The cognitive space ensures the first handedness in these learnings and helps the learner to situate oneself in the cultural conditions of ones life. Can there be an education that is sensitive to these vital issues that retains diversity and authenticity?  Do look at some of the links below to see some examples of the work/ research being carried out. 
By the by what fundamental RESEARCH are our institutions doing or supporting?
Links to my work with children.  Following the principles of non interference (Other word is ‘teaching’) children began to create absolutely beautiful stuff. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Awakening the aesthetic sense, not ‘teaching’ art

Culture has direct link with aesthetic sense, creativity and the respective ecology in which people live and connect. In fact beauty is the link that connects people to their environment. Cultural diversity has been the result of diverse aesthetic sensibilities developed in people as a result of living in diverse ecological conditions. This act of authentic living is itself act of knowledge creation.
Modern education not only kills creativity but also kills the cultural diversity as it ignores the two most important aspects of knowledge creation, which is the biological process involved in making sense of the world  and the need to connect with the space in which they live.
So naturally the biggest concern about the present main stream education is that it kills creativity. And the frenzy with which ‘art’ is being introduced seems to me an attempt to counter these damages.  But schools and ‘schooling’ not only kills creativity, it also kills authenticity, cultural diversity and  aesthetic sense.
And teaching or schooling per se could be the cause irrespective of what is being taught.
Revisiting the fundamentals
To begin with it is important to revisit some basic issues that are being taken for granted like what is the purpose of beauty in human life? Just as what is the purpose of knowledge in human life.

It is also important to go deeper in to some of these basic issues like what is creativity, how exactly does schooling destroys it and what is art, how is art going to counter the destruction of creativity etc.
Before we go in to the above raised issues let us also look at what has been achieved by the teaching of art, architecture and design at the graduate levels.
The visual experience of modern spaces all over the world is beginning to look alike- Architecture, signage, hoardings, products, colour sense. Homogenization of aesthetic sense brought about through education is destroying all cultural diversity.
What is culture then? How does culture gets transmitted? How is cultural diversity preserved?
About a century ago we had diverse cultures with distinct way of life and aesthetic sensibilities that created contextually rooted architecture and artifacts. The learning process that ensured this needs to be revisited as the present education has created total homogenization all over the world. The design and architectural education can be blamed as one of the most destructive agent for destroying diversity, leading to similar lifestyle. Courses taken from the experience of western culture-  Bauhaus, Ulm being the foundation of design education all over the world has psychologically damaged the being at all levels - aping the west, inferiority complex, cultural insensitivity and other cognitive damages. This is true of art and architectural education also.
The real issue then is understand how to retain the cultural diversity and help the learner to retain their original, authentic sense of beauty which is in true sense based on the experience of the real context in which they lead their lives.

To my mind ‘art’ education if that as treated as ‘awakening the sense/ aesthetic sensibilities’ has the potential of making children authentic and original learners/creators.
But art education is also becoming top down and information oriented. Once I came across a school where children were being asked to copy paintings of Van Gogh. In fact the trend in art education in UK is along this line. Tests are conducted to see whether children are able to identify works of Monet, Paul klee .
Art is the only activity with in the school curriculum that has the potential for subverting the harm done by other subjects.
Senses which is our doors to the outer world and also to the inner world is what needs to be addressed and that too in a manner that would enhance the inherent, natural, biological tendency in all human beings to be in beauty and to know. 

Work with traditional potters
From 1993 I have been working with a potters community and tried out my experiment with them, See the designs created by 13/14/15 year’s old girls.
You can also see some of work by Lakshmi who has no exposure to ‘art’ books, galleries. 

By 2000   I also began to work with children.   Again following the principles of non interference (Other word is  ‘teaching’) children began to create absolutely beautiful stuff.  
Sensing Nature; Knowing Nature
Sensing Nature; Knowing Nature is a workshop we have been conducting from 2003 at Aruvacode , Nilambur during the summer holidays – April and May. This year about 40 children of the age 5 to 15 from the village attended the workshop. 
Each and every time children have proved that they are born genius and they need to be left alone to make sense of the world. 
Senses connects not only to knowledge but also to the beauty of living. Sensitivity is in a way is matter of the awakening of the senses and feelings. 
The fundamental issues we raise through this event is the 'nature of learning, biologically embedded aesthetic sense in children, role of the 'teacher', do nothing method etc. It looks like that we are already born with aesthetic sense. I think this is our connection to the world and the way we conduct our lives provided we leave that to the nature in all of us. 
The work shop on sensing nature is for providing space to come together to listen, to see, to taste, to touch, feel, to make etc. There is no teaching. 

Colour scale with dry leaves helps children to be observant of colours in nature. Children mix colour on their own from the six basic colures (red, blue, yellow, green, black and white) with no help from adults.
 (Above 3 images ) Scenery using dry leaves and (below) with colored paper

Development of aesthetic sense which is the basis for all art forms seems to me the most important aspect to be explored as this would equip the student to pursue any art form at any time depending on the individuals interest and opportunities that might prop up. Rather than learning skills to sing, paint, draw etc this would make a qualitative and an attitudinal change. Teaching is not called for but by providing an environment that would allow the natural in us to come forth. 
This would require sensitivity, trust and indeed careful planning for the unplanned to happen.
I draw the following conclusion from my experience.
1.      Beauty is a biological aspect with our body/being and Art is a psychological construct.
2.      Beauty is not something to be developed separately but to be present as part of our being, which gets awakened in the process of engaging with the world.
3.      Beauty is the most fundamental of human existence. Beauty is what truly makes one authentic. Beauty is what binds us to the external world. Beauty is what creates culture-the architecture, the music, the artifacts, various dance forms and agriculture.
4.      De-colonization and de-conditioning  process  is essentially a process of recovering ones authentic sense of beauty and reclaiming ones senses.
5.      All art forms have a basis in other senses and aesthetic sense is developed in the process of aesthetic /part hand engagement with the world.
6.      Rather than ‘teaching’ art what one should do is to create situations for awakening the aesthetic awareness.
7.      Children are born genius – (Genuine) artistic/scientific/spiritual/holistic.
8.    Learn from them.   They can tell us how far we have moved from our original/ natural selves.
9.      Creativity happens in innocence and humility something we have lost in the process of getting ‘educated’.
10.  Human beings are in some sense the most helpless and with enormous capacity for self deception...
Every generation needs to relive, relearn, recreate and reinvent certain aspects of its cultural sensibilities by engaging with the reality around them.
Contextually rooted aesthetic sense is what once created the diverse cultures around the globe.


The main write up is from my personal experience of living with the rural tribal communities and from the documentation and research done to understand how children as well as non literate artisans learn.
Many philosophers, thinkers, scientists and teachers have helped me to understand these issues. Among them the prominent are as follows. Ivan Illich, John Holt, John Taylor ghetto, Maria Montessori, Dr. Humberto Maturana (the Chilean School of Biology of Cognition)