Encourage a hobby, inspire a passion

Students need teachers to help them develop their interests. Sometimes, what begins as merely a hobby can turn into a passion. The teacher is the one who fans the flames and turns that burning ember into a forest fire!

We can inspire students to pursue their interests with more gusto:

Tutor: Ask open-ended questions that help students to identify their interests.

Teacher: Assign work that helps students make connections between schoolwork and their extra-curricular activities.

Mentor: Give students an idea of the careers that are available in their field.

Coach: Challenge students to try for the next level of achievement, testing their commitment – and perhaps fueling a passion!


College Applications for Artistic Students

College counselors aren’t only looking for straight-A students and star athletes.  A background in the arts can also recommend a candidate.  Use your application to highlight some of the wonderful virtues that artists have to offer:


Artists learn to motivate themselves, and to track their progress independently. Dancers have to train on their own for many hours. Even when part of a class, they are constantly monitoring their own work and improving. This is exactly the kind of self-direction that college admissions counselors are looking for!


When studying music, students learn a melody or beat pattern and have to repeat it.  They learn how to store information quickly – and repeat it back under pressure. Musical training can be very useful in those freshman survey courses with stacks of textbooks and grueling final exams.


Marguerite Gerard, Artist Painting a Portrait of a Musician (The Hermitage)


Whether actors on stage, dancers in a company or musicians in an orchestra, art students learn how to work together. They must watch each other, follow along, and lead among their peers. At times, they must even make up the difference when a peer forgets their lines. As group projects become more central to university courses, a student’s ability to work as part of a group becomes more important.


Let’s not forget the most important characteristic that an artist offers their university: heart. Artists do what they do for the love of it. They follow their intuition down paths unknown, searching for new means of self expression and connection. This quality has driven discovery for centuries, and it is at the center of what learning is all about.

Ideas in Flight

One of the reasons that students struggle in the humanities is that they are seeking scientific certainty.  We have true knowledge in the humanities, but it is very different from truth in science. 


When you come across something that you understand in history, the arts, and literature, do not seal it away in a box.  These truths are living; they must breathe. 

These ideas are mid-flight, like the pieces of a hanging mobile from the artist Alexander Calder (Untitled Mobile, 1976, National Gallery of Art).  His mobiles are light, airy, fanciful creations.  They are held together by principles not immediately grasped by the viewer.  And, as you move around them, the relationships between the shapes seem to change, making what seemed true moments before again an enigma.

Riffin’ in the Infinitive

Learning to speak a new language has many parallels with playing a musical instrument.  When I played the cello, I had to constantly be aware of where I was going.  In fact, reading music, you always have to stay a few measures ahead!Image

When speaking a new language, you have to think: what verb works here?  Should I use the infinitive?  Does that noun need a feminine adjective?  How many people am I talking about anyway?!

Listening and repeating a sound verbatim is also a common element.  When I was studying music, we took a class called eurythmics, wherein we heard a melody or beat pattern and had to repeat it.  Over time, they became much more complex.  We learned how to store the pattern for a short time while we played it back.

For me, a little-recognized benefit of musical study in language learning is the “trading” that goes on in small group music making:  I play this phrase with force, and you answer it with timidity.  I shape the line with a flourish, and you answer with another.

This “trading” also happens in language, as we trade: “Hey, how are ya?” for “Doin’ fine!”  Most everyday language happens without much thought as we trade common phrases among our interlocutors, just as we trade musical phrases among our fellow musicians.

Japonisme de Portugal


I was at The Phillips Collection last weekend to visit the new Braque exhibition, and I stepped into the café for a very tasty espresso.  There I encountered this work filling the walls of the little coffee shop, One Day After the Rain (2010) by Sandra Cinto, A Brazilian artist.  

Immediately, I noticed the influence of Japonisme, the Japanese style often characterized by fine lines that depict the ferocity and grandeur of nature.  Indeed, this picture would make anyone sitting in the café feel as if they were floating away!

I was immediately reminded of a picture I encountered from an exhibition in Boston College called Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods.  The pictures reflect Japanese impressions of Portuguese sailors in the Descobrimentos, or the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries.  


The pictures display a Japanese fascination with Portuguese vessels.  As a sea-faring people, they must have been inspired by Portuguese ingenuity.  This work is a trade screen (1600-50) at McMullen Museum of Art in Boston.

It seems that this artistic brokering was not one-sided, as the Brazilian artists’ work in the ImagePhillips Collection seems to display.  In fact, much of her work carries this Japanese style, even making reference to it in a public art piece in SESC, São Paulo, a public center for health, art and education.  This work, entitled Sky and Sea to Present [Japonisme] (Silk on Tile), employs Japanese lines and grandeur, with that ever-present obsession with the sea.

Lyrics and Literature

In the movie Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant’s character defends his pop star vocation, saying that rock musicians are “real poets.”  He tells Drew Barrymore’s character, a literature student, that nothing can make you feel happier, faster than, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day/ When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.”  Image

Music is just poetry set to music, so why not use lyrics to teach literature?  For example, Johnny Cash lyrics carry a deeper meaning without being overwhelming.  His most catchy tune, “I Walk the Line” is a good place to start:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

Why is Cash keeping a “close watch” and his “eyes wide open?”  What is this “tie that binds?”  But then, what is the line he is walking?  What makes this imagery so powerful?  Cash seems to be building a strong contrast between two viewpoints, perhaps to show his own conflicted nature – or to emphasize his devotion.  He clarifies in the next verses, before returning to the first verse at the end:

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

 Also interesting is the driving rhythm of the song, the sound of a freight train – also used in Folsom Prison Blues – for which Cash is so famous.  Does this beat support the message of the lyrics or contradict them, adding a new layer to the song? 

You could also find parallels to famous works of poetry.  For example “As sure as night is dark and day is light” sounds to me reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18 “As long as men shall breathe and eyes shall see.”  In general, the imagery of light, dark, day and night is rampant through literature.

Finally, how does this song fit into Cash’s work as a whole, and to his life story?  Does the metaphor of walking a line reflect well his struggles?  Maybe Cash makes references to his past songs in order to recast them in a new light as he was writing this song directly after his marriage to June Carter.


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