Sunday, March 24, 2013

What we can learn from the learning patterns of Birds

What we can learn from the learning patterns of Birds

 As most of my close friends know, I have two small birds as pets and housemates. I call them my “Innkeepers” as they are always busy running around the house and cleaning up crumbs of food they drop and leave behind. I call them my Innkeepers but everyone else refers to them as ‘Ricky and Daisy’.

One day I was in my office working away with Ricky and Daisy playing close by when all of a sudden, Daisy grabbed a plastic jar lid and pushed it across the carpet like it was a hockey puck. I thought this was very amusing so I did what most proud pet owners and parents would do. I got out my video camera and recorded her playing with her new toy. A friend of mine who watched the video said that this was amazing and asked how long it taught me to teach her this. I responded “I did not teach her a thing, she did this all by herself.”

Daisy is always curious about the world around her; she will look at a door handle and study it with great detail. Lately she has grown curious about the cabinets underneath the sink in the bathroom. Whenever she gets close to the cabinet doors, she will fly over to the doors and get as close as she can to spend time studying them from every angle. You can see the little wheels turning in her head as she walks in circles or flies closer to get a better look at something.

One day I opened the cabinet doors for her to walk in and take a look around. She did so and spent time investigating, touching things with her beak and looking around but did not seem quite as interested as what was inside the cabinet as much as the wooden doors themselves. Why she likes them, I have no idea but it is that insatiable curiosity that keeps her learning and intrigued about the world around her.  What is interesting is she never seems to grow bored, her curiosity grows and she investigates other things too that catch her attention that she may not have paid attention to before.

Along with that sense of curiosity is the desire to play. Picking up a plastic jar lid and running across the room with it like she was Wayne Gretzky was something that she did one day and has continued to do constantly ever since. Now, she has a whole collection of plastic milk bottle and jar lids that she will take and throw, toss and push across the room like a hockey puck. Her partner, Ricky, does not share the same enthusiasm that she has for playing hockey, but he will play along with her side by side to keep her company.

What I learned from all these observations is that these birds love to amuse and entertain themselves by playing, just like any child would do. I had previously read about this in books about Parrotlet birds,  so this was not news to me but what was a revelation to me was how they learn by playing. They learn how to take a flat disk and run with it along a carpet to emulate a hockey puck, they learn how to turn a pull chord from window blinds into an acrobatic swing and they learn to peel off sticker labels with patience and determination.

Why do they do these things? Because it is fun and it gives them a sense of accomplishment. After all, they are birds and they have time on their hands to eat, sleep and play.

Play, I have learned, is paramount to learning for these animals and to all animals. Animals learn by playing and they learn by being aware of their surroundings and studying things. Birds are natural problem solvers and will study something to figure out how it works, no matter how long it takes.

By the same token, how much more effective would we as humans be at learning if we realized that learning can and should be fun? Sure we tell our children and we tell ourselves that learning is fun but when you walk into the average school or college campus, it is all business. No one is laughing, no one is playing, it is rigorous, it is silent and it is stressful.

Children play and learn to interact with other children and how to get along with others. They play with an erector set and learn to become an engineer. They get out a crayon and a piece of paper and suddenly, they are an Artist. Actually, all children are artists until they grow up and the world tells them to ‘stop doing that’. The trick is to keep allowing them to be artists all the way through adulthood and inspire others to do the same.

Society, parents, employers and especially schools, have taken education and made it a rigorous, stressful and overwhelming job. Where is the fun in memorizing and having to pass an exam to make a grade or get a promotion at work? Where is the joy in laboring over a report or term paper all week or weekend long? Yes the end result is the same. We learn from this task but could the same result be obtained by watching a movie on a subject or taking a trip to a museum?

If we can take the stress out of learning for children and adults, how much more rewarding would it be and how much more would students retain what they learn? If we can follow the example of a little bird flying around a room , playing with its toys, studying its own environment and watching what she comes up with and how she reacts to her world, can’t we create the same kind of fun learning experiences as humans?

What would we have to lose? Do we dare allow our children to dream, to play and to interact with their world to learn at their own pace? As an Educator, artist and engineer, I keep hearing about a change that is about to take place in education and I am excited about the possibilities that idea presents.

Imagine a world where children and animals become our teachers and we as adults, learn to relax, laugh and experience the world that we have taken for granted through their eyes. Imagine the world of wonder it would reveal and the possibilities that would present themselves. Maybe it is time that education be turned upside down and we put the fun back in learning. We learn something new every day, whether we realize it or not.

What would that do to our health? Our blood pressure? Our anxiety levels and stress levels? How would that strengthen the bond between parents and children? Bosses and employees? Teachers and students? Think of the possibilities and the resulting relationships that would form.

The trick then to making education a fun experience is not to put the emphasis on learning itself but on enjoying the process and allow education to be a result of that experience. We need to reeducate our teachers, parents and ourselves to approach education from a different angle. In so doing, we would change the face of education and the negative attitudes towards it and end up changing society and the world around us.

-          Rick Short, March 2013.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Through the eyes of a child

When I look back to the years of my childhood, they seem like a lifetime ago and seem to be distant and lost memories. I start to wonder if they were even my memories at all or just a dream but I remember my childhood well and what a dream it was.

 To have friends in school, friends to call and watch movies with, being able to sleep in during the summer months and watch television, go fishing and spend time with my dog, my friends and just enjoying life. Life was like a dream, a dream come true where every day you live, explore and enjoy being alive without a care in the world.

We often dream of growing up and what life will be like as an adult when we have freedom to do whatever we want, not realizing just how free our little lives are as children.

It is not until we grow up, graduate from college and start living on our own that we realize just how good life was; life with no bills, no responsibilities and not having to be a slave to society to earn a decent living. The memories and joys of childhood should never be forgotten nor should the lessons learned - to take time to stop and smell the flowers, to rest and take a nap, to enjoy calling a friend and to simply live your dreams.

When we get old, the phone doesnt ring that much any more. Friends are grown up and gone, moved away, married, slaves to the job and we forget the simplicity of just being a child. I miss those days and when life gets to be too hard, I do as the children of Israel often did during their years of captivity; I look back to the good old days and smile, remembering when life was fun and simple.

It is for this reason that I have been inspired to create children's art. To capture the memories, the dreams, the imagination of children to inspire us so that when we grow old and life beats us down, we can see the world as we once did, with wonder and amazement and where every day was a celebration. I think this is why we are a society fascinated with art, movies and fiction books. We love to dream and escape from the doldrums of everyday life to go out on a little adventure and slay a dragon, escape to Oz or Narnia and see the world the eyes of a Hobbit.

If nothing else, we manage to escape just for a few hours in a movie theater, in front of a book or to stare at a painting. We get to dream again and step back into the world we once forgot known as childhood.

- Rick Short
  March 6, 2013

Friday, October 05, 2012

Art - Bringing the dream to reality

Movies and art are two very similar mediums of escape to take you to a new realm of
possibilities - a place in time, a new world or a distant place or dream you long for. Art gives us
a chance to dream, to create and breathe new life into things that would otherwise never exist.

When we look at movies that capture our attention and look at what comes from these movies,
often science fiction breeds science fact. I never will forget the example that former Computer Science Professor Randy Pausch used. He was talking about Star Trek and the realms of
possibilities it created. He took out a communicator that was just a prop from the TV show, then pulled out his cell phone that was a flip phone and said "I now own of these and it is smaller".
What was once Science Fiction, just a thought, an idea scribbed on a napkin in some Hollywood
Studio, is now something everyone across the world uses and take for granted as a common
everyday item.

As an Artist, when I look at how art, movies, music and so many other art forms affect our
culture and every day being, I am amazed at the idea that schools would even think about
cutting out art classes for students. What a boring world it would be without art to stretch us, entertain us and most of all, challenge us to create art of our own and put it out in the
world to either be embraced or stomped on by critics.

I think of how Art has stretched my education and skills, it has shaped who I am today and
stretched me to take my ideas, write them down and then slowly and methodically bring them to

This is what schools need to teach our children. To use our imaginations, to dream, innovate
and come up with new ideas. This is what builds society, fuels new products, businesses and
ideas and ultimately fuels the economy.

Another thing I have learned about art is that it is truly recession proof. Good art always sells.
If people like it, they will vote with their pocket books. Look at the movies, music and artwork
that has launched successful careers and carved fortunes out of thin air. All because someone
had a dream and they were not afraid to create it and breathe life into it.

In the business world, I have met so many people who are tinkerers, innovators and have
wonderful ideas but for some reason, they just cannot seem to make those ideas materialize.
They tinker and pick ideas to death, constantly changing them, constantly saying it is great one minute, then hating it the next. These are people who live in fear. You have to have the tenacity,
the determination and the discipline to bring those ideas to life. Most of all, you have to believe
in yourself and believe in your ideas. Some ideas may spread wings and soar to new heights,
and some ideas may go down in flames but you get nowhere without seeing the idea through to
completion. Build it. Bring it to life. This is my mandate to you, the reader. You have the dream
now go after it. I have had to face the same challenge in my life and am facing it now. The
dream is there but it will never come to reality unless I see it through.

As a child, I often got into trouble for daydreaming in school. I still daydream to this day.
I dream of new paintings, new digital art, new websites to create, new articles to write, new
engineer ideas to help the world. Some ideas have been a hit, some have taken a while to take
off and be accepted and some have sat unnoticed by the public eye but that is ok. The beauty is
the idea is out there and someone somewhere will see it and be inspired to either buy it, embrace
it and create new ideas of their own and therein lies the true beauty of art. Someone was inspired enough to go out and put something into the world just as our Creator put us on
this world to inspire, encourage and help each other fulfill our destiny on planet Earth.

But one word of caution... people who are not dreamers, don't like dreamers. Because you have
a vision for your life and they do not. They will seek to destroy you, but realize this.. Joseph
had a dream and his brothers sold him into slavery and wanted to kill him over it but God saw
that vision true and Joseph saw that vision become a reality in his life. God gives us these
heroes in the bible to encourage us. Because you may be a Joseph, a Daniel, a person of vision.
Pursue it, and dont let those who would block you get in the way.

Bring that dream to life and let it take you to new places in life. Meanwhile, enjoy the dream
that God has put into your heart to fulfill the reason He made you.

- Rick Short, Artist
October 3, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Art truly brings people together - A social commentary about visual art.

Art truly brings people together - A social commentary about visual art.

            When I look at all the things I could have studied to earn a living and all the different ideas I have come up with over the years as a possible career path (everything from being a Computer Programmer, Architect, Teacher to becoming an Accountant), there is one thing that constantly reminds me of my main purpose in life, which is to create art. When I find myself alone with my thoughts, what comes to mind is fun new ideas to paint, whether it be a colorful new wildlife painting, children’s art or a digital 3D rendering. I dream in Technicolor and I dream of fun, colorful animals, architectural buildings that defy the laws of physics, children’s toys that come to life and new worlds to create on canvas or digitally. I have always had a vivid imagination and as an adult, I still daydream and have constantly since I was a child in grade school.

Society does not always want dreamers or people with a vision but number crunchers, computer programmers and engineers. I love being an engineer and have been one for twenty years but I also find that there is a calling that God has put on my heart to create and what solidifies and verifies that calling are two things – the recurring dream itself and the realization of that dream materialized.

The dream is the easy (or potentially nagging or haunting) part but seeing the dream realized – putting on art shows, selling art and having smiling, happy and satisfied customers is the exclamation point and the proof that you are capable of making that dream come true. There are many people who call themselves artists and they are in their own right but the proof if you will or the validation by society comes when you are a paid artist making money with your vision. I have seen that realization come true in my life and it brings joy and satisfaction to see my art sell but more importantly to impact people in a positive way. I have also seen the realization of my dream by putting on one man art shows both in my home town and here in Florida.

One thing I have observed at most of the art shows I have attended or hosted is that Art as a medium truly brings people together. I will never forget one art show at the former OVAL art gallery in downtown Orlando, Florida that was well attended. There were homeless people, rich people, young and old people all alike in this crowded art gallery. There were artists with tattoos smoking outside, artists wearing formal clothes and people from all walks of life gathered in this exhibit hall for one common purpose – to enjoy a night of culture and art. It was like watching a painting in motion or seeing a movie come to life being filmed in front of you. It was a picture itself of life as it should be and as it ought to be.

You could see it in their faces –the look of wonder, the look of amazement, the look of being kids in a candy store and scarcely being able to take it all in. There was no snootiness, no prejudice, no social class and no division. I found myself sitting back being an observer, taking in the flurry of activity going on around me. I greeted people, answered questions about my art, ate and mingled with the crowd all the while watching people taking in the sights, colors and sounds of the evening.

My other similar art show experience was a “one man show” that I hosted as a solo exhibitor in Winter Park, Florida one year. It was a year where Florida was heavily hit by hurricanes and there was not even fresh drinking water in Winter Park the week of the show. The local newspaper advertised the show in the morning edition, flyers, emails and phone calls had gone out but I had no idea if anyone would even turn out due to the devastation the storms had brought.

Much to my pleasant surprise, there was a great turnout. Friends and strangers alike showed up to see my art and photography, have some finger foods and fresh bottled water and soft drinks. The crowd was a great mix of children and old people but everyone seemed to have a really good time. There were smiles, greetings, a flurry of activity along with tables and chairs for people to sit, eat and talk. It was a great environment but what impressed me the most was seeing absolute strangers pull up chairs and sit and break bread together. One friend brought her son who thought for sure he would be bored but ended up being inspired enough to sit down at a desk and do some drawing of his own , smiling and taking in the experience and having a good time doing so.

I have observed on many if not all occasions that Art truly does bring people together. It does what music often fails to do but is supposed to do. Music is said to bring people together and yet with all the various styles of music from classical to rap to heavy metal, it often tends to divide and even alienate people based upon the audience and their musical preferences.

As an Artist that has struggled to ‘make it in the world’ since I was a child, I have found there are some constants at work in the art universe. One thing I have learned is that art is recession proof. If someone sees something they like, they want it. As one customer over the internet once wrote to me, “I want it, I don’t care how much it is, I just have to have this painting” and she got it. I stayed up until midnight bubble wrapping two art prints in a box that was 2 feet wide by 3 feet high. The result was a happy customer, a friendship and even repeat business that led to her purchasing other prints from me down the road. Proof that art does sell itself when it speaks to someone’s soul and can bridge the gap of time, distance, language and other barriers.

- Rick Short
February 21, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Surfer Surfing off the coast of Hawaii original acrylic painting - The Tube Ride

                                                                  "The Tube Ride"

There is something about the ocean that stirs at people's souls. The rushing waves, the power of the crashing waves on the shore, the constant churn of the water and the magnificent power of the ocean. I have always enjoyed seeing the calm seas at night at sunset and watching surfers tame a mountainous wave.

When I was in high school I started to paint seascapes. Particularly waves and surfers surfing on the waves. This painting is one of my most popular selling paintings since 1982 when I first created it as a Junior in High School. This year I decided to recreate the original painting using acrylics just to restore the color and lustre of fresh paint that has been lost by making prints over the years.

This is a surrealist view of a surfer surfing inside the tube of a wave off the coast of Hawaii. The original painting is for sale and comes matted and ready to frame. It measures 24" high by 35" wide including a white acid free matting mounted on foam core board and signed by me in the lower right hand corner. I have a small growing collection of surfing art that I will share here and on eBay, Redbubble and other art sites where you can find my work so stay tuned and 'Aloha!'.