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Which Learner/Creator are You, Visual, Aural or...Kinesthetic(!!!)?

Okay, calm down, kinesthetic simply means moving, using your body, doing. And some people (about five percent of the population) learn and create better by this action. I took a kinesiology course in college, and it’s actually pretty cool how millions of years ago someone, perhaps named Evolution (Eve for short), figured out how to get our bodies to work and move the way they do. Today, we can do the Macarena and barely have to think about it!

Anyway, there are different ways of absorbing information in our world, and we all have a personal preference as to how to accomplish this. But is one way better than another? And how does our preferred way of learning affect our creativity efforts?

I am a strongly aural person. I remember things that were said to me, or I heard in a movie, song or play, verbatim, years later, in the voice of the person who said them. Spooky? Yes. But this came in really handy for a career in music, which may also be one of the reasons I ended up in one.

However, my visual memory and recognition stinks. I don’t remember faces well, and have even been embarrassed by mistaking one person for another if, for instance, they both have short blond hair and are about the same size. This social hysteria has dogged me my whole life, forcing me into a kind of self-imposed shyness, terrified I’ll make a mistake. Which I have, calling people by the wrong name until they correct me or simply find a way to not run into me again. It’s just recently that I’ve realized it’s not my fault, it’s a personal propensity that we all have. We’re all some combination of aural, visual, and kinesthetic, in different percentages.

But my artist husband Larry, for instance, excels at the visual. He can study a place on Google Earth, and then navigate that place in a car without a map. He can remember faces, and describe people in detail, or remember years later what they were wearing when he met them. That, to me, is astonishing. The past is pretty much a gray blur to me when I try to picture it in my head, like a photo out of focus. He, on the other hand, isn’t a great listener in some circumstances, and has no idea what the lyrics are to any of the songs in “My Fair Lady”.

Then there’s a friend of my son’s who can recall and recite passages from books without looking them up, and is a voracious reader. Other people absorb from doing, being kinesthetic - the very act of using their bodies, like dancers, tells them a lot about something they need to learn and/or remember. Those people have to run that science experiment, instead of reading or hearing about it, to understand and recall how it works.

So how do we develop into people who lean one way or the other? Is this learned behavior, or something in our physical makeup that causes us to end up strongly visual or aural? Or is it genetic, or the way our brains grow over time? And should we use this information when we’re teaching our kids?

And how much of these learning/creating propensities are cultural? I have lived in Vietnam, and my Vietnamese friends there told me that they never see a map during their early childhood education. Everyone knows how to get places, but they learn this by doing it or hearing how to get there, not by studying a map. I took plenty of taxi rides in Vietnam that would serve as proof to this phenomenon; you either get there by dead reckoning, or by asking equally clueless countrymen how to do it. A map is meaningless to my Vietnamese friends, and in fact, they don’t even know which way is East! (I tried to explain the sun, yada, yada, but they only looked back at me, glassy eyed…)

I actually don’t think, when it comes to creativity, that learning style is important. I believe we use what we’ve learned to take that next step - to creativity - so it’s important that we learn stuff (and however we do that is up to us), but then to create we all have to let that learning sit. As a musician, I think of it as three beats of learning, one beat of creating. 

And to create, we need to give our learning brain a rest. All that stuff that we put in our brain is crammed in there, causing our creative side to freeze up with too much information. All the great creators (artists, writers, composers, scientists, etc.) describe some method of stepping back, allowing their brain and heart to breathe together. The artist Salvador Dali, for instance, would begin a nap holding ball bearings, which would fall with a clatter when he began to fall asleep and enter the 1 NREM period. Whatever was in his brain at that point in time was what he painted. 

The same is true for kids, and it would be helpful if adults could be a little more supportive in this regard. Learning is great (whatever method works for you), but to create, children need space, need to be a little bored, to turn inward and let the heart and mind intertwine. And at that magical point, it doesn’t really matter if we like to see, hear or touch. All that matters is the miracle of something new.

There’s a lot of fear in the creative world right now, about artificial intelligence taking over our creative endeavors. And who knows, maybe at some point that will be something to deal with. But for creators of A.I. to replicate the creative process in the brain….that’s a tall order, especially since we don’t seem to completely understand it ourselves. Computers don’t sleep, they don’t dream, and they have nothing to show (so far) in the emotion department. 

Instead of fearing an outcome we can’t possibly know in advance, let’s get back to work.

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