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On Curiosity and Drawing: Reflections on Science Flair @ ArtScience Museum

[This article was first published in December 2018 as a reflection on our participation in Science Flair, an ArtScience in Focus pop-up experience at ArtScience Museum.]

A visiting Art professor from the US said, “You Singaporeans don’t know how blessed you are to have the ArtScience Museum.” She visited recently and was blown away by the exhibits.

Maybe we’re kind of comfortable with what we have and where we are in, that it takes the child-like curiosity of foreign visitors to tell us that we’ve got it not just good, but great.

Over the past two days at ArtScience in Focus: Science Flair, I’ve probably seen as many (and sometimes more) foreign travellers than Singaporeans.

What makes you go “Wah!”?

At the session today, a professor of Physics did a number of fascinating Physics demonstrations that left the audience going “WAHHHHHH.” Then there was that “world debut” of their double pendulum x florescent drawing contraption invented by NUS High students, no less! As the pendulums swung, a live drawing in florescence was being created on the fly. Like the audience, I was gasping in wonder from my special side-view seat on the side.

The physics professor said more than once that science should be “wahhhhh!!!!!” not “wah lau!” (the very Singaporean exclamation of things not working out). He was speaking to a full house of entertained and attentive parents, children, students, and visitors.

The Case for Curiosity x Child-likeness

Curiosity killed the proverbial cat, but healthy and wholesome curiosity has never killed anyone. (I need to make a distinction here because there are people who sadly mistake “rebellion and foolishness” as bold curiosity.)

Being prudent and shrewd is wisdom, but caution (driven by fear) is no breeding ground for fresh young minds.

There is something to be said about child-likeness (not to be conflated with childishness). You would watch a two-year-old happily pick up a marker/crayon/chalk without being told to do so, and quite simply start sprint-drawing away.

Quite literally, the two-year-old picks up a marker and starts drawing away, like this.

And then he/she matures into a (hopefully) precocious four-year old and starts asking, “Mummy, can I draw? Mummy, what should I draw? Mummy, how do I draw?” To which the adoring mother, in all good intention, begins giving helpful suggestions. Done right, encouraging. Sometimes, however, parents do not realise that they are reinforcing a need for approval, or creating limitations in the child’s imagination.

We ask because we don’t know our perimeters and boundaries. We testily try to find them. But when we do, we also know that within boundaries that exist for our good, we are free to explore. That is freedom.

Unfortunately, a rare breed of teens as well as adults grow up not knowing beneficial boundaries, because they have confused feedback (from themselves or others) as judgement.

It’s not that we “can’t draw.” Most grown-ups are actually saying, “I can’t draw as well as I think I should, or I’d like to, or what I think I am expected to.”

But when the grown-up child, in all child-likeness, picks up a marker/chalk/crayon to make a mark, the wonder returns to collective applause and awe from everyone around.