How the Arts helped me in life and career
For those of you who know South Indian culture, you probably know that arts form an integral part of who we are. As children, we are made to learn vocal music, musical instruments, classical dance and painting. As we grow, we decide which form of arts we want to pursue, and there has to be at least one! Children who come from well-to-do families often pursue at least two forms of arts, which most often narrow down to classical music and dance. Whereas children from middle-class households could afford to pursue just one, even if their interests lay in many. Mind you, classical music and dance was, and is an expensive affair.
As for me, coming from a middle-class family, I chose to pursue Indian classical music, also known as Carnatic music in South India. Honestly, I detested it when I was young — I was forcibly taken to classes by my mother who like every other mother believed that her daughter was cut out for classical music. Having changed music instructors very often, I finally settled down on one who truly changed the way I saw and interpreted music. I began looking forward to my music lessons, and developed a love and respect for the art form. Eventually, I also got good at it. It wasn’t an easy journey.
I like to think of myself as a creatively-driven person. I haven’t learned dance but I know to move to the rhythm. I have learned the basics of painting at school but I still continue to sketch, doodle and paint on canvases, as a hobby. I have performed in stage plays and directed a few of them. Somehow, these artistic skills have shaped and are shaping me to be a better person every single day.
Through music I learned resilience and perseverance. My music instructor always told me that our voices are like spicy pickles. The more you soak a vegetable or fruit in the spicy mixture, the more tasty they become. Similarly, the more you train your voice, the more modulated it becomes. Only those of you who have tasted the South Indian mango pickle, will truly understand this analogy. I was never a good singer, but I trained and I trained until I learned the subtleties of the pitch; until I understood that music is not just about pitch purity—that it’s also about understanding the techniques and acknowledging the incredibly nuanced melodies. It was a long journey but one that was worth it. Several times I gave up thinking “music is just not for me”, but I always found myself going back to my instructor, unlearning and re-learning.
Through painting I learned expression of emotions. I strongly believe that each of us should have avenues where we can express ourselves; one that does not involve just words. When I paint, I never think of the outcome — I think more about the colors I use, the strokes my paint brush makes and how I feel. It creates tranquility and keeps my emotions centered. I remember as an angry teenager, just painting until I my anger wore off. The result was often a page in my art book dominated by the color red. I didn’t mind it.
When I used to perform in stage plays, I opened up my shy self and simply let go. If you have acted before on stage, you are probably familiar with the pressure and the nervousness every single time you feel being on stage. To remember every line and to remember “not to mess up”, my directors always said, “be reactive!”. Therefore, it was important to be completely present in the scene — whether as a mother disappointed with her son, as a young bride unwilling to get married, as a failed writer struggling to make ends meet or as a thief in a land where money had little meaning. I became more aware of the other actors and what they felt. I became more attention-oriented. I unleashed myself in ways I never imagined before, thereby developing an explorative mindset. More importantly, performing also gave me the courage to fail.
Although I never pursued arts professionally, it has helped me in my professional life in ways I never thought was possible. In my recent career move as a UX Researcher, I can only imagine the many different ways I will get to apply my learnings. The arts has helped me open my mind to possibilities and think out of the box. I am lucky to have been brought up in a culturally rich environment where a lot of importance was given to arts.
If you haven’t pursued any art form yet, it’s never too late. Simply enjoy the journey without thinking about the outcomes.