Paint The Fence :: Lessons I've Learned From Mr. Miyagi

April 18, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Mr. Miyagi was a great teacher, albeit a fictitious one. If you are not familiar with this inspiring teacher of karate, see this clip from the the original "Karate Kid " film. Then rent the whole film for more wisdom on life, courage, and the powerful influence on each other student and teacher share. It got me thinking of all the ways we learn without even realizing we are doing so. As Mr. Miyagi says, "Not everything is as seems." 

Cultivating muscle memory, both physical and mental, is a key component to deep learning, but mindless repetition of a task for its own sake is not learning. When you can take a task, the information you are given about one thing, and make the connection to something seemingly unrelated, you have achieved the point Miyagi was making. It is this ability to translate disparate things into cohesive action that characterize the journey to mastery of anything; your art, your life, and yourself.

When you set about learning photography, this visual language, you begin to see connections, patterns, and relationships between things most people ignore on a daily basis. Your muscle memory becomes more acute as you start to see like a camera. Your eye(s) begins to frame things subjectively, according to your growing sensibilities. Your friends and family might look at you sideways as you stop and focus on some fine detail of texture on a wall, or talk excitedly about an intriguing composition, or the luminous quality of the light you notice while walking down the street.

On one of my recent walks, I noticed the fence above, after first noticing the paint drips on the sidewalk. Lost in other thoughts, I walked past it all, then stopped. Something in my long cultivated muscle memory of being a photographer and connector of disparate dots pulled me up short, and made me take another look at what, to most people would be nothing more than a "sloppy job" of fence painting.

Paint the Fence

 

Paint the Fence

Where some will see the mundane, the ordinary, the unremarkable, the visual artist, the photographer, is able to see the beautiful. This quote, from Emily's monologue in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" is poignant:

"Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?"
Stage Manager: "No. (Pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some."

 And I would add photographers to those who have the capacity to, at least. Mr. Miyagi was a poet of action, and as I was passing that fence on my walk, I heard his admonition to, "​show me paint the fence!" 


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