Scientific research in the area of cognitive development indicates that the human brain internalizes inputs provided by the senses and then uses this stored information to externalize or express itself. Once internalized, no one can get at it till the person wishes to express himself. When expression occurs, what is inside is reorganized through a series of complicated processes and externalized. It is only in expression that we can know or begin to know what another thinks. Expression can be in many forms — spoken, written, gestures, colours on a painting and the sounds of music. All these are forms of expression that the mind is capable of.
Artists use different forms of expression that best capture the essence of an idea. A photograph provides a likeness to an individual, while a cartoon captures something of the character of the person that the artist wishes to portray in a humorous and exaggerated manner. Both forms of expression have their own value and are used in different contexts to have varying impact on the viewer.
The process continues when the viewer experiences the form for expression or the work of art. What then becomes extremely interesting is that different people respond in unique ways to the same experience — a funeral scene in a film may fill one with sadness, another with hope and determination to live a better life, and another to question the meaning of life.
The way of artists
In education, we strive to develop these two aspects of cognitive function — sensitization of the brain so that it can distinguish more subtle stimuli and internalize it, and expertise and skill in form of expression to encompass what one knows and feels. When, for example, a student is learning music, the subtle sound of each note, the beats and silences are picked up by the trained ear, that you and I may miss. When a trained student sings, this musical information is expressed in wonderful and individual ways. So also is the way of artists, dancers and writers.
What the artist can do is to internalize the most intricate of details of the external world and absorb that information which, in turn, inspires the most intriguing forms of expression. They are able to convey an idea of life that all of us may have experienced, but may not have the skill or know how to express.
It is for this reason that society, through the ages, has both feared and revered the artist. Artists have been called the minstrels of hope and the prophets of doom, and society has silenced them at their own peril, for they speak from the depths of their internal private and very individual world. Dictators around the world throughout history have feared artists and have expelled, tortured and tried to silence their free expression.
Only for the mature
When Article 19 of the Indian Constitution affords the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens of this country, the fullest meaning of this encompasses all that the human brain is capable of. It also places a high value on the individual expression and invites us to participate in their world of ideas and experience. Democracy gifts us freedom of expression, knowing that the acceptance of this freedom requires supreme maturity. As Gandhi said about the practice of ahimsa or non-violence that it can only be a principle of life for the truly brave, because the weak and fearful cannot practice it. So too is democracy only for the truly mature, only for those who can accept that everyone express themselves differently in the most individual ways.
We can accept a form of expression, we can ignore it, we have the right to remain silent, to criticize it, or even demand that our artists and writers perform better but we cannot take away their liberty of free expression. For the right to free expression is the right of life, for to live is to feel and to think, to internalize and express.