"Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back." -- Chinese Proverb
Learning has to be an ongoing process. There are two reasons. The first is that variety arts are always moving forward. An example that I used in my Creativity For Entertainers trilogy is performing silk magic. When I began performing silk magic everyone consistently taught that you should always iron your scarves before performing. About fifteen years ago that advice began changing. Instructors started teaching that silk scarves should be rolled for storage and transportation. If you iron a silk and then fold it or load it into a gimmick while it is still warm, the heat will set the creases and it will come out looking wrinkled. Also if the entire silk is smooth any wrinkles will be obvious. But if the silk is covered in tiny wrinkles the overall perception is that it is smooth. That is why crushed velvet looks smooth from a distance but is really richly textured.
I first learned fabric painting in the last half of the 1970's when I was a technical theater student in college. I tried using the methods that I learned then to create custom silk scarves for performance, but the results really weren't satisfactory. About ten years ago I learned to do silk painting through a community college art class. The methods that were taught had been developed by people who did silk fashion accessories. I learned about some new products that weren't available when I was in college. I used that information to make some customized silk scarves that I have used very successfully. Due to the increasing popularity of silk painting some more new products have been introduced in the last few years. I learned about them by browsing through a craft supply store. I had painted a silk Singapore flag for my first trip to that country six years ago. In preparing for my recent trip, I decided that I could make a better flag using the new products. I am glad that I did because the response to the flag was tremendous. For example, I displayed four separate scarves (two red and two white) while performing a school show. The kids began chanting in unison, "Our flag, the Singapore flag." When I transformed the separate scarves into one large red and white Singapore flag the kids burst out into a very loud cheer.
The second reason for continuing learning is that your knowledge is not static. You are either learning or forgetting. Your memory is stored in mental pathways. Just like trails in the woods those paths can become clogged or overgrown. A forest trail that isn't used will soon disappear. However, if it is walked on frequently it remains clear. You need reminders to reinforce what you have learned before. Refresher courses help you use those mental pathways again keeping them clear and available for use.
That is especially important with things that you do intuitively or have learned through experience without learning the theory that backs it up. Those lessons are particularly fragile. It is easy to underestimate their importance and forget to continue with them. While in Singapore, I attended a lecture by Lee Mullally on teaching variety arts to children. That was a very valuable lecture to me. Lee is a retired university education department teacher and knows instructional theory. He explained why some of the things that I have done instinctively as a variety arts instructor were successful. Now I will not only remember to do those things, but I can more consciously use them on purpose which will make them even more effective.
Also, learning is like assembling a jig saw puzzle. Sometimes you can't use what you know until you learn more. During my recent trip to Singapore, I spent an afternoon in the Asian Civilization Museum Reference Library studying the history of clowning in Asia. It turned out to be a very productive time because I discovered the missing pieces connecting some pieces of information I had learned already. Finally, I understood how things fit together and could picture the role that clowns have played in Asia. That also clarified for me some aspects of clown history in Europe.
How can you make learning an ongoing process? Where can you discover new information and products? Where can you take refresher courses? What works best for you, reading, attending a live lecture, watching videos, or a combination? Do you tend to use the same sources of information? What new ones can you try?