New perspectives on learning

If I was to name the one thing that has had the most effect on how I understand learning and creativity, it would be the shift in how we understand the brain.

The persistent myth that pervaded my school years was that students were naturally inclined towards a given ability. For example, I was good at art, and so I drew and was encouraged to draw. It did not take many affirmations about my ability for me to persist at practicing those skills, enjoying more affirmation as I went. Likewise, by the time I was in secondary school, maths seemed to become more difficult, and as I enjoyed it less, I did less and became relatively worse at it. Despite my best efforts in year 12, I failed maths by 1%.

I have always wondered how much more effort it would have taken to increase my math result by a few percent to have passed. The answer does not lie in the efforts of that last year, rather in how I perceived myself and maths throughout my secondary school years. For, early in my life, I had come to believe that I was not good at maths, but I was good at art, and I behaved accordingly. That behaviour had a direct impact on the amount of time and focus I dedicated each skill. The pervading myth that one’s abilities are set in concrete from the beginning of our lives, dominated my self-image and therefore my learning. In many ways it dominated my education, which isn’t to say that there were not many hard-working teachers in my life, rather that the idea of being able to transform one’s abilities, one’s brain, was not available to us, nor had it been discovered yet.

Brain research of recent years has demonstrated that the brain is malleable and adaptable. I may have been inherently good at art, but I was not inherently bad at maths. I perhaps had not had the right exposure to maths early on, but I then came to believe I was bad at maths. This then influenced my behaviour which restricted the amount of focus and concentration that could have impacted the rewiring of my brain to be better at maths. I do remember trying, but I don’t remember often crossing the border between tedium and the exhilaration of learning maths. Interestingly, many years later, I found myself enjoying teaching maths in secondary schools, especially breaking it down for those that struggled with it. You may think it strange that I have also recently found enjoyment in doing some of my own accounting, when as an art student I used to make accountants the butt of my jokes.

Brain circuitry is made of connections between neurons called synapses. Having experiences, learning a new task or skill, all create new connections between neurons. Specific neuronal activity patterns will drive long-lasting increases or decreases in the strength of these connections. That means that it is exposure to a skill or task that cements one’s ability to do it and become good at it. So, the brain has a plasticity which it retains through our entire lives. The good news is, we can learn a new skill at any point in our lives! It is literally possible to rewire your brain. Which means that provided with the right amount of focus on the right task, you can learn anything.

In light brown, in the center of the image, a new adult-born neuron. The neurons in blue are synaptic partner neurons, which connect to the new neurons. The neurons in dark brown are pre-existing neurons. Credit: © Institut Pasteur/PM Lledo.

I’m currently putting this principle of brain malleability to the test in my learning Karate. I have limitations in flexibility and balance, which I have found discouraging. I had started to believe the lie that I had started Karate too late in life and perhaps I would never make it to blackbelt. Being busy and distracted by other responsibilities for a number of years, I would turn up to a class or two a week and would have forgotten a lot of my syllabus. Upon forgetting, I would then mentally shut down during training, which meant I then literally came to a complete stop as my mind would go into a mild state of panic. It seemed I was going to take a very long time to learn these skills and overcome my inclination to suddenly freeze. With the knowledge that the brain is malleable and that therefore it must be possible for me to improve in Karate I recently I decided to focus, and I have now dedicated about 10 to 15 minutes a day to practicing my syllabus. Although I can currently still only attend one training session a week, the result of this new focus is that in three weeks I have begun to retain and recall almost all of my syllabus and I am now ready to move on to new material. I am quite literally rewiring my brain and rebuilding my body which has also improved its stretch and balance in just three weeks. Whereas, I once thought black belt was unattainable for me, I now maintain a clear image and gaol of my attaining it.

Having watched many people start or return to creative practice, I know that the idea that you either can draw or you can’t is just a myth. Yes, occasionally I meet someone who seems to have a surplus of natural ability, but for the other 99% of us, it really is a matter of focus and working away at it. I should add that good training can reduce the take-up time of these new skills, but we can talk about that at the studio sometime.

Written by Marco Corsini

Dawn Csutoros – Back in Beijing

As part of my 9-month art journey this year, I am spending the first month in China.

My link with China began 30 odd years ago when I started learning tai chi and looking into Daoism. But it had never really crossed my mind to travel there. Then in 2007, I received a commission for the JW Marriott Hotel, Beijing. I followed this up with a six-week artist residency in Fei Jia Cun, an art village on the outskirts of Beijing. The artist villages in China are amazing! Imagine a community made up predominantly of artists, the studios generally take up the ground floor of a two storey space, bedroom traditionally upstairs. Kitchen, bathroom and studio downstairs. The atmosphere is supportive, with neighbouring artists visiting each other, discussing ideas for their work and meeting for drinks and openings.  The energy is at once open and enthusiastic; a genuine curiosity to explore new mediums and different techniques.

Dawn group pic
Group picture with Brian Wallace, Director of Red Gate Gallery, Nikolaus Ellrodt, Curator and Director of The Showroom Gallery, Dawn Csutoros, artist, local international artists, Geoff Raby.

2008 came with an invitation to exhibit at the Australian Embassy in Bejing, opened by the acting Ambassador Dr Geoff Raby and Bill Shorten. 2009/10/11 saw more exhibitions including a collaboration with fashion designers for the World Expo, along with travel across the Gobi desert, climbing sacred Taoist mountains and journeying along the silk road to Dunhuang which has the world’s largest collection of Buddhist cave paintings.  This inspired new works, using mediums such as Xuan paper, ink; even tea and black coal entered the work. The materials implicit to the culture were being embedded into my compositions.

In 2013, I was in Songzhuang Art Village for a couple of months and now here I am again, but this time, to exhibit a selection of works spanning 12 years and to stay on for a one month artist residency in 318 International  Art Village, Beijing. The studio space is amazing.  As an artist, it is such a wonderful experience to be able to travel and live in new surrounds, to immerse myself in a completely different culture and see with new eyes. Very inspiring, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Installation of exhibition at 318 International Art Village, Beijing. Exhibition opened by Counsellor for Public Affairs and Culture, Maree Ringland and former Australian Ambassador Geoff Raby.












I only arrived Tuesday afternoon and the opening was on Saturday in April and the exhibition will continue for one month.  A slight glitch as my tube of drawings decided to stay on an extra day or so in Singapore. However, Nikolaus Elrodt, the curator took it all in his stride and everything was ready on time. Maree Ringland, the cultural attaché opened the show. We started at 3pm and finished the night dancing ‘til 2am.

The next day, I have time to rest and reflect and find myself wondering how my next body of work will evolve.  Despite the pollution, hay fever, traffic and trials with internet, it’s great to be back in Beijing.

Next stop Malta!

To find out more about Dawn, you can visit,

A New Image for Melbourne Art Class

In case you hadn’t noticed, Melbourne Art Class has an exciting new look on the way!

The first step on our re-design journey has been our fantastic new logo, which is designed by one of our students: Zoe Coombe!

Melbourne Art Class is really proud of the strong sense of community we have with our students and we wanted to incorporate this into our overall image. Zoe has cleverly crafted a logo that is a representation of not only three simple shapes; the triangle square and circle; but also the perspective between shapes and the connection with the outer shape. This is representative of our community and an interaction between students and teachers.

Over the next few months you’ll be seeing quite a few changes on our website and social media. To introduce you all to the creative mind behind the design, we asked Zoe a few questions about what inspires her and why doing classes with Melbourne Art Class helps her creativity.

Zoe Coombe, Graphic Designer
Zoe Coombe, Graphic Designer

Thanks for all your efforts on our new logo Zoe. We’re really happy with how it incorporates  our community and so many shapes in just one heptagon!

Can you tell us what motivated you to become a graphic designer?

I just followed what made me happy. Art was my ‘fun’ class at school. During my final year, I went to the Uni open days and was always drawn to the art departments. After that, it was a natural progression that led me to design. 

What do you derive inspiration from when designing?

Fine art, other designers, books. Anything I come into contact with.

Is there a particular aesthetic that you lean towards and why?

Not really, my solutions are driven by the project and what communication best resolves the brief and reaches the correct audience.

What do enjoy most about designing?

The variation in projects. Designing gives me a chance to work on a broad range of projects and keep things interesting. 

Why did you begin classes at Melbourne Art Class?

Sometimes it is nice not to work to a brief or a tight deadline. Just to create for pleasure. It gives me a chance to let the creative juices flow and to generally make time for art. 

How do the classes influence or complement your design work?

It gives me a chance to brush up on techniques and learn from other artists. 



We’re really excited that Zoe has joined us for our re-design journey and look forward to seeing our vision come to fruition.