You Don’t Need to be an “Artist” to Integrate the Arts into your Study Circle

Shadow puppet show in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

This article is for those of you who either feel “terrified”, or maybe just simply “at a loss” when it comes to integrating the arts into your study circles. You know that we are urged by the Ruhi Institute to “include artistic endeavours in the activity of every study circle”, and that we should not think of these endeavours as “entertainment or as an extracurricular activity…but as an essential element enhancing the spiritual development of the participants”.1

But how do we do this when we don’t feel necessarily musical, artistic, or dramatic?

Crowdsource

The good news: as a tutor, it’s not about you! Or your artistic skills (or conceived lack thereof)! You have the spiritual bounty to accompany your participants, but not to parent them or provide entertainment. Crowdsource your study circles’ creative side. Don’t hesitate — start at your first gathering by having the participants read some quotes about the importance of the arts in the study circle, discussing some relevant questions that you’ve sourced from Unit 3, Section 1 of Book 7 about the arts. Have the participants share what types of creative outlets they do or enjoy. If no one feels they have any “experience”, expand the brainstorm to include what types of art they see in their community and surrounds, or people they may know—these people may end up serving as future “guest artists”! Once you have a list of your study circles artistic skills and resources, you can discuss with your group about how these can be integrated into your study.

Does it Reinforce the Ideas Being Covered in the Material? How?

Ask yourself and others this question when accompanying study circle participants, or guest artists, and in planning your artistic endeavours. Some material in the book you are studying may lend itself more easily to a visual arts project, song, or drama. Other times, you may feel challenged to integrate something artistic into a particular section of your study. By continually asking this question, you can work toward ensuring the coherence of your study, service, and artistic efforts—and avoid undertaking activities that study circle participants feel are merely extracurricular, or even worse, a waste of time.

Go Back to Basics

The Universal House of Justice stated in its letter of 12 December 2011:

…new elements of culture will evolve over time as people hailing from every human group, inspired by the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, give expression to patterns of thought and action engendered by His teachings, in part through artistic and literary works. It is with such considerations in mind that we welcome the decision of the Ruhi Institute, in formulating its courses, to leave for the friends to address locally issues related to artistic activity….We long to see, for instance, the emergence of captivating songs from every part of the world, in every language, that will impress upon the consciousness of the young the profound concepts enshrined in the Baha’i teachings.

We’ve all experienced being in a study circle that just happens to have a master storyteller, professional visual artist, or the one person in the community who isn’t afraid to lead others in song. What a relief! We sit back and let those friends add to our study circles artistic side, checking the “arts in study circle” box off in our heads. Or, we’ve been in a study circle where every single person swears they’ve never even so much as drawn a stick figure, or hummed along with music in the privacy of their own room. So, the idea of creating artistic, literary works, or “captivating songs” can seem just a bit out of reach.

Luckily, and probably not just by chance, although the Institute has “[left] for the friends to address locally issues related to artistic activity”, this is not to say that the existing Institute materials themselves are devoid of songs, drama, stories, and quotes ripe with imagery. Elements of any book can be integrated to enhance the experience of another, no matter whether it’s a “preview of things to come”, or serves as a “review”. Songs from Book 3’s Childrens Class materials can be taught and sung in your Book 1, for example, and can serve as a great way to introduce the idea early on that Book 1 is part of a series of courses, and provides the base for future services to be undertaken (like a children’s class). Stories from Book 4 can be artfully integrated into the study of other books as well, with just a bit of preparation by the tutor or participant to find an appropriate section in which to share it. Use the artistic resources already embedded in the institute not only to lay the groundwork for future creative works, but to familiarize the participants with the content and action components of other books in the Institute.

Record and Reflect

Each study circle you tutor will be a learning experience, so don’t lose that learning to the wind! Write it down. Record briefly, and soon after each section, whatever you think will be helpful to you in future. I’ve found it helpful not only to record attendance and sections covered (to facilitate “makeups”), but also what the artistic activity was, what section it was related to, and who facilitated it. This is helpful for future study circles, when you want to suggest “that cool arts project so-and-so did with us”, but can’t remember the details well enough to facilitate the same activity yourself. If it’s recorded (with dates!), you will be able to find what you’re looking for, or at least know who to ask.

View the few minutes you take to record and reflect on your activities through the different books and throughout time as a part of becoming a well prepared human resource at the grassroots.

Art is, Simply, Everywhere

Abdu’l-Baha says:

It is natural for the heart and spirit to take pleasure and enjoyment in all things that show forth symmetry, harmony and perfection.2

Art is, simply, everywhere. And all people, whether they consider themselves “artistic”, “creative” or “not”, have experienced the pleasure of seeing or experiencing something beautiful. By expanding our definition of art to include this natural impulse and attraction, we can rest assured that even our simplest efforts to “include artistic endeavours in the activity of every study circle” can become, in themselves, works of art.


  1. The Ruhi Sequence of courses, Book 7, Section 1, Palabra Publications []
  2. cited in The Importance of the Arts in promoting the Faith, no. 24, p.11 []

About the Author

Melanie King Dollie

Melanie is a Californian Baha’i and creative at heart with a background in printmaking and cultural anthropology. She has lived in Latin America, Israel, and Southern China, and is currently living in Sydney, Australia, where she stays productive by working on painting, illustration, and web design projects.

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Discussion 3 Comments

  1. Love this article! Thanks for encouraging everyone to use the arts more! In case you haven’t seen this quote from the International Teacher Centre, I think you’ll love it:

    “The Five Year Plan ushers in a new stage in our efforts to promote the arts in the life of the Cause. As with all other aspects of the expansion and consolidation work, the requirements of the time call on us to be more systematic in the use of the arts. They should not be considered simply an embellishment to our programs or an afterthought in our planning. Rather they must become an integral part of our teaching plans and community life. The arts have a vital role to play in the process of entry by troops.” ~ ITC, 5 Nov 2001.

    There are three words that I love in that quote:
    1) Arts are not an EMBELLISHMENT (i.e., not a decorative detail or feature added to something to make it more attractive);
    2) Arts need to become and INTEGRAL part… (necessary to make a whole complete; essential or fundamental);
    3) Arts have a VITAL role to play (necessary to the existence, continuance, or well-being of something; indispensable; essential).

    I think this quote shows the importance of using the arts in all our activities! 🙂

  2. Great article Mel! The crowdsource idea is so powerful for our society where art is left to “experts” to “perform”, rather than for a community to live. Having study circles where people aren’t afraid to express themselves artistically is (I think) part of building a community characterized by kindness, courage and creativity.

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