“In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, then the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.”
– J. Krishnamurti
You Are The World
Lesson 1 – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
And that’s it, pure and simple, the first and most important section of the book is learning how to start drawing with the right side of the brain rather than the left side. The premise is quite simple in that the left side of the brain is the logical side. It’s interested in numbers, words, order and logic. And shortcuts. It gets bored easily if it’s not calculating and evaluating and it’s the left brain’s fault that we, according to Betty Edwards, all stop drawing at around 12 years old. The right-side of the brain, however, is the seat of our creativity. It doesn’t have words or language and doesn’t understand time. If the conditions are right then the left-side hands over control to the right-side and we can create.
Now, there has been a lot of research lately that suggests the whole idea of a clear cut division between the logical, orderly left brain and the arty, wordless, timeless right side of the brain just doesn’t exist. Brain functions can now be shown to take place in places across the whole brain, not specifically left- or right- brain areas. The current label for what we are talking about as ‘right-brain’ activity is possibly ‘flow’. Flow is said to occur when one gets so involved in whatever task one is doing that time and general awareness diminish as we are totally absorbed in whatever we are doing, like arriving home and not remembering the last part of the journey [more info]. That said, I think left-brain and right-brain are still good descriptions for whatever is occurring when the changeover occurs but if you prefer you can think of it as entering a flow state of mind.
Well that’s the theory, so how do we enter flow or switch to right-side brain work? Let’s dig a little deeper into what happened to our drawing ability when we reached 12 years old and see what clues that reveals. Looking at my pre-instruction drawings (shown in Part 4 of this series) it’s perhaps not fair to say I can’t draw, more perhaps that my drawing ability is that of a 12 year old. That is to say my drawing ability didn’t evolve past that of a 12 year old. Why is that? My writing, my maths and reading all continued evolving and growing as I studied them further to higher standards. Why did drawing stop?
Let’s explore what happened first. According to Betty Edwards, the left-brain began to identify and create ‘symbols’ for things I wanted to draw. In the pre-instruction self-portrait I saw a face and the left-brain said “ah, you need two eyes, don’t bother studying what they look like, I already know. Here’s two eyes on your pad.” And of course those two eyes were drawn as of when I last ‘saw’ and created my eye symbol, probably when I was around 12 years old and I have drawn eyes the same way ever since, and then having seen the eyes I usually draw I have decided I can’t actually draw. Self-limiting belief.
So let’s turn off the left-brain and its symbols and access the right-brain and its ability to see and recreate what is actually there. How do we do that? Exercise 1, copying pictures upside down. By copying pictures upside we immediately turn off the left-brain recognition ability and if it doesn’t recognise what it’s drawing then it can’t throw in a symbol and say “job done”. Rather it reluctantly hands over control to the right-brain to get on with what it considers a boring job of drawing what it sees. I say ‘boring job’ because there’s a time in between giving control to the right-brain and the right-brain entering that flow-state that the left-brain will pester you and keep shouting ‘Boring!’ in your inner ear trying to persuade you to let it take over control again. As long as you are aware this will happen you can ignore it and persevere until that flow-state is reached and you’ll find time disappears as you are wrapped up in the drawing process.
Remember my pre-instruction drawing of a person? Well here it is alongside the results of this first exercise.
Pre-instruction drawing of a person – what age ability would you say this is 9 years old? Perhaps 10? Drawn on 10th February 2016.
The first drawing of the first exercise:
So here’s a copy of a Picasso drawn just 2 days later. I’m not saying it’s great but in 2 days I think my drawing ability has progressed by several years.
And the final example also drawn on the same day:
Again, not a masterpiece but at least a more accurate representation of what I saw rather than the symbols my left-brain usually provides. Perhaps I can draw after all, what a discovery 30 years after receiving the message that I am not artistic and living with that belief.
And if all this is so simple, then why are we not all taught how to overcome the left-brain’s symbol creating tyranny and actually see and draw what is there. Why is it left to the lucky few that seem to be able to do this naturally, without instruction, who are called the gifted artists while the rest of us drop Art and become non-creatives, non-artists? Is it because the world of business doesn’t need too many artists? Let’s churn out worker bees out of the school system, suited for the office or factory. Heaven forbid we create a generation of people who can see the world about them for what it is rather than for the symbols they have been taught.