Use your brain

About 20 years ago I taught myself to draw after reading an interesting book – Drawing on the right side of the brain, by Betty Edwards. The book has been revised 3 times since it was published in 1979 and is now fairly widely accepted by artists and teachers as a legitimate way to think about drawing, but I am guessing that it was fairly left-field when it first came out. The method of teaching is largely based on Nobel prize-winning work by Dr Roger W Sperry, an eminent neuropsychologist and neurobiologist.  It focuses on the lateralisation of verbal, analytic and sequential functions that for most people are mainly located in the left hemisphere of the brain, and the visual, spatial and perceptual functions, mainly located in most people’s right hemispheres.  Many activities involve both modes, but a few activities require mainly one mode, without interference from the other.  Drawing is one of these activities.  But how to bypass the verbal left mode system which often dominates, to allow the sub-dominant right mode non-verbal system to come forward and perform without interference?  One way to achieve this is to present the brain with a task that the dominant verbal  L-mode will turn down as ”too difficult” or “too odd”. A prime example is upside down drawing. If presented with an inverted image to copy, the dominant L-hand system bows out and allows the non-verbal but visual mode to take on the task. At the weekend, I saw a demonstration of a left-handed person writing upside down and back to front – seemingly without having to think about it, whereas if I attempted such a trick it would necessitate enormous concentration to over-ride what I already know. Clearly, our brains are differently wired.

Does Betty Edward’s drawing system work?  Surprisingly, it seems  to.  It will not teach you to be a great artist, but it does enable you to develop the perceptual skills necessary to render an accurate pencil drawing of an object, for example a chair. One over-ride trick is to concentrate on the non-chair elements, the negative spaces rather than the positive chair bits. Lo and behold, a chair emerges from the shadows of the spaces.

I am tempted to think that there is an application here to learning other things. If the brain has 2 hemispheres and the skills for learning certain things are concentrated in one particular hemisphere, one needs to access that part of the brain as smoothly as possible and without distracting static. When I attempt to ring  a method  I seem to rely on analytic and sequential functions, yet I am also encouraged to employ visual, spatial and perceptual functions. They do not work smoothly together for me, so if I can block out the distracting right hand messages, it allows me to better focus on the left hand input. Hence, if I don’t attempt to look and “see” what is going on but just rely on the pattern and sequence ( ie places), it appears to be  a more fruitful path to follow than any attempt to blend all the information coming at me and make sense of it. Everyone‘s brain works differently, but I suspect that I am rather verbal/analytic heavy and it plays to my strengths to stop looking and start relying on the pattern to make progress.  Of course, in an ideal world, everything would mesh together and support each other, but not all of us have ideal brains and I think mine is particularly unbalanced. That part which allows me to use language, apply rules etc is a  bully and wants to dominate.  Whereas, the perceptual part that might see ropes and interpret what they are doing, etc is a wimp, easily over-whelmed and gives up.

 Perhaps , when I ring, I over-rely on the left side of my brain, or perhaps it is all a load of old rubbish. Would I do better if I stood on my head and performed upside down?  My analytic skills that insist on being in charge might bow out and not try to muscle in on my sub-dominant visual mode.

I think that all these things are worth considering because the more one understands the barriers to effective learning, the better placed one is to develop strategies to strengthen weaknesses and make it all function more smoothly. It makes sense to play to one’s strengths, however odd they may be, all the while hoping that one’s weaknesses will eventually be conquered.

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