Trevor's Reviews > The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
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Aug 13, 10

bookshelves: education

I’ve just finished reading a A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future – essentially a series of book reviews on books the author found interesting and in which he hopes to be able to draw together ideas in those books into a bit of an overarching theory. He wasn’t quite successful, but he did remind me of this book and that has to be a good thing.

I read this book about ten years ago at a dark time in my life when I had just separated and moved out from the ex-wife. I had never been any good at drawing and generally hated books that went on about the right brain / left brain distinction – so I’ve no idea why I picked this up. But I did pick it up and almost immediately became fascinated. You see, it diagnosed my problem with drawing in the first couple of pages and then gave me clear and competent instruction into how to make me a better drawer.

For years at Primary and High School I had sat in art classes and learnt next to nothing. I wasn’t exactly the naughtiest boy in the class, I would sit and do whatever was asked of me, but all of my ‘art’ was pitifully bad. Like getting a dyslexic to read Shakespeare aloud for the class, there was something cruel in putting a pencil or paint brush into my hand.

The problem was no one ever told me that you need to draw what you see – that is, literally what you see, not what you think you see. When we are kids we learn to draw ‘symbols’ of things. We draw triangles for noses and spread out heart shapes for mouths. But these symbols are not what people actually have. People have real eyes and real chins, not a collection of symbols. Just learning that, and that alone, was enough to change the way I drew. The point wasn’t to draw mouths and ears, it was to draw lines and shade and shapes.

The other thing this book really taught me was the idea of flow. That being totally engaged in something is about living outside of time. I’m never going to spend enough time drawing to become a good drawer, but this book taught me that becoming a good drawer isn’t something that is genetically beyond me (something I pretty much assumed must have been the case previously). It taught me that the beauty of drawing is in how lost one becomes while drawing – as one does when writing poetry or extended prose. Time melts away. The point of drawing is to melt time, not really to produce great drawings.

And this book taught me how to look. It made trips to the art gallery so much more interesting and worthwhile.

The drawing exercises in this book should be virtually compulsory in schools. As a child who would, when asked to draw, scribble something tiny in the upper corner of the page – someone afraid of the momentum of lines (something I’m still afraid of) this book was like a light being turned on in a very dark room I had spent a lifetime stumbling around in. For years afterwards I would sit in meetings drawing my left hand. Like I said, Art teachers should be using this book as a matter of course. If you can’t draw a face without blushing, please, read this book – it will show you what the kids at school who could draw worked out on their own and why, without being shown, you never really had a chance of learning.
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Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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notgettingenough The worst thing is that it is like sport. When you are in primary school being able to draw is so much more important than what you are like at the stuff that actually should have counted...I was SO envious of the ones who could draw.

I've never recovered from the trauma. About fifteen years ago people kept asking me to dinner parties and putting me next to artists. I can't even draw stick people. It was awful. I was single. They were all single. I had two choices. (1) learn to draw (2) unsingle myself. It was a no-brainer...


message 2: by Trevor (last edited Aug 13, 2010 05:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trevor There was a time when I would have thought the phrase, 'learn to draw' would have been like saying 'learn to fly'. Really easy if you were a bird, somewhat more difficult if you are human. Art and sport hold the same sorts of humiliations - there are those who can and those who can't and the differences are so obvious as to be not worth even mentioning. Now I think back on my sport and art teachers with a certain loathing. They ought to have been paid to encourage kids to find the joy in sport and art - but really they did the exact opposite (at least for me). Reading this book taught me that I might have had skills in art - after reading it I felt like someone who had never done ten pin bowling before getting straight strikes the first time they played the game, suddenly I didn't have the 'I just can't do art' excuse anymore. Now that I know the joy that comes from drawing I struggle to know why I don't do it more often.


notgettingenough Trevor wrote: "There was a time when I would have thought the phrase, 'learn to draw' would have been like saying 'learn to fly'. Really easy if you were a bird, somewhat more difficult if you are human. Art an..."

Very inspirational....and although I said it was a no brainer, I can see in retrospect I went the wrong way. Learning to draw would have been better!

I totally agree with you re the teachers. I'm not sure if that was partly because they didn't have proper training back them. The art and sport 'teachers' were there because they were good at art and sport, not because they were good teachers. I guess it made sense they would despise those who couldn't do what came 'naturally' to others...


notgettingenough The best thing that happened to me in sport at school was being a good musician. My hands were considered Valuable - though, interestingly, music wasn't even a curriculum subject like art and sport, strange that - and if I managed to get one of them knocked just so I could take a few weeks off.

Mind you to be fair, I was completely utterly talentless at sport and art, so I don't think I lost a career or something.


notgettingenough PS: I'm playing bridge online as I write, trying to keep my eyse open, we are getting our little red wagon fixed right up and I'm having a change of heart. I want to take up drawing. It's gotta be better than this.


Trevor No, I don't think I missed out on a career either.


notgettingenough The other thing is, I do think there were teachers of proper subjects who were pretty awful to those that didn't get it too, but this is much less likely as they did have a moral duty which art and sports 'teacher's didn't - in practice, at least.


message 8: by Tina (new)

Tina Titcombe Hi Bro, I was going to ask to borrow this book the next time I see you but the way the dogs like to chew your books I think I'll just go buy it myself. I have learnt over time that once you set your mind to doing something you can do it, you don't have to do it well but just trying is the key.


Trevor I borrowed it from the library, but I've been thinking of getting a copy to use at school - well, and because I know how hungry your dogs get.


message 10: by Tina (new)

Tina Titcombe Yes they don't discriminate between your books or library books so I think I'll buy it.


Trevor Next time you are down we will go around to a second hand bookshop that will probably have a copy. Syber's books has a copy, http://www.sybersbooks.com.au/ for $17.50 and the book depository have a new copy for seventy cents more...


message 12: by Tina (new)

Tina Titcombe Cool


Larry Same here, Dan Pink got me onto Drawing on the Right Side of the brain, and now . . .. . life is no longer the same.


message 14: by Miriam (new)

Miriam The problem was no one ever told me that you need to draw what you see – that is, literally what you see, not what you think you see. When we are kids we learn to draw ‘symbols’ of things.

My art teachers were always trying to make me draw things in that stupid "symbolic" way -- I remember best them telling us to draw a tree that looked liked a cloud with two lines under it (you know, basically like this:
)
even though where we lived was all pine and eucalyptus and the occasional willow, none of which resemble that at all.


Trevor I love the idea of a cloud with lines holding it to the ground. I've been thinking about this stuff a lot lately - it's sideways related to my thesis and other stuff I've been reading. How do we learn we can't draw? It is much the same question as how do kids learn they can't read? I suspect what people think reading (and drawing) are 'really' about is quite different from what they are actually about.

Someone said - and I can't remember at all where I heard this now, but it has stuck with me all the same - that Australian trees are trees in negative - dark leaves and white trunks and they made exactly the same comment about the kinds of trees they were being asked to draw as symbols completely unrelated to their experience. Although, really, it is a bit odd that it is so urgent that we might need to learn how to symbolically represent trees from such a young age. Mum, dad, house, sun, cloud, tree - the basic constituents of a happy childhood, I guess.

One of my teachers once told me that she got the whole way through primary school without ever realising that stick figures were meant to be representations of people. This seems almost impossible to believe, but her point was that things that seem transparently obvious are often the most dangerous things of all. Like your - 'why is the cloud green and how have they stuck it to the ground? Shouldn't they be trying to do something to make it nice and white again?'


message 16: by Miriam (new)

Miriam This is what Magritte was criticizing with his "This is Not a Pipe," right? Teaching children to conflate representation with reality?

I once jokingly drew a landscape with a tree, cloud, and sheep that were all identical.

Personally, I think everyone can draw. Just, some people can draw things that come out the way the looked in their heads, and the rest of us can't.


Trevor Oh, that's interesting - I guess that is what he was saying. Hadn't really thought about it until now. I'll need to use that, as I'm becoming a little obsessed with the idea that our metaphors do a lot to confuse us.

I really, really love the idea of your landscape. I might 'borrow' that idea too.


message 18: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine this is interesting. I've never read any book on drawing, but I've always *known* that you have to draw what you see, not what you think you see. Consequence is that I've always managed to draw and paint -- not exceptionally well -- but decently (I think to do it well requires patience and practice). On the other hand I do not think it has anything to do with my left-handedness. I was the sort of boring student who averaged As in subjects (but never any *particularly* spectacular grades in any of them!) in school, and it didn't seem to make a difference whether I did maths, biology, drawing, or history, I would score 70-80 on average. Then when I got to uni and entered science to do biology for my basic degree, I did ok -- switched to lit -- I did exceptionally well -- but certainly I AM NOT ambidextrous.... and if the left-right brain thing is as they say, then surely I would have some problems on the words side, no? he sounds like a bit of a crank to me.


Trevor Oh, the left-right brain thing is grossly overstated, no question. But really this is used as a metaphor and other than the metaphorical implications (you know, doing 'right brained stuff' involves 'creativity' rather than the 'symbolic stuff' left brained representations bring with them) there isn't really any link to handedness, say.

I think the supposed link to left and right brain, like the supposed link to male and female brains and abilities, as you say, can be more of a hindrance than a help. All the same, as someone who did learn to draw by symbols and therefore never learnt to draw at all, I still have a lot of time for this book.


message 20: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine do not think it's a metaphor at all. metaphor works by insisting on equating 2 completely different objects in order to force an analogical comparison --> X is Y => X strongly has the characteristics of Y. The difference between metaphor and simile is the amount of emphasis -- metaphor is stronger due to the equivalence.

in most cases, X would be an unknown variable whereas Y would have some sort of (socio-cultural) value. So, Andy is a pig (metaphor). We do not know what Andy is like, but the connotations of 'pig' in (standard Br., US, Aussie, Canadian) english are pretty clear. So 'pig' gives us some information about the characteristics of Andy.

I do not see any sort of *metaphorical* value b/w left and right brain and logic/ creativity etc. One is associated with the other, but there is not any equivalence. You can say that the right brain REPRESENTS creativity, but NOT that the right brain IS creative. so the value here would be more symbolic than metaphorical.... http://www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/articl...

in any case I do not think that it is symbolic either. i think that too many people really believe in this shite. 'scientific determinism' or whatever, of course, until the science changes -- just as Victorians used to believe smaller skull sizes for women = dumber


Trevor Yes, you are right, I have used metaphor too loosely - it is more Lakoff's integrated cognitive models than his metaphors. But we do love binaries - so left brain = analytical = logical = male and right brain = creative = intuitive = female - and then we have ways of attaching appropriate value to each set of binaries. I still think this fits with Lakoff's view of metaphor in a way - something concrete (grey mass of stuff that comes in halves) used to refer to something abstract - but your point is well made.


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