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Posts Tagged ‘Betty Edwards

Seeing Past Childish Symbols

with 8 comments

Step 1: See the Template You’re Working from

I’ve been trying to learn to draw and Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has been particularly helpful. Edwards looked at why it is so many adults say they can’t draw, which is especially odd since nearly every child loves to draw. How did we move from love to incompetence? Edwards answers that by tracing our development as artists, and here is one milestone:

By around age five or six, children have developed a set of symbols to create a landscape. Again, by a process of trial and error, children usually settle on a single version of a symbolic landscape, which is endlessly repeated. (73)

As we age we become dissatisfied with those symbols but we have not worked out new ways to put on paper what we see. And so we give up, and our drawing gets stuck in that old symbolic system. Edwards provides a much richer discussion, but at least one result is that we must set aside our childish system of symbols to begin to see.

Which is not so simple.

BadlyDrawn02162015

I still start with a circle.

Not so simple because of the confusion that sets in as we try to translate real world scenes into a two-dimensional representations. To set aside the sun as a happy face in the upper right corner means I must look at how the sun reflects off, well, everything. To look at a face and see that—no, there is no outline—is off-putting. How to draw a face without starting with an oval?

This is why Edwards starts with learning to see as a precursor to learning to draw. In my 70+ days of drawing daily, learning to set aside my childish symbolic language has proved difficult. But the answer to seeing better and especially to seeing past the old symbols is to do things badly. And maybe do them badly for a long time. To do things so bad they are cringe-worthy. But that is the price one pays to learn.

I cannot help but think this life lesson and applies across the board. Learning to see and hear, and learning to form your own opinion and make your own representation applies universally. Growth from child to adult means you find new ways to interact with parents, so you set aside some (not all) the old relational cues. The ways we interact with colleagues and bosses must change as we take ownership for our work. Even the childhood symbols that directed our understanding of life purpose and how one knows God must be rejiggered. There is a template for romance we would do well to look at again. Nearly every part of life is helped by reexamination.

"Cutie Pie" + "Let's Read" seems like a good place to land.

“Cutie Pie” + “Let’s Read” seems like a good place to land.

But make a deal with yourself : be patient and give yourself time to move beyond the immediate confusion.

 

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Image credits, including dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

February 16, 2015 at 9:27 am

Give Your People Presence

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Is Drawing a Spiritual Discipline?

Betty Edwards, in her Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999) calls for a different way of seeing as a beginning point for drawing. In my 60+ days of producing a dumb sketch daily I can say with certainty that my seeing has been altered. I’m open to and actively looking for much more detail in ordinary life. In particular, in the back of my mind I spend my days looking for scenes or objects or people I can reproduce (badly) on paper. And I see far more detail in buildings and structures and postures and faces than I did two months ago.

Starting to see differently feels like a small victory.

Can a dumb sketch help you be present?

Can a dumb sketch help you be present?

Edwards has a long section on brain functionality, how the left brain works versus the right brain. I have a growing skepticism about the neatness of those two categories. I think there is some truth in the distinction. And the distinction works well for release from our typical analytical state into a more meditative zone of creativity. I’ve long depended on that zone for more creative writing assignments. But the research citations feel a bit dated and frankly I’m always a bit skeptical of forced black and white interpretations of complex physiology.

But this notion of sitting with stillness before a scene to observe, capture and (potentially) understand—it feels like a life skill that could and should translate into all sorts of different settings. Slowing to see and hear has begun to awaken all sorts of new thoughts in my brainpan. I find the practice encroaching on normal conversations, on meetings, on writing, on driving and even as I pray.

Especially as I pray.

I cannot help but wonder if learning how to observe, capture and (potentially) understand is a step toward being more present with all the beings in our lives.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

February 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

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