This week’s assignment from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain continues from where my last one left off. The instructions were to take the outline of my hand and draw it on the page by focusing my attention how the lines interacted with each other and with the quadrant markings instead of naming what it is I was drawing (a finger, fingernail). The goal of the exercise was to shift the brain from it’s normal M.O. of seeing objects and giving them names (left-brain) over to a more spatial, right-brain mode of visualizing.
I found it interesting how hard it was initially to make the switch. My brain was trying to be time-saving and efficient and, when I looked at the picture and moved my pencil to the paper, my brain flashed the word “finger”. I struggled to push the word aside and just concentrate on the lines, but my brain insisted, “It’s a finger. Why look at it? Just draw. It’s a finger. You know what a finger looks like. Draw a finger.”
The longer I fought to keep my brain in R-mode, however, the easier it became to stay there and the more information I as able to absorb. I noticed subtler details, contrast in areas caused by the light shining through my fingers, casting shadows on the palm of my hand. My fingernails, even in shadow, were lighter than the flesh around them. Instead of just drawing a finger, I was drawing what I was seeing as shapes and through spatial perception.
First, it tied back to some earlier drawings when we were asked to do a self-portrait and to draw someone from memory. Those drawings were very left-brain driven. We might all be snowflakes, but left-brain drawings show many similarities. Eyes look very similar because when my brain thinks “eyes”, it has a standard image representation for the word. Some larger, more distinctive features might be different across drawings. In my case, I drew my grandfather from memory, so my self-portrait had hair and my drawing of him had none except for the short edges of the monk’s halo visible near his ears. But our eyes were alike, our noses were the same shape, and not because we were related; it’s because drawing from the left-brain’s perspective pulls up the standard representation of whatever it is I am drawing. I could have drawn George Clooney and we’d have similar features but, again, not just because we’re both dashingly handsome.
My second thought was how this applies to the world outside of drawing. Operating in L-mode, our brain likes to name things to save us time in analyzing our environment. It’s also how most of us were brought up, reinforced by our education system. Left-brain operating is great for fight-or-flight determinations and analytical operations, but maybe not for being creative, and certainly not for dealing with other people. Left brain is order-based, practical, and safe. Right brain uses feeling, imagination, and is prone to risk-taking.
In my own relationships, I find that I am much more left-brained than I would ideally like to be. I pull from my autobiography and past experiences to apply labels and jump to conclusions about the situation. It feels safer than, well, feeling, and dealing with emotions and all those scary right-brain traits.
Both sides of the brain have their strengths and a part to play in a larger, richer, more fulfilling life. But to take advantage of both sides, we need to be open to letting the less dominant one in, and living our lives with a better balance of both.