Source: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
First, I wish to welcome my new readers and to thank all those who have read this book in the past. It is you who make this twentieth-year edition possible by your loyal support. Over the past two decades, I have received many letters expressing appreciation and even affection. This shows, I think, that in this electronic age, books can still bring authors and readers together as friends. I treasure this thought, because I love books myself and count as friends authors I have never met except through their books.
Many people have contributed to this work. In the following brief acknowledgment, I wish to thank at least a few.
Professor Roger W. Sperry, for his generosity and kindness in discussing the original text with me.
Dr. J. William Bergquist, whose untimely death in 1987 saddened his family, friends, and colleagues. Dr. Bergquist gave me unfailingly good advice and generous assistance with the first edition of the book and with the research that preceded it.
My publisher,Jeremy Tarcher, for his enthusiastic support of the first, second, and now the third edition of the book.
My son, Brian Bomeisler, who has so generously put his skills, energy, and experience as a artist into revising, refining, and adding to these lessons in drawing. His insights have truly moved the work forward over the past ten years.
My daughter, Anne Bomeisler Farrell, who has been my best editor due to her understanding of my work and her superb language skills.
My closest colleague, Rachael Bower Thiele, who keeps everything on track and in order, and without whose dedicated help I’d have had to retire years ago.
My esteemed designer, Joe Molloy, who makes superb design seem effortless.
My friend Professor Don Dame, for generously lending me both his library of books on color and his time, thoughts, and expertise on color.
My editor at Tarcher/Putnam, Wendy Hubbert.
My team of teachers, Brian Bomeisler, Marka Hitt-Burns, Arlene Cartozian, Dana Crowe, Lisbeth Firmin, Lynda Greenberg, Elyse Klaidman, Suzanne Merritt, Kristin Newton, Linda Jo Russell, and Rachael Thiele, who have worked with me at various sites around the nation, for their unfaltering devotion to our efforts. These fine instructors have added greatly to the scope of the work by reaching out to new groups.
I am grateful to The Bingham Trust and to the Austin Foundation for their staunch support of my work.
And finally, my warmest thanks to the hundreds of students— actually, thousands by now—I have been privileged to know over the years, for making my work so rewarding, both personally and professionally. I hope you go on drawing forever.
Twenty years have passed since the first publication of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in July 1979. Ten years ago, in 1989, I revised the book and published a second edition, bringing it up to date with what I had learned during that decade. Now, in 1999, I am revising the book one more time. This latest revision represents a culmination of my lifelong engrossment in drawing as a quintessentially human activity.
How I came to write this book
Over the years, many people have asked me how I came to write this book. As often happens, it was the result of numerous chance events and seemingly random choices. First, my training and background were in fine arts—drawing and painting, not in art education. This point is important, I think, because I came to teaching with a different set of expectations.
After a modest try at living the artist’s life, I began giving private lessons in painting and drawing in my studio to help pay the bills. Then, needing a steadier source of income, I returned to UCLA to earn a teaching credential. On completion, I began teaching at Venice High School in Los Angeles. It was a marvelous job. We had a small art department of five teachers and lively, bright, challenging, and difficult students. Art was their favorite subject, it seemed, and our students often swept up many awards in the then-popular citywide art contests.
At Venice High, we tried to reach students in their first year, quickly teach them to draw well, and then train them up, almost like athletes, for the art competitions during their junior and senior years. (I now have serious reservations about student contests, but at the time they provided great motivation and, perhaps because there were so many winners, apparently caused little harm.)
Those five years at Venice High started my puzzlement about drawing. As the newest teacher of the group, I was assigned the job of bringing the students up to speed in drawing. Unlike many art educators who believe that ability to draw well is dependent on inborn talent, I expected that all of the students would learn to draw. I was astonished by how difficult they found drawing, no matter how hard I tried to teach them and they tried to learn.
I would often ask myself, “Why is it that these students, who I know are learning other skills, have so much trouble learning to draw something that is right in front of their eyes?” I would sometimes quiz them, asking a student who was having difficulty drawing a still-life setup, “Can you see in the still-life here on the table that the orange is in front of the vase?” “Yes,” replied the student, “I see that.” “Well,” I said, “in your drawing, you have the orange and the vase occupying the same space.” The student answered, “Yes, I know. I didn’t know how to draw that.” “Well,” I would say carefully, “you look at the still-life and you draw it as you see it.” “I was looking at it,” the student replied. “I just didn’t know how to draw that.” “Well,” I would say, voice rising, “you just look at it…” The response would come, “I am looking at it,” and so on.
Another puzzlement was that students often seemed to “get” how to draw suddenly rather than acquiring skills gradually. Again, I questioned them: “How come you can draw this week when you couldn’t draw last week?” Often the reply would be, “I don’t know. I’m just seeing things differently.” “In what way differently?” I would ask. “I can’t say—just differently.” I would pursue the point, urging students to put it into words, without success. Usually students ended by saying, “I just can’t describe it.”
In frustration, I began to observe myself: What was I doing when I was drawing? Some things quickly showed up—that I couldn’t talk and draw at the same time, for example, and that I lost track of time while drawing. My puzzlement continued.
One day, on impulse, I asked the students to copy a Picasso drawing upside down. That small experiment, more than anything else I had tried, showed that something very different is going on during the act of drawing. To my surprise, and to the students’ surprise, the finished drawings were so extremely well done that I asked the class, “How come you can draw upside down when you can’t draw right-side up?” The students responded, “Upside down, we didn’t know what we were drawing.” This was the greatest puzzlement of all and left me simply baffled.
During the following year, 1968, first reports of psychobiologist Roger W. Sperry’s research on human brain-hemisphere functions, for which he later received a Nobel Prize, appeared in the press. Reading Sperry’s work caused in me something of an Ah-ha! experience. His stunning finding, that the human brain uses two fundamentally different modes of thinking, one verbal, analytic, and sequential and one visual, perceptual, and simultaneous, seemed to cast light on my questions about drawing. The idea that one is shifting to a different-from-usual way of thinking/seeing fitted my own experience of drawing and illuminated my observation of my students.
Avidly, I read everything I could find about Sperry’s work and did my best to explain to my students its possible relationship to drawing. They too became interested in the problems of drawing and soon they were achieving great advances in their drawing skills.
I was working on my master’s degree in Art at the time and realized that if I wanted to seriously search for an educational application of Sperry’s work in the field of drawing, I would need further study. Even though by that time I was teaching full time at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, I decided to return yet again to UCLA for a doctoral degree. For the following three years, I attended evening classes that combined the fields of art, psychology, and education. The subject of my doctoral dissertation was “Perceptual Skills in Drawing,” using upside-down drawing as an experimental variable. After receiving my doctoral degree in 1976, I began teaching drawing in the art department of California State University, Long Beach. I needed a drawing textbook that included Sperry’s research. During the next three years I wrote Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
In the history of inventions, many creative ideas began with small sketches. The examples above are by Galileo, Jefferson, Faraday, and Edison. Henning Nelms, Thinking With a Pencil, New York: Ten Speed Press, 1981, p. xiv.
“Analog” drawings are purely expressive drawings, with no namable objects depicted, using only the expressive quality of line—or lines. Unexpectedly, persons untrained in art are able to use this language— that is, produce expressive drawings—and are also able to read the drawings for meaning. The drawing lessons of the seminar’s first segment are used mainly to increase artistic self-confidence and confidence in the efficacy of analog drawing.
Krishnamurti: ”So where does silence begin? Does it begin when thought ends? Have you ever tried to end thought?”
Questioner: “How do you do it?”
Krishnamurti: “I don’t know, but have you ever tried it? First of all, who is the entity who is trying to stop thought?”
Questioner: “The thinker.”
Krishnamurti: “It’s another thought, isn’t it? Thought is trying to stop itself, so there is a battle between the thinker and the thought…
Thought says, ’I must stop thinking because then I shall experience a marvelous state.’… One thought is trying to suppress another thought, so there is conflict. When I see this as a fact, see it totally, understand it completely, have an insight into it… then the mind is quiet. This comes about naturally and easily when the mind is quiet to watch, to look, to see.”
You Are the World, 1972
Corporate training seminars
My work with various corporations represents, I believe, one aspect of transfer of learning, in this instance, from drawing skills to a specific kind of problem solving sought by corporate executives. Depending on how much corporate time is available, a typical seminar takes three days: a day and a half focused on developing drawing skills and the remaining time devoted to using drawing for problem solving.
Groups vary in size but most often number about twenty-five.
Problems can be very specific (“What is_?” —a specific chemical problem that had troubled a particular company for several years) or very general (“What is our relationship with our customers?”) or something in between specific and general (“How can members of our special unit work together more productively?”).
The first day and a half of drawing exercises includes the lessons in this book through the drawing of the hand. The twofold objective of the drawing lessons is to present the five perceptual strategies emphasized in the book and to demonstrate each participant’s potential artistic capabilities, given effective instruction.
The problem-solving segment begins with exercises in using drawing to think with. These exercises, called analog drawings, are described in my book Drawing on the Artist Within. Participants use the so-called “language of line,” first to draw out the problem and then to make visible possible solutions. These expressive drawings become the vehicle for group discussion and analysis, guided, but not led, by me. Participants use the concepts of edges (boundaries), negative spaces (often called “white spaces” in business parlance), relationships (parts of the problem viewed proportionally and “in perspective”), lights and shadows (extrapolation from the known to the as-yet unknown), and the gestalt of the problem (how the parts fit—or don’t fit—together).
The problem-solving segment concludes with an extended small drawing of an object, different for each participant, which has been chosen as somehow related to the problem at hand. This drawing, combining perceptual skills with problem solving, evokes an extended shift to an alternate mode of thinking which I have termed “R-mode,” during which the participant focuses on the problem under discussion while also concentrating on the drawing. The group then explores insights derived from this process.
The results of the seminars have been sometimes startling, sometimes almost amusing in terms of the obviousness of engendered solutions. An example of a startling result was a surprising revelation experienced by the group working on the chemical problem. It turned out that the group had so enjoyed their special status and favored position and they were so intrigued by the fascinating problem that they were in no hurry to solve it. Also, solving the problem would mean breaking up the group and returning to more humdrum work. All of this showed up clearly in their drawings. The curious thing was that the group leader exclaimed, “I thought that might be what was going on, but I just didn’t believe it!” The solution? The group realized that they needed—and welcomed—a serious deadline and assurance that other, equally interesting problems awaited them.
Another surprising result came in response to the question about customer relations. Participants’ drawings in that seminar were consistently complex and detailed. Nearly every drawing represented customers as small objects floating in large empty spaces. Areas of great complexity excluded these small objects. The ensuing discussion clarified the group’s (unconscious) indifference toward and inattention to customers. That raised other questions: What was in all of that empty negative space, and how could the complex areas (identified in discussion as aspects of the work that were more interesting to the group) make connection with customer concerns? This group planned to explore the problem further.
The group seeking more productive ways of working together came to a conclusion that was so obvious the group actually laughed about it. Their conclusion was that they needed to improve communication within the group. Members were nearly all scientists holding advanced degrees in chemistry and physics. Apparently, each person had a specific assignment for one part of the whole task, but they worked in different buildings with different groups of associates and on individual time schedules. For more than twenty-five years they had never met together as a group until we held our three-day seminar.
I hope these examples give-at least some flavor of the corporate seminars. Participants, of course, are highly educated, successful professionals. Working as I do with a different way of thinking, the seminars seem to enable these highly trained people to see things differently. Because the participants themselves generate the drawings, they provide real evidence to refer to. Thus, insights are hard to dismiss and the discussions stay very focused.
I can only speculate why this process works effectively to get at information that is often hidden or ignored or “explained away” by the language mode of thinking. I think it’s possible that the language system (L-mode, in my terminology) regards drawing—especially analog drawing—as unimportant, even as just a form of doodling. Perhaps, L-mode drops out of the task, putting its censoring function on hold. Apparently, what the person knows but doesn’t know at a verbal, conscious level therefore comes pouring out in the drawings. Traditional executives, of course, may regard this information as “soft,” but I suspect that these unspoken reactions do have some effect on the ultimate success and failure of corporations. Broadly speaking, a glimpse of underlying affective dynamics probably helps more than it hinders.
The subject of how people learn to draw has never lost its charm and fascination for me. Just when I begin to think I have a grasp on the subject, a whole new vista or puzzlement opens up. This book, therefore, is a work in progress, documenting my understanding at this time.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I believe, was one of the first practical educational applications of Roger Sperry’s pioneering insight into the dual nature of human thinking—verbal, analytic thinking mainly located in the left hemisphere, and visual, perceptual thinking mainly located in the right hemisphere. Since 1979, many writers in other fields have proposed applications of the research, each in turn suggesting new ways to enhance both thinking modes, thereby increasing potential for personal growth.
During the past ten years, my colleagues and I have polished and expanded the techniques described in the original book. We have changed some procedures, added some, and deleted some. My main purpose in revising the book and presenting this third edition is to bring the work up-to-date again for my readers.
As you will see, much of the original work is retained, having withstood the test of time. But one important organizing principle was missing in the original text, for the curious reason that I couldn’t see it until after the book was published. I want to reemphasize it here, because it forms the overall structure within which the reader can see how the parts of the book fit together to form a whole.
This key principle is:
Drawing is a global or “whole” skill requiring only a limited set of basic components.
This insight came to me about six months after the book was published, right in the middle of a sentence while teaching a group of students. It was the classic Ah-ha! experience, with the strange physical sensations of rapid heartbeat, caught breath, and a sense of joyful excitement at seeing everything fall into place. I had been reviewing with the students the set of skills described in my book when it hit me that this was it, there were no more, and that the book had a hidden content of which I had been unaware. I checked the insight with my colleagues and drawing experts. They agreed.
Like other global skills—for example, reading, driving, skiing, and walking—drawing is made up of component skills that become integrated into a whole skill. Once you have learned the components and have integrated them, you can draw—just as once you have learned to read, you know how to read for life; once you have learned to walk, you know how to walk for life. You don’t have to go on forever adding additional basic skills. Progress takes the form of practice, refinement of technique, and learning what to use the skills for.
This was an exciting discovery because it meant that a person can learn to draw within a reasonably short time. And, in fact, my colleagues and I now teach a five-day seminar, fondly known as our “Killer Class,” which enables students to acquire the basic component skills of realistic drawing in five days of intense learning.
Please note that I am referring to the learning stage of basic realistic drawing of a perceived image. There are many other kinds of drawing: abstraction, nonobjective drawing, imaginative drawing, mechanical drawing, and so forth. Also, drawing can be defined in many other ways—by mediums, historic styles, or the artist’s intent.
Five basic skills of drawing
The global skill of drawing a perceived object, person, landscape (something that you see “out there”) requires only five basic component skills, no more. These skills are not drawing skills. They are perceptual skills, listed as follows:
One: the perception of edges
Two: the perception of spaces
Three: the perception of relationships
Four: the perception of lights and shadows
Five: the perception of the whole, or gestalt
I am aware, of course, that additional basic skills are required for imaginative, expressive drawing leading to “Art with a capital A.” Of these, I have found two and only two additional skills: drawing from memory and drawing from imagination. And there remain, naturally, many techniques of drawing—many ways of manipulating drawing mediums and endless subject matter, for example. But, to repeat, for skillful realistic drawing of one’s perceptions, using pencil on paper, the five skills I will teach you in this book provide the required perceptual training.
Those five basic skills are the prerequisites for effective use of the two additional “advanced” skills, and the set of seven may constitute the entire basic global skill of drawing. Many books on drawing actually focus mainly on the two advanced skills. Therefore, after you complete the lessons in this book, you will find ample instruction available to continue learning.
I need to emphasize a further point: Global or whole skills, such as reading, driving, and drawing, in time become automatic. As I mentioned above, basic component skills become completely integrated into the smooth flow of the global skill. But in acquiring any new global skill, the initial learning is often a struggle, first with each component skill, then with the smooth integration of components. Each of my students goes through this process, and so will you. As each new skill is learned, you will merge it with those previously learned until, one day, you are simply drawing—just as, one day, you found yourself simply driving without thinking about how to do it. Later, one almost forgets about having learned to read, learned to drive, learned to draw.
In order to attain this smooth integration in drawing, all five component skills must be in place. I’m happy to say that the fifth skill, the perception of the whole, or gestalt, is neither taught nor learned but instead seems to emerge as a result of acquiring the other four skills. But of the first four, none can be omitted, just as learning how to brake or steer cannot be omitted when learning to drive.
In the original book, I believe I explained sufficiently well the first two skills, the perception of edges and the perception of spaces. The importance of sighting (the third skill of perceiving relationships) however, needed greater emphasis and clearer explanation, because students often tend to give up too quickly on this complicated skill. And the fourth skill, the perception of lights and shadows, also needed expanding. Most of the content changes for this new edition, therefore, are in the last chapters.
’’You have two brains: a left and a right. Modern brain scientists now know that your left brain is your verbal and rational brain; it thinks serially and reduces its thoughts to numbers, letters, and words…
Your right brain is your non-verbal and intuitive brain; it thinks in patterns, or pictures, composed of ’whole things,’ and does not comprehend reductions, either numbers, letters, or words.”
From The Fabric of Mind, by the eminent scientist and neurosurgeon Richard Bergland. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985, p. 1.
A basic strategy for accessing R-mode
In this edition, I again reiterate a basic strategy for gaining access at conscious level to R-mode, my term for the visual, perceptual mode of the brain. I continue to believe that this strategy is probably my main contribution to educational aspects of the “right-hemisphere story” that began with Roger Sperry’s celebrated scientific work. The strategy is stated as follows:
In order to gain access to the subdominant visual, perceptual R-mode of the brain, it is necessary to present the brain with a job that the verbal, analytic L-mode will turn down.
For most of us, L-mode thinking seems easy, normal, and familiar (though perhaps not for many children and dyslexic individuals). The perverse R-mode strategy, in contrast, may seem difficult and unfamiliar—even “off-the-wall.” It must be learned in opposition to the “natural” tendency of the brain to favor L-mode because, in general, language dominates. By learning to control this tendency for specific tasks, one gains access to powerful brain functions often obscured by language.
All of the exercises in this book, therefore, are based on two organizing principles and major aims. First, to teach the reader five basic component skills of drawing and, second, to provide conditions that facilitate making cognitive shifts to R-mode, the thinking/seeing mode specialized for drawing.
In short, in the process of learning to draw, one also learns to control (at least to some degree) the mode by which one’s own brain handles information. Perhaps this explains in part why my book appeals to individuals from such diverse fields. Intuitively, they see the link to other activities and the possibility of seeing things differently by learning to access R-mode at conscious level.
Color in drawing
Chapter Eleven, “Drawing on the Beauty of Color,” was a new chapter in the 1989 edition, written in response to many requests from my readers. The chapter focuses on using color in drawing—a fine transitional step toward painting. Over the past decade, my teaching staff and I have developed a five-day intensive course on basic color theory, a course that is still a “work in progress.” I am still using the concepts in the chapter on color, so I have not revised it for this edition.
I believe the logical progression for a person starting out in artistic expression should be as follows:
From Line to Value to Color to Painting
First, a person learns the basic skills of drawing, which provide knowledge of line (learned through contour drawing of edges, spaces, and relationships) and knowledge of value (learned through rendering lights and shadows). Skillful use of color requires first of all the ability to perceive color as value. This ability is difficult, perhaps impossible, to acquire unless one has learned to perceive the relationships of lights and shadows through drawing. I hope that my chapter introducing color in drawing will provide an effective bridge for those who want to progress from drawing to painting.
Finally, I am retaining the brief section on handwriting. In many cultures, writing is regarded as an art form. Americans often deplore their handwriting but are at a loss as to how to improve it. Handwriting, however, is a form of drawing and can be improved. I regret to say that many California schools are still using handwriting-instructional methods that were failing in 1989 and are still failing today. My suggestions in this regard appear in the Afterword.
In a conversation with his friend Andre Marchand, the French artist Henri Matisse described the process of passing perceptions from one way of looking to another:
“Do you know that a man has only one eye which sees and registers everything; this eye, like a superb camera which takes minute pictures, very sharp, tiny—and with that picture man tells himself:
’This time I know the reality of things,’ and he is calm for a moment. Then, slowly superimposing itself on the picture, another eye makes its appearance, invisibly, which makes an entirely different picture for him.
“Then our man no longer sees clearly, a struggle begins between the first and second eye, the fight is fierce, finally the second eye has the upper hand, takes over and that’s the end of it. Now it has command of the situation, the second eye can then continue its work alone and elaborate its own picture according to the laws of interior vision. This very special eye is found here,” says Matisse, pointing to his brain.
Marchand didn’t mention which side of his brain Matisse pointed to.
Matisse on Art, 1973
A recent article in an educational journal summarizes neuroscientists’ objections to “brain-based education.”
“The fundamental problem with the right-brain versus left-brain claims that one finds in educational literature is that they rely on our intuitions and folk theories about the brain, rather than on what brain science is actually able to tell us. Our folk theories are too crude and imprecise to have any scientific predictive or instructional value. What modern brain science is telling us—and what brain-based educators fail to appreciate—is that it makes no scientific sense to map gross, unanalyzed behaviors and skills—reading, arithmetic, spatial reasoning—onto one brain hemisphere or another.”
But the author also states: “Whether or not [brain-based] educational practices should be adopted must be determined on the basis of the impact on student learning.”
—John T. Bruer “In Search of… Brain-Based Education,”
Phi Delta Kappan, May 1999, p. 603
“The artist is the confidant of nature. Flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.”
— Auguste Rodin
An empirical basis for my theory
The underlying theory of this revised edition remains the same: to explain in basic terms the relationship of drawing to visual, perceptual brain processes and to provide methods of accessing and controlling these processes. As a number of scientists have noted, research on the human brain is complicated by the fact that the brain is struggling to understand itself. This three-pound organ is perhaps the only bit of matter in the universe—at least as far as we know—that is observing itself, wondering about itself, trying to analyze itself, and attempting to gain better control of its own capabilities. This paradoxical situation no doubt contributes—at least in part—to the deep mysteries that still remain, despite rapidly expanding scientific knowledge about the brain.
One question scientists are studying intensely is where the two major thinking modes are specifically located in the human brain and how the organization of modes can vary from individual to individual. While the so-called location controversy continues to engage scientists, along with myriad other areas of brain research, the existence in every brain of two fundamentally different cognitive modes is no longer controversial. Corroborating research since Sperry’s original work is overwhelming. Moreover, even in the midst of the argument about location, most scientists agree that for a majority of individuals, information-processing based primarily on linear, sequential data is mainly located in the left hemisphere, while global, perceptual data is mainly processed in the right hemisphere.
Clearly, for educators like myself, the precise location of these modes in the individual brain is not an important issue. What is important is that incoming information can be handled in two fundamentally different ways and that the two modes can apparently work together in a vast array of combinations. Since the late 1970s, I have used the terms L-mode and R-mode to try to avoid the location controversy. The terms are intended to differentiate the major modes of cognition, regardless of where they are located in the individual brain.
Over the past decade or so, a new interdisciplinary field of brain-function study has become formally known as cognitive neuroscience. In addition to the traditional discipline of neurology, cognitive neuroscience encompasses study of other higher cognitive processes such as language, memory, and perception. Computer scientists, linguists, neuroimaging scientists, cognitive psychologists, and neurobiologists are all contributing to a growing understanding of how the human brain functions.
Interest in “right brain, left brain” research has subsided somewhat among educators and the general public since Roger Sperry first published his research findings. Nevertheless, the fact of the profound asymmetry of human brain functions remains, becoming ever more central, for example, among computer scientists trying to emulate human mental processes. Facial recognition, a function ascribed to the right hemisphere, has been sought for decades and is still beyond the capabilities of most computers. Ray Kurzweil, in his recent book The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking, 1999) contrasted human and computer capability in pattern seeking (as in facial recognition) and sequential processing (as in calculation):
The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. With an estimated average of one thousand connections between each neuron and its neighbors, we have about 100 trillion connections, each capable of a simultaneous calculation. That’s rather massive parallel processing, and one key to the strength of human thinking. A profound weakness, however, is the excruciatingly slow speed of neural circuitry, only 200 calculations per second. For problems that benefit from massive parallelism, such a neural-net-based pattern recognition, the human brain does a great job. For problems that require extensive sequential thinking, the human brain is only mediocre, (p. 103)
In 1979, I proposed that drawing required a cognitive shift to R-mode, now postulated to be a massively parallel mode of processing, and away from L-mode, postulated to be a sequential processing mode. I had no hard evidence to support my proposal, only my experience as an artist and a teacher. Over the years, I have been criticized occasionally by various neuroscientists for overstepping the boundaries of my own field—though not by Roger Sperry, who believed that my application of his research was reasonable.
What kept me working at my “folk” theory (see the margin excerpt) was that, when put into practice, the results were inspiring. Students of all ages made significant gains in drawing ability and, by extension, in perceptual abilities, since drawing well depends on seeing well. Drawing ability has always been regarded as difficult to acquire, and has nearly always been additionally burdened by the notion that it is an extraordinary, not an ordinary, skill. If my method of teaching enables people to gain a skill they previously thought closed off to them, is it the neurological explanation that makes the method work, or is it something else that I may not be aware of?
I know that it is not simply my style of teaching that causes the method to work, since the hundreds of teachers who have reported equal success using my methods obviously have widely differing teaching styles. Would the exercises work without the neurological rationale? It’s possible, but it would be very difficult to persuade people to accede to such unlikely exercises as upside-down drawing without some reasonable explanation. Is it, then, just the fact of giving people a rationale—that any rationale would do? Perhaps, but I have always been struck by the fact that my explanation seems to make sense to people at a subjective level. The theory seems to fit their experience, and certainly the ideas derive from my own subjective experience with drawing.
In each edition of this book I have made the following statement:
The theory and methods presented in my book have proven empirically successful. In short, the method works, regardless of the extent to which future science may eventually determine exact location and confirm the degree of separation of brain functions in the two hemispheres.
I hope that eventually scholars using traditional research methods will help answer the many questions I have myself about this work. It does appear that recent research tends to corroborate my basic ideas. For example, new findings on the function of the huge bundle of nerve fibers connecting the two hemispheres, the corpus callosum, indicate that the corpus callosum can inhibit the passage of information from hemisphere to hemisphere when the task requires noninterference from one or the other hemisphere.
Meanwhile, the work appears to bring a great deal of joy to my students, whether or not we fully understand the underlying process.
A further complication
One further complication of seeing needs mentioning. The eyes gather visual information by constantly scanning the environment. But visual data from “out there,” gathered by sight, is not the end of the story. At least part, and perhaps much of what we see is changed, interpreted, or conceptualized in ways that depend on a person’s training, mind-set, and past experiences. We tend to see what we expect to see or what we decide we have seen. This expectation or decision, however, often is not a conscious process. Instead, the brain frequently does the expecting and the deciding, without our conscious awareness, and then alters or rearranges—or even simply disregards—the raw data of vision that hits the retina. Learning perception through drawing seems to change this process and to allow a different, more direct kind of seeing. The brain’s editing is somehow put on hold, thereby permitting one to see more fully and perhaps more realistically.
This experience is often moving and deeply affecting. My students’ most frequent comments after learning to draw are “Life seems so much richer now” and “I didn’t realize how much there is to see and how beautiful things are.” This new way of seeing may alone be reason enough to learn to draw.