Drawing and the paradigm of Division

the well between opposing forcesI invest a lot in preparation for my summer life drawing sessions. There is something meaningful about returning to this same challenge of mentoring the process of drawing. I love drawing as I have since I was a child, and I find in it a kind of nourishment that cannot be substituted by anything else.

But I am also inclined toward ideas. I spend more time in these workshops addressing ideas than I think is usual in a life-drawing class. It is natural for drawing to be about doing, about action and seeing and practice, perhaps about some information like anatomy. And it is true that artists have a natural wholistic and doing orientation. Yet artists grow up in and are subject to the literal, logical, linear, left brain orientation of our culture and often find themselves fitting in poorly. That may be partly why they identify themselves as artists to begin with, in a kind of self-labeled separation.

Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am” can be juxtaposed with “Just Do It!” And we can talk about Mind / Body, Male / Female, Red States and Blue States, War / Peace, Spirit / Soul etc. If we look at what’s happening in Washington we get a taste of how divided we are and how poorly it serves us.

This left-brain / right-brain split is part of a paradigm of duality and division that is larger than our culture alone. It is one of the Oppositions we seem to make as a way to clarify and define, but we then fall into the trap of believing it’s real. And this does have a direct effect on learning to draw. There is a slew of books about making art using the qualities of the Right brain. Daniel Pink’s important book A Whole New Mind makes the case in an even wider context.

The paradigm of opposition is better understood as Tension, a state of readiness and creative energy. The two temptations are to compromise, that is find an average, median, or pastiche formed by the collapse from extremes or to fight it out on the spot and declare victory of one side over the other. Surely we are learning to see that these approaches also serve us poorly; they are impatient, short attention span solutions. In drawing, the parallel is to surrender, overwhelmed by the complexity of what we draw or get into an arms race of ever heavier attempts to force a closure, to dominate the drawing and to hurry it to an end.

The answer instead is a whole strategy of postponing both surrender and domination. This means to hold the tension, to keep the drawing going, to quiet the voice of judgment, to use any means to stay in a state of ignorance or perhaps better, Wonder, in which we lose ourselves in the process and the experience. The creativity, the delight, and the new answers, unforeseen, arise from the tension if it is held long enough. In a left brain oriented culture, this is often promoted by misdirecting the impatience, by finding ways to impede and neutralize the logical, verbal, conceptual side while feeding the Right. It is not to shift dominance, but to make a more useful and energizing balance.

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