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Why Drawing and Creativity Are Important
Teaching adults to get back their creativity through drawing and painting
The importance of teaching creativity through art sooner rather than later-
I have taught k-12 throughout my teaching career, but my favorite grades to teach are the middle school years, grades 6 thru 9, for many years and enjoyed it immensely. What happens during these years artistically and creatively seems to set the trajectory for how and if art will have a presence in childrens lives into adulthood and beyond. During these crucial developmental years, students are no longer unaware, blissful, and proud of their unique creativity. They become more self-conscious, more self critical, and worst of all, many times they label themselves as not "artistic or creative"
When students enter these middle years they are at their most self critical. They lose confidence quickly if not encouraged and in art this basically means if we don't "catch" kids at this stage artistically and help nurture and encourage further growth, they seem to stop art all together sometimes to never pick it up again. From then on they become one of the people who "can't draw a straight line" . Have you ever heard that before? Ask 10 adults, and 9 will respond with those exact words.
I have a Japanese friend who I met when she was an exchange teacher at the school I was teaching in and she helped me to understand this cultural phenomenon of producing the non- creative student . In Japan, they teach Japanese arts as part of the curriculum. Everyone has a set of drawing/painting skills they must have mastered along with their other subjects. Drawing proficiently, like writing proficiently, is a skill to learn in Japan, not a magical talent some possess and others do not, as we tend to believe in the west. Art and drawing are considered equally as important as other subjects. When students get out, everyone can draw and paint with some level of mastery. Just as they can read, write and do arithmetic
. In Japan, although the individual's creativity is not of upmost importance, as it is in America, the skill of drawing is taught and learned and practiced. The irony here is that it is through that process of learning and practicing drawing that we exercise the creative, right hemisphere of the brain. In doing, we become creative. In the U.S., however, our "art" classes in elementary school teach little, if any, drawing or painting technique. Instead, in the regular elementary classroom, we tend to teach our little ones craft projects that everyone can succeed in, but that teach little other than fine motor skills. Our fine arts classes are limited to a couple of days a week and usually last 30 minutes, so although art teachers try to give a good foundation in art, it is often difficult to do. The reason it is difficult to do, is because during these very years, K-6, we are feeding our students a steady stream of symbolic, linear oriented, specific information. The skills and abilities that our left brain is responsible for, and unfortunately, because our left brain is pushier than our right brain, those skills win out hands down unless the right brain skills are practiced deliberately and regularly. More on this a bit later.
Why do I need to learn how to draw?
So what? Who needs to know how to draw, really. Or paint. It won't get them a better resume, or a better job. What's the point in teaching true techniques in the visual arts? And what is the point of encouraging proficiency in those techniques?
These questions bring me back to my adult drawing and painting classes. When I began teaching adults, I was worried my lessons would be too elementary for them. I expected them to be past the middle school age lessons in skill.
However, as I began teaching these adult classes, I found out I had overestimated their mastery level in the basics of art. The first drawing lesson was too difficult, the second one as well, so I started pulling my middle school lesson plans out and - low and behold- that's exactly where my 40, 50, 60 and 70 year olds were. These adults included business owners, nurses, a financial writer, a real estate agent, among others. These people were accomplished, educated, successful individuals who were stuck at about 6th grade in drawing and painting skills.
Left and right brain and how we develop and lose capacity for creativity.
So why does it matter that people learn to draw proficiently? The development of our linear, methodical, language and symbolic systems, which are primarily left brain skills, begin to take over just about the time we begin to talk, and have a strong grasp by the time children are 3 or 4 years old. Up until that time, it is documented that up to 75% of children have eidedic imagery, or photographic memory. As children get older, that percentage drops until it stops at about 3% of the adult population. This is because that up until the age of 3, children are dependent more on their right hemisphere, responsible for spacial relations, global thinking, relationships between things, recognition of the human face, and emotional development.
However, as children begin school, we immediatedly begin to drown out the global, creative side, and begin the symbol barrage. We teach specific, linear language and concepts. This is the left hemispheres strength, so it comes into play more significantly. Editing out extraneous information, using symbols for sounds, figures in math, critical thinking, categorizing. What happens to children's art during this time is interesting; they begin to move away from full body involvement in their art, excitedly telling you what these wonderful lines and shapes mean; to becoming more tight, and symbol driven, specific and critical of their art. So we begin to hear see a symbol for a man(stick figure), here is the symbol for my house(square with triangle on top), a tree( lollipop) , a sun (circle with lines coming out of it).
Lollipop trees - When the left hemisphere is strongly called upon, unless we continue to nurture, teach, and encourage right hemisphere skills, we begin to lose those more global, creative skills. We begin "seeing" with eyes dominated from the left brain.
A big part of the job of the left brain is editing, so we tend to "see" less and less of the world around us in it's honest form, and begin to "see" and therefore draw, in symbolism. This is why when you ask a class full of adults to draw a flower from memory, you get a center circle with radiating ovals coming out of it. The 12 year old or 50 year old, who, when asked to draw a face, simply draws the symbols he knows for the face. Large oval, two almonds at the top, slanting L for the nose, upwardly curving line at the bottom. See? The left hemisphere has done it's job. Editing, symbolic representation, finished.
Does it look like a face? A face is skin stretched out over peaks and valleys creating a depth of shading and highlights. Soft and hard parts protruding, and areas that recede to form hollows . Hair with sheen, texture and weight. Eyes that glisten, with folds of skin surrounding them. But guess what? Right brain has given up. It does not even try to do it's job anymore unless forced to. Left brain is the alpha, and it will take over every time unless it can't. The eyes will become almonds, the nose two lines with dots at the bottom. Lips become a line. If asked to do more than that, students suddenly become nervous, unsure. The left brain does not want to let go and will not make the transition easy.
The physician who draws like a 7 year old - So here is where we begin to teach adults. Adults who are frightened to try because they realize that their drawings are primitive and not what they truly see at all.
No one taught them the skills they needed to learn how to draw proficiently, so the 50 year old physician who comes to art class and recognizes her drawing is that of a 7 year old is embarrassed. That's why he hasn't taken art in 30 years. We did this person a disservice in his education in neglecting the right hemisphere of the brain. Creativity impacts every part of life, or not, if not nurtured. Problem solving skills are important in every line of work, and life. And being able to truly "see" - to truly SEE that friends face that you would like to draw, that tree with the light coming through it's leaves, the room you live in , the ocean.
Use it or lose it - But how do we teach the right side to take over and boot out the left ? We force the left give up. One way to do this is by taking a line drawing and making students copy it upside down. The left hemisphere can't make sense of what it is drawing, can't label because it doesn't recognize things upside down very well, so it allows the right to come in,; relationships, proportions, comparisons, space, shape, contour, etc. Oh, the right is in it's element now. However, the left brain backing out makes the person sitting there drawing upside down very uncomfortable. He/ she is not used to having to rely on the right hemisphere. They will doubt, worry, try to make sense of this mass of lines and shapes , until slowly, over a period of an hour or so, the person begins to lose the critical, linear left and starts to enjoy this meditative state that the right hemisphere is capable of bringing. Time seems to be of little importance, a sense of calmness and simultaneous energy takes over. It is a wonderful transition, and one we don't practice nearly enough. For more on practicing and becoming more creative: http://grinnin1.hubpages.com/_1f0tbzjtr9ejm/hub/How-can-I-be-more-creative
It is essential to learn to truly see. It is important for young and old, but if they have gotten old, it's not to late. Seeing, drawing and painting skills can be taught at any age. Creativity can be nurtured and strengthened and practiced through life And the more the right, creative side of you takes over, the better you see, the better you draw. Likewise the better you draw, the better you see, the more creative you will be.
A wonderful book to read on the science of left/right hemisphere and how to use it in teaching drawing is called "Drawing on the Right side of the Brain", by Betty Edwards. She describes in depth some of what I've discussed here, and there are many progressive lessons that show students work before and after the exercises to strengthen the right side of the brain.
If you are interested in getting started in creativity building skills, watercolor painting, and art in general:http://grinnin1.blogspot.com/2012/02/allowing-yourself-to-be-artist.html#links
See my paintings at http://www.ggwatercolor.com
Betty Edwards- Drawing on the right side of the brain site
- Learn to Draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
For people who are learning to draw, teaching drawing or want to enhance creativity, a theory and set of techniques with accompanying materials and classes.