For as long as I remember, I have had an interest in art and drawing. However, without any proper tuition (art was never taught seriously in school), I have never really progressed beyond occasionally doodling and some fancy writing. Recently, I started learning to sketch and as part of my efforts I came across a fascinating book called ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by art teacher Betty Edwards.
In the book, she explains that the reason most people have difficulty in drawing the object that they see is because of the dominance of our logical ‘left brain’ in the process. This comes about, she suggests, through the emphasis that is placed by traditional schooling on reading, numeracy and memory recall rather than creative ‘right brain’ pursuits such as art and creative problem solving.
She explains that the right brain is all about perception and ‘seeing’ edges, spaces, relationships, light and shadows and so is perfectly suited to drawing. However, when presented with the task of sketching something, the dominant ‘left brain’ muscles in and tells it to ‘step aside’ and proceeds to produce something akin to a dog’s dinner!
The reason we end up with a dog’s dinner
The ‘left brain’ works by grabbing just a few basic details (as little as 40%) of a scene and decides that it is ‘a face’ or ‘a chair’. It then jumps straight into completing the picture. The problem is that the additional 60% is based not on what we actually see, but on what it ‘remembers’ a typical ‘face’ or ‘chair’ looks like. The resulting sketch is unsurprisingly nothing like the actual reality.
Trained artists however, know how to bypass the influence of the left brain by learning to ‘trick’ it into staying out of the task. They do this by presenting it with a challenge that it is not used to dealing with, such as drawing the ‘space around a chair’ rather than an actual chair, or sketching a face ‘upside-down’. The left brain doesn’t recognise the concept of sketching space and nor does it comprehend an upside-down face. So in these cases, it essentially says ‘stuff that’ and leaves the right brain to get on with the task.
What 60% gets us into trouble?
All of this was particularly fascinating from a sketching perspective, but what struck me was how this applies to other situations too. Whilst the ability of the left brain to take a few facts and superimpose an answer or picture onto a situation can be really useful to us. It helps, for example, if we hear a growl that we can quickly decide that there is a danger and get away to safety. There are many scenarios where it gets us into trouble. For example, we see a few facts in a letter, an email or something someone says and add the other 60% from the memory bank and assume a meaning completely erroneous to the actual facts.
How many times have we worked ourselves up into anger and frustration or fear and trepidation over drawing conclusions and making up our interpretation of a situation, only to find that it was totally wrong?
A lot. We do it all the time and largely with unpleasant and unnecessary consequences.
The lesson therefore, now that we know about it, is that before we jump to conclusions or add 2 + 2 and get 6, is to get all of the facts (or clarify the ones we have) before we jump head first into a big assumption and a very large pile of trouble.
We… You… owe it to yourself, your partner, your children, your friends, your family, your customers, your suppliers, your staff, your business, and anyone else you communicate with.
Imagine – up to 60% of the picture is made up, even when it is right in front of your eyes. That’s Scary!