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Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition

Edwards, Betty

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A revised edition of the classic drawing book that has sold more than 1.7 million copies in the United States alone.

Translated into more than seventeen languages, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the world's most widely used drawing instruction book. Whether you are drawing as a professional artist, as an artist in training, or as a hobby, this book will give you greater confidence in your ability and deepen your artistic perception, as well as foster a new appreciation of the world around you. This revised/updated fourth edition includes:

  • a new preface and introduction;
  • crucial updates based on recent research on the brain's plasticity and the enormous value of learning new skills/ utilizing the right hemisphere of the brain;
  • new focus on how the ability to draw on the strengths of the right hemisphere can serve as an antidote to the increasing left-brain emphasis in American life-the worship of all that is linear, analytic, digital, etc.;
  • an informative section that addresses recent research linking early childhood "scribbling" to later language development and the importance of parental encouragement of this activity;
  • and new reproductions of master drawings throughout

    A life-changing book, this fully revised and updated edition of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is destined to inspire generations of readers to come.

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About the Author:

Betty Edwards speaks regularly at universities, art schools, and companies. Now retired from her position as professor emeritus of art at California State University in Long Beach, Edwards received her doctorate from UCLA in art, education, and the psychology of perception. Dr. Edwards has been profiled on the Today show and in Time, among other magazines and newspapers. She lives in California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Drawing used to be a civilized thing to do, like reading and writing. It was taught in elementary schools. It was democratic. It was a boon to happiness.

—Michael Kimmelman

For more than thirty years, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has been a work in progress. Since the original publication in 1979, I have revised the book three times, with each revision about a decade apart: the ?rst in 1989, the second, 1999, and now a third, 2012 version. In each revision, my main purpose has been to incorporate instructional improvements that my group of teachers and I had gleaned from continuously teaching drawing over the intervening years, as well as bringing up-to-date ideas and information from education and neuroscience that relate to drawing. As you will see in this new version, much of the original material remains, as it has passed the test of time, while I continue to re?ne the lessons and clarify instructions. In addition, I make some new points about emergent right-brain signi?cance and the astonishing, relatively new science called neuroplasticity. I make a case for my life’s goal, the possibility that public schools will once again teach drawing, not only as a civilized thing to do and a boon to happiness, but also as perceptual training for improving creative thinking.

The power of perception

Many of my readers have intuitively understood that this book is not only about learning to draw, and it is certainly not about Art with a capital A. The true subject is perception. Yes, the lessons have helped many people attain the basic ability to draw, and that is a main purpose of the book. But the larger underlying purpose was always to bring right hemisphere functions into focus and to teach readers how to see in new ways, with hopes that they would discover how to transfer perceptual skills to thinking and problem solving. In education, this is called “transfer of learning,” which has always been regarded as di?cult to teach, and often teachers, myself included, hope that it will just happen. Transfer of learning, however, is best accomplished by direct teaching, and therefore, in Chapter 11 of this revised edition, I encourage that transfer by including some direct instruction on how perceptual skills, learned through drawing, can be used for thinking and problem solving in other ?elds.

The book’s drawing exercises are truly on a basic level, intended for a beginner in drawing. The course is designed for persons who cannot draw at all, who feel that they have no talent for drawing, and who believe that they probably can never learn to draw. Over the years, I have said many times that the lessons in this book are not on the level of art, but are rather more like learning how to read—more like the ABCs of reading: learning the alphabet, phonics, syllabi?cation, vocabulary, and so on. And just as learning basic reading is a vitally important goal, because the skills of reading transfer to every other kind of learning, from math and science to philosophy and astronomy, I believe that in time learning to draw will emerge as an equally vital skill, one that provides equally transferrable powers of perception to guide and promote insight into the meaning of visual and verbal information. I will even go out on a limb and say that we mistakenly may have been putting all our educational eggs into one basket only, while shortchanging other truly valuable capabilities of the human brain, namely perception, intuition, imagination, and creativity. Perhaps Albert Einstein put it best: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

The hidden content

About six months after publication of the original book in 1979, I had the odd experience of suddenly realizing that the book I thought I had written contained another content of which I was unaware. That hidden content was something I didn’t know I knew: I had inadvertently de?ned the basic component skills of the global skill of drawing. I think part of the reason this content was hidden from me was the very nature of art education at the time, where beginning drawing classes focused on subject matter, such as “Still Life Drawing,” “Landscape Drawing,” or “Figure Drawing,” or on drawing mediums, such as charcoal, pencil, pen and ink, ink wash, or mixtures of mediums.

But my aim was di?erent: I needed to provide my readers with exercises that would cause a cognitive shift to the right hemisphere—a shift similar to that caused by Upside-Down Drawing: “tricking” the dominant left hemisphere into dropping out of the task. I settled on ?ve subskills that seemed to have the same e?ect, but at the time, I thought that there must be other basic skills—maybe dozens of them.

Then, months after the book had been published, in the midst of teaching a class, it hit me as an aha! that for learning to draw realistic images of observed subjects, the ?ve subskills were it—there weren’t more. I had inadvertently selected from the many aspects of drawing a few fundamental subskills that I thought might be closely aligned to the e?ect of Upside-Down Drawing. And the ?ve skills, I realized, were not drawing skills in the usual sense; they were rock-bottom, fundamental seeing skills: how to perceive edges, spaces, relationship, lights and shadows, and the gestalt. As with the ABCs of reading, these were the skills you had to have in order to draw any subject.

I was elated by this discovery. I discussed it at length with my colleagues and searched through old and new textbooks on drawing, but we did not ?nd any additional fundamental basic components of the global skill of basic realistic drawing—drawing one’s perceptions. With this discovery, it occurred to me that perhaps drawing could be quickly and easily taught and learned— not strung out over years and years, as was the current practice in art schools. My aim suddenly became “drawing for everyone,” not just for artists in training. Clearly, the basic ability to draw does not necessarily lead to the “?ne art” found in museums and galleries any more than the basic ability to read and write inevitably leads to literary greatness and published works of literature. But learning to draw was something I knew was valued by children and adults. Thus, my discovery led me in new directions, resulting in a 1989 revision of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, in which I focused on explaining my insight and proposing that individuals who had never been able to draw could learn to draw well very rapidly.

Subsequently, my colleagues and I developed a five-day workshop of forty hours of teaching and learning (eight hours a day for ?ve days), which proved to be surprisingly e?ective: students acquired quite high-level basic drawing skills in that brief time, and gained all the information they needed to go on making progress in drawing. Since drawing perceived subjects is always the same task, always requiring the ?ve basic component skills, they could proceed to any subject matter, learn to use any or all drawing mediums, and take the skill as far as they wished. They could also apply their new visual skills to thinking. The parallels to learning to read were becoming obvious.

Over the next decade, from 1989 to 1999, the connection of perceptual skills to general thinking, problem solving, and creativity became a more central focus for me, especially after publication of my 1986 book, Drawing on the Artist Within. In this

book, I proposed a “written” language for the right hemisphere: the language of line, the expressive language of art itself. This idea of using drawing to aid thinking proved to be quite useful in a class on creativity that I developed for university students and in small corporate seminars on problem solving.

Then, in 1999, I again revised Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, again incorporating what we had learned over the years of teaching the ?ve basic skills and re?ning the lessons. I especially focused on the skill of sighting (proportion and perspective), which is perhaps the most di?cult component skill to teach in words, because of its complexity and its reliance on students’ acceptance of paradox, always anathema to the logical, concept-bound left brain. In addition, I urged using perceptual skills to “see” problems.

Now, with this third revision in 2012, I want to clarify to the best of my ability the global nature of drawing and to link drawing’s basic component skills to thinking in general and to creativity in particular. Throughout many cultures, both in the United States and worldwide, there is much talk of creativity and our need for innovation and invention. There are many suggestions to try this or try that. But the nitty-gritty of precisely how to become more creative is seriously lacking. Our education system seems bent on eliminating every last bit of creative perceptual training of the right side of the brain, while overemphasizing the skills best accomplished by the left side of the brain: memorizing dates, data, theorems, and events with the goal of passing standardized tests. Today we are not only testing and grading our children into the ground, but we are not teaching them how to see and understand the deep meaning of what they learn, or to perceive the connectedness of information about the world. It is indeed time to try something di?erent.

Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning, according to a recent news report. A small group of cognitive scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles is recommending they call “perceptual learning” as a remedy to our failing educational practices. They express hope that such training will transfer to other contexts, and they have had some success with achieving transfer. Discouragingly, however, the news report ended: “In an education awash with computerized learning tools and pilot programs of all kinds, the future of such perceptual learning e?orts is far from certain. Scientists still don’t know the best way to train perceptual intuition, or which speci?c principles it’s best suited for. And such tools, if they are incorporated into curriculums in any real way, will be subject to the judgment of teachers.”

I would like to suggest that we already have a best way to train perceptual skills: it has been staring us in the face for decades, and we haven’t (or wouldn’t, or couldn’t) accept it. I think it is not a coincidence that as drawing and creative arts in general have steadily diminished in school curricula since the mid-twentieth century, the educational achievement of students in the United States has likewise diminished, to the point that we now rank behind Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Slovenia.

In 1969, perceptual psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, one of the most widely read and respected scientists of the twentieth century, wrote:

“The arts are neglected because they are based on perception, and perception is disdained because it is not assumed to involve thought. In fact, educators and administrators cannot justify giving the arts an important position in the curriculum unless they understand that the arts are the most powerful means of strengthening the perceptual component without which productive thinking is impossible in every ?eld of academic study.

“What is most needed is not more aesthetics or more esoteric manuals of art education but a convincing case made for visual thinking quite in general. Once we understand in theory, we might try to heal in practice the unwholesome split which cripples the training of reasoning power.”

Drawing does indeed involve thought, and it is an e?ective and e?cient method for perceptual training. And perceptual knowledge can impact learning in all disciplines. We now know how to rapidly teach drawing. We know that learning to draw, like learning to read, is not dependent on something called “talent,” and that, given proper instruction, every person is able to learn the skill. Furthermore, given proper instruction, people can learn to transfer the basic perceptual components of drawing to other learning and to general thinking. And, as Michael Kimmelman said, learning to draw is a boon to happiness—a panacea for the stultifying and uncreative drudgery of standardized testing that our schools have embraced.

Our two minds and modern multitasking

Today, as research expands and the information-processing styles and proclivities of the hemispheres become ever clearer, respected scientists are recognizing functional di?erences as evident and real, despite the fact that both hemispheres appear to be involved to a greater or lesser extent in every human activity. And there remains much uncertainty about the reason for the profound asymmetry of the human brain, which we seem to be aware of at the level of language. The expression “I am of two minds about that” clearly states our human situation. Our two minds, however, have not had an equal playing ?eld: until recently, language has dominated worldwide, especially in modern technological cultures like our own. Visual perception has been more or less taken for granted, with little requirement for special concern or education. Now, however, computer scientists who are trying to replicate human visual perception ?nd it extremely complicated and slow going. After decades of e?orts, scientists have ?nally achieved facial recognition by computers, but reading the meaning of changes in facial expression, accomplished instantly and e?ortlessly by the right hemisphere, will take much more time and work.

Meanwhile, visual images are everywhere, and visual and verbal information compete for attention. Constant multitasking linked to information overload is challenging the brain’s ability to rapidly shift modes, or to simultaneously deal with both modes of input. The recent banning of texting while driving illustrates the problem of the brain’s di?culty in simultaneously processing two modes of information. This recognition that we need to ?nd productive ways to use both modes perhaps explains why replicating right hemisphere processes is only now emerging as important and even, perhaps, critical.

A complication: the brain that studies itself

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 our universe—at least as far as we know—that observes and studies itself, wonders about itself, tries to analyze how it does what it does, and tries to maximize its capabilities. This paradoxical situation no doubt contributes to the deep mysteries that still remain despite rapidly expanding scienti?c knowledge. One of the most encouraging new discoveries that the human brain has made about itself is that it can physically change itself by changing its accustomed ways of thinking, by deliberately exposing itself to new ideas and routines, and by learning new skills. This discovery has led to a new category of neuroscientists, neuroplasticians, who use microelectrodes and brain scans to track complex brain maps of neuronal communication, and who have observed the brain revising its neuronal maps.

Brain plasticity: a new way to think about talent

This conception of a plastic brain, a brain that constantly changes with experience, that can reorganize and transmute and even develop new cells and new cell connections, is in direct contrast

...

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