In cleaning out my bookmarks-I-didn’t-get-to-follow-before-I-had-to-reboot- because-FontReserve-was-acting-funny folder, I came across a link to a speech by Milton Glaser. Sorry, I don’t remember where I got it—some design blog or other. The whole piece is charming, but I particularly liked this:
HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN.
The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.
I recently realized that although I grew up drawing, I never do it anymore unless I’m trying to solve a problem. My mom’s an artist and taught my brother and me to draw early on. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was a favorite book. I used to receive mostly art supplies for birthdays and Christmas, until I protested one year and was given dolls instead. I hated dolls, so after that fiasco, I said it was okay to get me art supplies again. All through school I was one of those obsessive kids who drew all the time, and I was a compulsive doodler right through college. I also took some drawing and printmaking classes, just because it was fun.
Then I stopped.
Now I try to doodle during my one meeting a week, and I honestly don’t know how to do it anymore. I make marks with the pen, but I don’t like looking at them, so I give up.
Perhaps not concidentally, I am one of the most unobservant people ever, in the history of the universe. I have no peripheral vision whatsoever, and I’m not too good at noticing what’s directly in front of me, either, unless it’s text. I blame computers! Lionel Shriver was right, after all!
So maybe six weeks ago, I bought a notebook (yeah, okay, so I got a Moleskine; call me a sucker) and some pens. I thought I’d try drawing every day for a while. But I didn’t know what to draw. And I didn’t really like the pens. And the book’s so nice, I don’t want to mess it up. I think I have three drawings in there, none of which I feel good about. I haven’t touched it in weeks. It sits in the stack of printed matter next to my bed, glaring at me. But then my friend Susan reminded me about painting. Hey, I used to like painting. So the other day I got some watercolors, as well as a box of the same water-soluble colored pencils I always had a couple of tins of when I was a kid. And through Clusterflock I discovered Elizabeth Perry’s blog, Woolgathering. She’s been drawing every day for two years, and, boy, are some of them pictures lovely.
So. I’m going to work on this.