A case for getting our students to access their “right” brain on a regular basis.
By Gena Fields, Art Teacher at Park Academy
When I accepted the Art Teacher position at Park Academy, I knew I was in new territory. I have had over 10 years of teaching experience with all different types of students in grades K-12. Although I had taught students with dyslexia, ADD, and ADHD before, intense dyslexia training, particularly in visual arts, isn’t readily available. I did not yet know the kind of work the students at our school were capable of. To my delight, I have been thoroughly impressed by the work our students have produced.
When I was thinking about what kind of lessons and projects that would be both challenging rewarding for our students, I referred back to the training I received at Portland State University. One of the books that was suggested to read in grad school was titled The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I had not really thought about this book in a while and I have not referred to it since it was bought, read, and placed on the shelf in my office. It kept coming back to me because I remembered it referring to drawing as a way of seeing things differently. I wanted to understand how the right brain works for students who see things differently.
This book really speaks to how learning to draw was like learning to see differently by accessing your right brain, or as the author calls it, “R- mode.” Reducing the use of your left brain may seem unfamiliar and very strange for most of us, but not for dyslexic children, said Edwards. In contrast, left brain thinking seems easy, normal, and rational. In “L mode,” language dominates. If you could turn off “L-mode” and access “R-mode” it would take away many barriers around drawing. As Edwards states in her book:
“In the process of learning to draw, one also learns to control (at least to some degree) the mode by which one’s own brain handles information. Perhaps this explains in part why my book appeals to individuals from such diverse fields. Intuitively, they see the link to other activities and the possibility of seeing things differently by learning to access R-mode at conscious level.”
Another book I was drawn to using again in class is called Ways of Seeing by John Berger. It is a casebook of scenarios that ask the students to decide if something is “Art” or not. I used these art scenarios my first 5 years of teaching, and I found them extremely helpful in expanding a child’s view on what art is or can be. The “What is Art?” question is always a difficult one to tackle with students, whether they have learning differences or not.
I truly believe that drawing is a learnable, teachable skill, and I hope my students learn this. Many kids think that drawing is a magical ability, when really it is something that can be taught, but mostly needs to be PRACTICED. Using a sketchbook on a regular basis is helpful in allowing students to practice their drawing in a free, natural, inquisitive way. Can anyone be an artist? Yes, if they see like an artist.
Some of my favorite quotes about seeing and drawing:
1941-DRAWING AND THE ART OF BICYCLE RIDING. Gertrude Stein asked the French artist Henri Matisse whether, when eating a tomato, he looked at it the way an artist would. Matisse replied: “No, when I eat a tomato I look at it the way anyone else would. But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently.” — Gertrude Stein Picasso, 1938
“The painter draws with his eyes, not with his hands. Whatever he sees, if he sees it clear, he can put down. The putting of it down requires, perhaps, much care and labor, but no more muscular agility than it takes for him to write his name. Seeing clear is the important thing.” — Maurice Grosser The Painter’s Eye, 1951
“DRAWING is A CURIOUS PROCESS, so intertwined with seeing that the two can hardly be separated. Ability to draw depends on ability to see the way an artist sees, and this kind of seeing can marvelously enrich your life. In many ways, teaching drawing is somewhat like teaching someone to ride a bicycle. It is very difficult to explain in words.” —-Betty Edwards, Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain
Check out these online articles about sketching:
11 Tips For Finally Keeping A Sketchbook:
Daily Sketchbook Project:
How to sketch like Leonardo Da Vinci:
Advocacy for Sketchbooks in Elementary