Sunday, April 15, 2012

First Hand Knowledge

I have long thought that everyone should learn how to draw so that they could practice observing the world in a first hand manner. This week, that idea was reinforced when I attended the University of Kentucky Libraries annual dinner and when I revisited the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
     I first read Betty Edwards's book in the 1980s. The third edition of her book came out in 1999. I had the occasion recently to dip into it. Since I have been teaching lately, the ideas inside shown brightly, so I bought at copy (at the local Morris Book Shop!)  In the introduction, Edwards puts forth her most radical idea: that the basic skills of drawing are not drawing skills but perceptual skills.  In other words, no one can teach you how to draw, you must teach yourself how to see. Fortunately, the book has exercises which put you on the path of enhanced perception.  

      The book is full of observations I have had while teaching, including the idea that every painting should be approached with a novice eye (you have never seen a tree before, etc.)  Here is a lovely quote from the book margins: "Every creative act involves...a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief." --Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, 1959 (p. 38).  Doesn't that sound like a refreshing approach to seeing the world? 

     This past Friday, I was reminded of this type of thinking when Dr. John Anthony received the Medallion for Intellectual Achievement at the UK Libraries annual dinner. Dr. Anthony is a chemist at UK. He was nominated for the award by Dr. Theodore Schatzki, Senior Associate Dean of Faculty at UK. Dr. Schatzki made a masterful case for Dr. Anthony and his breakthrough in organic semiconductors.  I quote from Dr. Schatzki's nomination:

        "...Anthony realized that the chemical properties of OSCs (organic semiconductors) were such that these molecules, when applied to surfaces, would best conduct electricity if they "stood" on the surfaces like coins standing on their edges. In Anthony's mind, therefore, the future of organic electronics hinged on redesigning OSCs so that they would be soluble substances that would stand on their edges when applied to surfaces. 
         It is possible to design soluble molecules. Designing molecules, however, that will assume a specific, highly unlikely (standing on edge) alignment when applied to devices is beyond state-of-the-art; few people would even contemplate the attempt. Yet, one day, while playing with some plastic models of molecules in his office, Anthony noticed that one particular alteration to the OSC molecules led them to stand on edge when dropped on the floor.  This observation led to a versatile method for designing soluble OSCs that assume the correct orientation in the solid state." 

    Dr. Anthony's work shows us how unfiltered observation and perception can hand us solutions. And it pays to be playful! 

   It is easy to be overwhelmed in our world by all the information and sheer verbiage coming our way.  It is helpful to be able to see and think for one's self. Start drawing!

  Note:  The drawings on the right-hand side are sketches made while attending chamber music concerts. Musicians are very beautiful to look at with elegant hands and focused visages.  (But, I don't have x-ray vision. Got carried away with the skeleton!)


  1. I went out and bought Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain after I read this post. I've never had any formal training in art. Well, I did have one drawing class in college. The teacher just sat in his office and yelled "DRAW WHAT YOU SEE NOT WHAT YOU THINK!" That did open my eyes a little but I hope this will help. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Your teacher was right on (though he didn't have to yell!) There is a new, 4th edition of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which just came out.