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Beyond Left and Right Brain: Drawing with the Whole Mind

Are you a right-brain or left-brain thinker? And more importantly…. does it matter? For the most part, the right-brain/left-brain idea is at best a handy model and at worst a limiting stereotype. As Kendra Cherry points out in her article on this pop psychology myth, research has often been contrary to the assumptions of this model.

How is the model helpful? If trying to differentiate a modes of thinking – of creativity versus order and linearity, or of intuition versus logic, perhaps it’s useful to group these ideas into connected notions. It’s certainly useful if you’re an artist and want to excuse a lack of logic! Or if you’re a scientist who doesn’t do well with personal relationships.

But right there in this example is one of the major problems. It’s a stereotype. Plenty of scientists are passionate about people as well as their work, and many artists are well capable of astute logical thought. And what if you’re an artist who isn’t good with color, or with dealing with emotion? For every ‘typical’ example we can easily think of a dozen individuals who run counter to that stereotype.

The left-brain right-brain dichotomy did prove its value in inspiring the excellent ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’, showing us the need to draw what we see, not what we think we know. These ideas have been pivotal for a generation of artists, but they become increasingly invalid when applied beyond the process of observation and memory. It’s true that there are differences between the structure and function of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, but as Dr. Daniel Goleman explains in his article, ‘New Insights On The Creative Brain‘, the creative process is a great deal more complex and involves the entire brain in its various phases.

Thinking beyond left-brain right-brain opens up a myriad of broader possibilities. You no longer excuse your weaknesses or see limitations where there are none. You don’t feel obliged to follow a certain set of behaviors because You Are an Artist. Tossing out those expectations about what constitutes a creative mindset also allows you to bring a fresh and critical eye to what your own creative process really looks like. Forget the myths and dig into some of the exciting research about creativity that we can now access through online media.

I guess it’s natural to look for models that we can use to guide our ideas about ourselves and our behavior – that’s part of the reason that horoscopes are popular. People are hard to understand, and it’s perhaps hardest to know yourself, since you have such a biased view!

One alternative to looking for broad, external definitions of behavior or temperament, is to instead look for artists and work that you can connect with. Find artists whose paintings and drawings resonate with you. They do work that stays in your mind after you’ve left the gallery or closed the magazine. Images that seem like something you might have made at some time, or wish you could make, if you were good enough. Consider their way of living and working, their processes and philosophies. Find out who their favorite philosophers and artists are. Then you’re dealing not with some vague generalization that has been made up to try and explain an ‘average of averages’, but rather a specific, real individual, modeling a way of working. Sometimes what you find won’t be useful at all – you won’t connect to their working methods or find that you don’t really understand the mental process that produced the result you love. But often, you’ll find a like mind that you can draw inspiration from.

Ultimately, being creative is about what you do. It’s about practicing art. And for that, you’ll probably find both sides of your brain pretty useful!


This article was originally published at About.com and appears to have missed the cut when it became Thoughtco.

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